In an appeal to Scotland’s government, that nation’s bishops have claimed a proposed piece of hate crime legislation could effectively outlaw the Bible and Catholic teachings if some people deem these texts to be offensive.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland submitted comments to the parliamentary committee presently reviewing the proposed law, known as “The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill.” If passed, “stirring up hatred” against a protected class would become a criminal act. According to The Herald the bishops are concerned about how hatred is defined, writing in their comments:
“We are also concerned that section 5 of the Bill creates an offence of possessing inflammatory material which, if taken with the low threshold contained therein, could render material such as the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and other texts such as Bishops’ Conference of Scotland submissions to government consultations, as being inflammatory under the new provision.
“For example, in a recent submission to the Scottish Government on proposed reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004, the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland stated the Catholic Church’s understanding of the human person, including the belief that sex and gender are not fluid and changeable, and that male and female are complementary and ordered towards the creation of new life.
“Such pronouncements, which are widely held, might be perceived by others as an abuse of their own, personal worldview and likely to stir up hatred.'”
A spokesperson for Scotland’s government rejected the bishops’ fears as unfounded, noting that the proposed law “does not criminalise religious beliefs or practices and possessing a Bible would not constitute an offence” and includes provisions to protect the freedoms of expression and of religion. What is actually criminalized is acting “in a threatening or abusive manner or communicate threatening or abusive material that is intended to stir up hatred or likely to stir up hatred.”
Anthony Horan, director of the Catholic Parliamentary Office, an agency of the Scottish bishops conference, doubled down on the bishops’ position, saying “the lack of clarity around definitions and a potentially low threshold for committing an offence” could lead to–and here he quotes the bishops’ statement– a “deluge of vexatious claims.”
Instead, the bishops advocated for the preservation of rights to free speech, expression, and religion, while condemning “cancel culture” (which is itself quite nebulously defined by society despite being widely used). The bishops’ position paper condemned, “hunting down of those who disagree with prominent orthodoxies with the intention to expunge the non-compliant from public discourse and with callous disregard for their livelihoods.”
This legislative debate should give the Scottish bishops pause about why the message of their teaching could be perceived as hateful when Jesus’ message was one of unconditional love.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 26, 2020