Scottish 'Hate Speech' Bill Could Limit Freedom of Religion

Country: United Kingdom

Date of incident: April 1, 2024

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021 came into force on April 1, 2024. The Act could criminalise expressions of religious convictions, religious and human rights groups fear.

The amandments of the Hate Crime and Public Order Act inlcude an extension of the offence of ‘stirring up hatred’ to the newly added ‘protected characteristics’ of sexual orientation, transgender identity, variations in sex characteristics.

The Scottish 'Hate Speech' Bill criminalises a broad range of activities, like behaving or communicating “to another person material that a reasonable person would consider to be threatening, abusive or insulting” (Part 3, Section 4, §1a). Furthermore, a crime does not depend on the direct intention of the perpetrator. Even if the perpetrator doesn’t have the intention to 'stir up hatred', the act will be regarded as a criminal offence if “a reasonable person would consider the behaviour or the communication of the material to be likely to result in hatred being stirred up against such a group" (Part 3, Section 4, §1b). The law contains a reversed burden of proof, which means that the victim has to proof their innocence: “It is a defence for a person charged with an offence [...] to show that the behaviour or the communication of the material was [...] reasonable.” (Part 3, Section 4, §4)

The main points of critique by human rights groups are the vague wording, the long prison sentence of up to 7 years if convicted, the chilling effect on freedom of speech and the potential criminalisation of religious views on gender identity and family.  

Sources: Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021 - legal textScottish ParliamentScottish GovernmentChristian Institute

Media Articles: The GuardianBBCNew York Times

Image: Wikimedia Commons