Catholic leaders in Scotland have joined with Protestants to oppose parts of a proposed hate crime bill that they fear would limit their abilities to legally make negative statements about LGBTQ people.
UCA News reported:
“The Catholic Church, the Free Church of Scotland and the Evangelical Alliance wrote a letter to Humza Yousaf, justice secretary, to demand more time be allocated for the ‘detailed consideration’ of proposals to limit freedom of expression.
“The Feb. 12 letter said they wanted the government ‘to ensure (that) freedom of expression provisions, which enshrine free and open debate, are afforded the scrutiny they require.’”
The proposed Hate Crime and Public Order Bill had included a “freedom of expression” amendment, which was removed following complaints from LGBTQ rights activists. The bill is a wide-reaching update to Scotland’s current hate crime legislation. According to the BBC:
“The bill adds hate crime based on a person’s age to the list of protected groups, with hatred based on someone’s sex potentially to be added in the future.
“It aims to simplify and clarify the law by bringing together the various existing hate crime laws into a single piece of legislation.
“And it creates a new crime of ‘stirring up hatred’ against the protected groups – which is defined as ‘behaving in a threatening or abusive manner, or communicating threatening or abusive material to another person’.”
This last provision seems to be the focus of Christian leaders’ concerns. They claim that the bill will limit “free discussion” on issues of sexuality and gender, reported UCA News. The religious leaders letter stated:
“‘We cannot accept that any position or opinion at variance with the proposition that sex or gender is fluid and changeable should not be heard. Open and honest debate on the very essence of the human person should never be stifled.'”
The religious leaders claimed that their religious beliefs about sexuality and gender were distinct from hate speech, saying that it is important “to distinguish between hateful, nasty, vicious, or malevolent attacks on the person on one hand, and disagreement or dispute with an ideological position on the other.”
This letter follows previous comments by Scotland’s Catholic bishops opposing an earlier version of the proposed bill. The bishops claimed that their statements about Catholic teachings on sex and gender could be considered hate speech under the earlier version, Bondings 2.0 reported last year. They claimed that the bill could cause the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church to be considered “inflammatory material” and could limit religious freedom.
A spokesperson for Scotland’s government said that the proposed law “does not criminalize religious beliefs or practices.”
Previously, Scotland’s bishops sought to prevent same-gender marriage from being legalized in Scotland.
Far from being a persecuted minority in need of protection, Christians make up the largest religious group in Scotland.
The bishops’ statements, in this new ecumenical letter and previously, express fear that their statements on sex and gender could be easily confused with hate speech. Perhaps that fear should be the occasion for some reflection on why.
—Mac Svolos, New Ways Ministry, March 2, 2021