Scotland’s New Hate Crime Law Could Criminalize the Church’s Teaching on Sex and Gender

April 05, 2024

The “Hate Crime and Public Order Act” came into force in Scotland on Monday, raising concerns among free speech advocates. The law creates the crime of “stirring up hatred”, which means that someone who “behaves in a manner that a reasonable person would consider to be threatening, abusive or insulting, or communicates to another person material that a reasonable person would consider to be threatening, abusive or insulting” on the grounds of age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity, or variations in sex characteristics, could face up to 7 years in prison.

The standard of what a “reasonable person” deems “insulting” is so vague and murky that the Catholic bishops of Scotland issued a statement in 2020, when the bill was first introduced by the Scottish government, arguing that it could lead to censorship of Catholic teaching if documents such as the Bible or the Catechism are considered “insulting materials”. The bishops cited the example of the Church’s “understanding of the human person, including the belief that sex and gender are not fluid or changeable, and that male and female are complementary” and mentioned that, under the new law, they could “be perceived by others as an abuse of their own, personal worldview and likely to stir up hatred”. Anthony Horan, Director of the Catholic Parliamentary Office, added that “the lack of clarity around definitions and a potentially low threshold for committing an offense could lead to a deluge of vexatious claims.”

The Scottish Police has pledged to treat every hate crime complaint it receives seriously, even though last month the force said it would no longer investigate every “low level” crime in Scotland, including some cases of theft.