Scotland’s controversial Hate Crime and Public Order bill will be put to a final vote in the Scottish Parliament. The bill seeks to consolidate existing hate crime laws and categorize new offenses related to “stirring up of hatred” against certain groups.
First introduced in April, the bill has ignited months-long debate about the legislation’s lack of clarity surrounding the issue of free speech.
In February, the Catholic Church, the Free Church of Scotland and the Evangelical Alliance wrote a letter to Humza Yousaf, the cabinet secretary for justice of Scotland, asking him to consider amendments to the bill in order to protect religious expression—specifically on the topics of homosexual marriage and gender identity.
“In both these areas we must all be careful 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,” religious leaders warned.
“We urge the Scottish Parliament to … allow for discussion and criticism of marriage which concerns the sex of the parties to the marriage,” the letter read. “When marriage between parties of the same sex was introduced in Scotland, assurance was given that no religious body would be forced to conduct them; implicit in that assurance was protection for those who expressed doctrinal disagreement with such marriages …
“Free discussion and criticism of views is vital as society wrestles with these ideas,” the leaders added. “While we acknowledge the difficulties and struggles experienced by those with gender dysphoria and are acutely aware of the sensitivities involved from our own pastoral care settings, 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. We believe provision must therefore be made in the bill for discussion and criticism of views on transgender identity without fear of criminal sanctions. A right to claim that binary sex does not exist or is fluid must be matched with a right to disagree with that opinion; and protection from prosecution for holding it.”
For a bill to become law through the Scottish parliamentary system, any potential legislation must pass through three stages. The first stage establishes the bill’s basic principles; the second stage sees the bill amended and clarified; and the third stage allows Parliament members (MPs) to vote the bill into law.
Today, during the third stage, MPs will debate more than 40 amendments to the bill. One such amendment would “make it clear that criticism and debate, where there is no intention of spreading hatred, would be protected under the bill.”
But the Evangelical Alliance says it isn’t enough: “In particular, we still believe that the bill should clarify that holding traditional Biblical views on marriage or gender identity could not be seen as hate crime.”