Help scrap Scotland’s blasphemy law and protect freedom of expression – Take action today!

In May the Scottish Government published it’s Hate Crime and Public Order Bill which, among other changes, will scrap Scotland’s blasphemy law. We need your support as part of the Your Voice campaign to ensure that this campaign aim of the Society is officially passed by the Scottish Parliament.

We also need your support to highlight concerns about other provisions in the bill, which Humanist Society Scotland believe might unfairly restrict freedom of expression on religion. We are currently speaking to both Scottish Government ministers and MSP’s about the bill – but we need you to add your voice!

The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee is currently asking the public to give feedback on the bill – to find out how follow the instructions below.

Where to respond

The Justice Committee are asking for feedback on the bill by email to justicecommittee@parliament.scot. Short replies are more than welcome, but feedback should be no longer than six sides of A4. You can read their call for evidence here which has a list of questions. These questions are a guide and you can choose to answer the questions directly or to provide a short statement. You do not need to answer all the questions if you feel unable to.

All responses must be submitted before 24 July 2020. 

How to respond

We are not providing a ‘copy and paste’ response to the committee as previous experience shows these have little impact, but to assist you we have highlighted below the three top issues that Humanist Society Scotland believe are important. Please take 15 minutes to respond in your own words. You may wish to choose to comment on other areas of the bill too. If you would like to read more in-depth analysis of the full bill we have produced a 14 page detailed briefing which you can download here.

  1. Highlight why it is important to scrap Scotland’s blasphemy law

    The bill plans to scrap Scotland’s blasphemy law. Please say you support this and why such as:

    – Blasphemy laws by principle are fundamentally incompatible with human rights. They restrict the ability to question religion.
    – Scrapping Scotland’s blasphemy law will help put pressure on other countries where blasphemy laws are used to persecute atheists/humanists and minority religious groups.
    – Scotland is in danger of being left behind as England and Wales, Ireland, Iceland, Norway, Malta and Denmark have all recently scrapped their outdated blasphemy legislation.

  2. Any hate crime law changes should not curtail the right to freedom of expression, particularly the right to critique and satirise religion.

    The bill plans to make ‘stirring up hatred’ a new criminal offence in relation to religion. While it is important to ensure people don’t face violence/intimidation because of their religion/belief it is our view the proposed bill goes further than required to achieve this. You might wish to highlight:

    – Freedom of expression is a right protected under the European Convention of Human Rights. This includes the right to criticise, dislike, make fun of, and satirise a religion, it’s beliefs and practices. Protected too is the freedom of religion and belief – criticising other beliefs is a key component of this right.
    – There is a clear difference between criticism of religion and provoking hatred/violence against adherents of a religion yet the current bill runs the risk of conflating the two.
    – The current draft of the freedom of expression clause in the bill is narrower (i.e. it protects less speech) than the equivalent legislation in England and Wales, which should at least be replicated.
    – Criminalising speech on religion/belief under proposed new ‘stirring up’ offences runs the risk of of suppressing the right to free expression.
    – Religion and belief is a matter of free will. People can (and do) change religious identity and leave/join religions. It is therefore wrong to make law that applies to race (an unchangeable characteristic about a person) apply to religion (a free-choice changeable characteristic about a person).

  3. The ‘likely to stir up hatred’ threshold is too low a bar to set when it comes to speech.

    The bill proposes that the new rules on ‘stirring up hatred’ will not only apply where an individual actually intends to provoke hatred but also where it is ‘likely to’ provoke hatred. It is our view that the intention should be proven rather than just be ‘likely to’ which is subjective. You might wish to highlight:

    – The aggressive behaviour that the government has set out they wish to tackle (eg vandalism of places of worship / physical attacks on people due to their religion / use of racial slurs in the street) is covered under existing laws – it does not require new stirring up offences.
    ‘Statutory aggravations’ which are detailed in part one of the bill, provide the police/prosecutors with the tools they need to prevent attacks on individuals without unfairly impacting on freedom of expression/belief.

These are the three issues Humanist Society Scotland most strongly believe should be addressed, however please feel free to comment on other areas if you feel able. We have produced this much more detailed briefing on the bill if you would like further information.

In addition this blog post by our Chief Executive explores the freedom of expression element of the bill in more detail.

The deadline for responses to the committee is 24th July 2020.