Scotland's Catholic bishops warn Bible could fall foul of SNP hate crime law

Simon Johnson
·2 min read
Archbishop Philip Tartaglia opens the doors of St Andrew Cathedral in Glasgow  - Getty Images Europe
Archbishop Philip Tartaglia opens the doors of St Andrew Cathedral in Glasgow - Getty Images Europe

Scotland's Catholic bishops has warned that possessing the Bible could become an offence under the SNP's controversial hate crime laws.

The Catholic Church said the legislation created an offence of possessing inflammatory material and expressed concern the "low threshold" to meet this test "could render material such as the Bible...as being inflammatory under the new provision".

In a submission to a Holyrood inquiry, the Bishops' Conference of Scotland their belief that a person's sex and gender are "not fluid and changeable" may also fall foul of the legislation.

They said "without an appropriate freedom of expression provision" such views, "which are widely held, would not be protected".

Echoing previous criticisms that the legislation is too vague, the submission said that "how hatred is defined is not clear which leaves it open to wide interpretation" and this could "lead to vexatious claims having to be dealt with by police".

Their submission was published the day after the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) said the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill could mean officers "determining free speech", leading to a breakdown in relations with the public.

The proposed new law would make "stirring up hatred" against certain groups a criminal offence, even if a person making the remarks had not intended to do so or made them in private. Those convicted face up to seven years in prison.

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Anthony Horan, director of the Catholic parliamentary office, said: "Whilst acknowledging that stirring up of hatred is morally wrong and supporting moves to discourage and condemn such behaviour, the 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'.

"A new offence 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."

He added: "Allowing for respectful debate means avoiding censorship and accepting the divergent views and multitude of arguments inhabiting society."

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A Scottish Government spokesman said: ""Religious beliefs are an integral part of Scottish society and this Bill does not change that in any way. The Bill does not criminalise religious beliefs or practices and possessing a Bible would not constitute an offence."