The Scottish Parliament is considering a new bill that could potentially result in the prosecution of individuals who say hateful things within the privacy of their own homes.
Scotland already has many hate crimes laws in effect. The recently introduced Hate Crime and Public Order Bill “aims to simplify and clarify the law by bringing together the various existing hate crime laws into a single piece of legislation,” according to the BBC.
The bill would create two new crimes – “stirring up hatred” and “possessing inflammatory material” – while simultaneously abolishing Scotland’s blasphemy law that hasn’t been prosecuted in 175 years.
Stirring up hatred is defined as “behaving in a threatening or abusive manner, or communicating threatening or abusive material to another person.”
Possessing inflammatory material is defined as having in one’s possession “threatening, abusive or insulting material with a view to communicating the material to another person”.
The bill has roused advocates of free speech who argue that this bill would trample on the individual’s long-held right to speak their mind without facing criminal prosecution.
From the BBC:
There have been suggestions, for example, that the bill could lead to author JK Rowling facing a seven-year prison sentence for expressing her concerns about the impact of trans rights on women.
And opponents say comedians could potentially be prosecuted for making a joke about a “Scotsman, and Englishman and an Irishman” walking into a bar.
There have also been claims from the Catholic Church that the new law could make it illegal for people to oppose same-sex marriage or increased transgender rights on religious grounds.
And there have even been concerns that the laws on possessing “inflammatory material” could potentially lead to libraries and bookshops being prosecuted for stocking books that are deemed to be offensive.
BBC Scotland, Catholic bishops, the Humanist Society of Scotland, the Scottish Police Federation, and even Mr. Bean star Rowan Atkinson and writer Val McDermid are among those who have raised concerns about the bill’s free speech implications.
Scottish Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf stated that he is open amending the bill to protect free speech. The government is now moving forward to add an amendment that would only prosecute those people who had an intent to stir up hatred.
Despite free speech concerns, Yousaf came to the defense of the entire piece of legislation as a law that would hold accountable those whose words lead to criminal acts of hatred.
“What it does is if you’re stirring up religious hatred against Jews,” Yousaf said, “with the intent of stirring up hatred in your private dwelling with your children in the room, with friends you’ve invited over for a dinner party if they then act upon that hatred and commit offenses that would be prosecuted by the law, should the person who with the intent of stirring up hatred if their behavior was threatening or abusive, should that person not be culpable? Should they not receive criminal sanction?”
“The latest admission from the justice secretary confirms what so many respondents to the consultation have warned,” said Member of Scottish Parliament and Scottish Conservative Justice Spokesman Liam Kerr, ” – that as drafted, this Bill means free speech could be criminalized within the home with friends you’ve invited over for a dinner party, and that Mr. Yousaf is perfectly comfortable with that.”
American author Rod Dreher called the legislation “the essence of totalitarianism.”
“This new hate crimes proposal is not yet law,” Dreher wrote in The American Conservative, “and we have to hope that it will not become law. But the fact that the ruling party in one of the oldest Western democracies has proposed this, and is defending it, is a terrible sign. This kind of legislation ought to be unthinkable in a free society.“