Proposed law in Scotland could make owning a bible a hate crime
08/04/2020 // Cassie B. // Views

Catholic bishops are concerned that proposed hate crime legislation could criminalize the Bible and Catholic Catechism in Scotland.

The controversy is related to the Scottish Government’s new Hate Crime and Public Order Bill. Section 5 of the bill relates to the "possession of inflammatory material." They worry that the low threshold could render the Bible and Catechism hate crimes. The proposed legislation establishes a new crime out of stirring up hatred against protected groups related to sexual orientation, transgender identity, race and religion, and there are fears that the Church’s teachings on sex and gender could be perceived as an attempt to stir up hatred.

The director of Scotland’s Catholic Parliamentary Office, Anthony Horan, said: "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 proposed bill came in response to an independent review of hate crime laws in the country. The bishops are concerned that this bill will add fuel to the “cancel culture” fire. They wrote that no single section of society has the final say on acceptable speech and expression, and while the government needs to create and interpret laws that maintain public order, it needs to do so cautiously.

The provision regarding “stirring up hatred” has two components. The behavior or communication has to be abusive, insulting or threatening. In addition, the actor must either intend to stir up hatred against protected groups, or there must be a likelihood that their communication will do so. The definitions are so vague that the bishops believe it is open to a wide interpretation.


The bishops have noted that prominent public figures are being accused of hatred and transphobia for saying that men cannot become women and that women cannot become men. They also pointed out that some people have been accused of hate simply because they use pronouns that correspond to people’s biological sex, like "he" and "she".

Moreover, they warned that favoring censorship over encouraging respectful debate could turn Scotland into “an intolerant, illiberal society.”

Catholic leaders not the only ones concerned about new proposal

Other groups have also expressed concern about the proposals. The Law Society of Scotland, for example, has said it has major reservations about provisions in the bill and its overall lack of clarity, while the Scottish Police Federation has said they fear the police would end up having to determine free speech.

Scottish Police Federation General Secretary Calum Steele said: “We are firmly of the view (that) this proposed legislation would see officers policing speech and would devastate the legitimacy of the police in the eyes of the public.”

"That can never be an acceptable outcome -- and we should never forget that the police in Scotland police only with the consent of the people.”

The Presbyterian Free Church of Scotland has said these new offenses would harm free speech in Scottish society and echoed the Catholic bishops’ concerns about the Bible being criminalized. They said that people have already been reported to police for potential hate crimes simply for displaying Bible verses, so it doesn’t seem like a big stretch that courts could decide the Bible is inflammatory and subject to being confiscated and destroyed.

Once you start going down the path of designating everything that could even remotely offend someone “hate speech,” it’s pretty easy to end up in a place where owning a Bible or even sharing your opinion with friends over coffee could be a hate crime. Although it’s not on the books in Scotland yet, this could well become reality in America if the cancel culture hysteria is allowed to continue.

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