While eliminating the offence of blasphemy, the new legislation creates a new crime of stirring up hatred against any of the protected groups covered by the Bill. It also
creates offences of “possessing inflammatory material” with a view to communicating the material in circumstances where it is likely that hatred would be stirred up.
“A new offence of possessing inflammatory material could even render material such as the Bible and the
Catechism of the Catholic Church inflammatory,” Mr. Horan said. “The Catholic Church’s understanding of the human person, including the belief that sex and gender are not fluid and changeable, could potentially fall foul of the new law.”
“Allowing for respectful debate should mean avoiding censorship and accepting the divergent views and multitude of arguments inhabiting society,” Horan said.
Mr. Horan noted that Scotland’s courts have ruled that the freedom to shock, offend and disturb are protected by the right to freedom of expression, while the bishops have argued that freedom of expression must protect everyone’s freedom to disagree.
The legislation could lead to Scotland becoming an “intolerant, illiberal society”, Horan added.
“Whilst acknowledging that stirring up of hatred is morally wrong and supporting moves to discourage and condemn such behaviour the Scotland’s Catholic bishops have expressed concerns about the lack of clarity around definitions and a potentially low threshold for committing an offence, which they fear, could lead to a deluge of vexatious claims,” he said.
There is an inherent danger in granting interpretive power to one group, Horan said, since they will be subject to their own prejudices and opinions regarding what sort of speech is acceptable.
“No single section of society has dominion over acceptable and unacceptable speech or expression,” Horan said. “We urge our MSPs to ensure that these new laws are proportionate and fair and allow for respectful debate and tolerance.”
The National Secular Society has also
criticized the broad wording of the bill, insisting it jeopardizes free speech and would make it easier to prosecute someone for expressing an incorrect opinion.