Catholic Bishops Fear Scotland’s Hate Crime Law Could Criminalize Bible and Catechism

The proposed legislation creates a new crime of stirring up hatred against any of the protected groups covered by the bill, which include race, religion, sexual orientation, and transgender identity.

Scottish flag flying over Lochness.
Scottish flag flying over Lochness. (photo: Pixabay)

GLASGOW, Scotland — Catholic bishops have said that proposed hate crime legislation in Scotland could criminalize the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. 

In a statement issued July 29, the bishops argued that the Scottish Government’s new Hate Crime and Public Order Bill could lead to censorship of Catholic teaching.

“We are also concerned that section 5 of the Bill creates an offense 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,” they said.

The bishops made the comments in a submission to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee, which is scrutinizing the bill. The bill was introduced by the Scottish Government April 23. 

The proposed legislation creates a new crime of stirring up hatred against any of the protected groups covered by the bill, which include race, religion, sexual orientation, and transgender identity.

The bishops cited their recent submission to the government on the proposed revision of the Gender Recognition Act 2004, in which they set out the Church’s teaching “that sex and gender are not fluid and changeable, and that male and female are complementary and ordered towards the creation of new life.” 

They said: “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.” 

The bishops also noted that recently public figures have been accused of “transphobia” for arguing that men cannot become women and vice versa. They include the Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, who lives in Scotland. 

“Many have also been accused of hate for using pronouns corresponding with an individual’s biological or birth sex. The freedom to express these arguments and beliefs must be protected,” they wrote.

Commenting on the bishops’ submission, Anthony Horan, director of Scotland’s Catholic Parliamentary Office, said: “Whilst acknowledging that stirring up of hatred is morally wrong and supporting moves to discourage and condemn such behavior, the bishops have expressed concerns about the lack of clarity around definitions and a potentially low threshold for committing an offense, which they fear, could lead to a ‘deluge of vexatious claims.’”

He continued: “A new offense of possessing inflammatory material could even render material such as the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church inflammatory. The Catholic Church’s understanding of the human person, including the belief that sex and gender are not fluid and changeable, could fall foul of the new law. Allowing for respectful debate, means avoiding censorship and accepting the divergent views and multitude of arguments inhabiting society.”

The Scottish Government proposed the bill in response to an independent review of hate crime laws led by the retired judge Lord Bracadale. The government argues the bill modernizes, consolidates and extends existing hate crime legislation. It also abolishes the offence of blasphemy.

In their submission, the bishops said they had no objection to the proposal to abolish the common law of blasphemy, which has not been prosecuted in Scotland for more than 175 years.

But the bishops said they were concerned the bill could feed “cancel culture.”

“The growth of what some describe as the ‘cancel culture’ -- hunting down those who disagree with prominent orthodoxies with the intention to expunge the non-compliant from public discourse and with callous disregard for their livelihoods -- is deeply concerning,” they wrote.

“No single section of society has dominion over acceptable and unacceptable speech or expression. Whilst the legislature and judiciary must create and interpret laws to maintain public order it must do so carefully, weighing in fundamental freedoms and allowing for reasonably held views, the expression of which is not intended to cause harm.”

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