EDINBURGH, Scotland (ChurchMilitant.com) - Scotland's Catholic bishops are warning the Bible could be potentially outlawed under the Scottish Nationalist Party's proposed Hate Crime and Public Order Bill.
In a submission to a parliamentary inquiry, bishops express concern that the legislation "creates an offense of possessing inflammatory material," which, combined with the low threshold for committing an offense articulated in the bill, could color the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church as "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," Anthony Horan, director of the Catholic Parliamentary Office, stated.
The bill creates a new crime of stirring up hatred against "protected groups" on the basis of disability, race, religion, sexual orientation, sex and transgender identity, giving criminal courts the power to "generally take into account any prejudice when sentencing a person."
"Crimes motivated by prejudice will be treated more seriously and will not be tolerated by society," states the government's website in an explanation of the new legislation.
Speaking to Church Militant, Tim Dieppe, head of public policy at Christian Concern, confirmed the bishops' "very real concerns about the way in which free speech will be impeded by this legislation."
"'Hate speech' is defined by perception and is therefore entirely subjective," Dieppe noted.
"On gender identity in particular, the bill threatens to criminalize expressions of disagreement with transgenderism. Anyone who cares about basic freedoms should oppose this bill," he emphasized.
Church Militant asked Dieppe if criminalizing the Bible was an exaggerated fear. Dieppe responded, "The Bible says that God 'created us male and female.' Note that a judge has ruled that the mere belief in Genesis 1:27 'conflicts with the fundamental rights of others.'"
"This text, and others in the Bible opposing LGBT ideology, could be deemed offensive to LGBT people and therefore 'hate speech.' Merely showing or making 'hate material' available is enough to attract criminal sanction," he explained.
"Search warrants will allow premises to be searched if there are 'reasonable grounds' that an individual may be harboring such materials. It would not be difficult to deem parts of the Bible 'hate speech' under the proposed laws," Dieppe added.
The government acknowledges that "a number of faith groups" are opposed to "any extension of the law to cover religion, sexual orientation and transgender identity" as it "would have negative consequences for free speech and religious liberty, inhibiting freedom to preach and express religious views."
It nevertheless maintains that the new laws "do not unreasonably interfere with the rights of people to publicly discuss and debate matters relating to religion and sexual orientation."
But London Assembly member David Kurten told Church Militant that "the new hate crime law being introduced by Scotland's nationalist, socialist SNP government will turn Scotland into an oppressive, fascist State where freedom of expression and freedom of speech will disappear."
"It is a terrible fall for Scotland to be looking over the abyss into a totalitarian, anti-Christian future where reading the Bible aloud on the street or even in a church is likely to be punished by the State if it is reported by the woke gestapo," warned Kurten, a candidate for London's mayor and a graduate of Scotland's prestigious University of St. Andrews.
An offense may be committed if a person were to "urge people not to engage in same-sex sexual activity while making abusive comments about people who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual," a parliamentary memorandum on the bill clarifies.
The bishops note that the lack of clarity around legal definitions combined with the low threshold could lead to a "deluge of vexatious claims."
The bill shields "variations in sex characteristic," "non-binary people" and "cross-dressing people." It further recognizes a "clear need to tackle misogyny and gender-based prejudice in Scotland" but reserves "a new statutory aggravation based on gender hostility" to a later date.
The bill also abolishes blasphemy as an offense as "current blasphemy laws are not used and are arguably inappropriate in a modern society."
Significantly, the anti-Christian National Secular Society has said it is "supporting Christian campaigners" in "calling for the draft offenses to be scrapped or amended to protect freedom of expression."
"We welcome one of the bill's effects: abolishing the common law offense of blasphemy. Religious ideas should not enjoy privileged legal protection. But other parts of the bill threaten to bring the offense of blasphemy back under the name of 'hate crime,'" it states.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) said the bill could lead to police officers having to determine what passes as free speech.
"We are firmly of the view this proposed legislation would see officers policing speech and would devastate the legitimacy of the police in the eyes of the public," Calum Steele, SPF's general secretary said.
"The bill would move even further, from policing and criminalizing of deeds and acts, to the potential policing of what people think or feel, as well as the criminalization of what is said in private," Steele stressed.
"The cost to free speech of going further with this bill is too high a price to pay for very little gain," he added.