News from Europe

Scottish “hate speech” bill likely to limit freedom of religion

On April 1, 2024, the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021 took effect, sparking concerns among religious and artistic communities about its potential impact on freedom of expression.


The amendments to the Act expand the scope of the offense of ‘stirring up hatred’ to include additional ‘protected characteristics’ such as sexual orientation, transgender identity, and variations in sex characteristics.

Under the Scottish ‘Hate Speech’ Bill, a wide array of behaviors and communications could be deemed criminal if they are considered threatening, abusive, or insulting to another person. Importantly, intent is not necessarily a factor in determining whether an offense has occurred; instead, the focus is on whether a reasonable person would perceive the behavior or communication as likely to stir up hatred against a particular group.

Criticism from human rights groups centers on the Act’s vague language, the potential for lengthy prison sentences of up to seven years, its perceived chilling effect on freedom of speech, and concerns about the possible criminalization of religious beliefs regarding gender identity and family. Additionally, the burden of proof is placed on the accused, who must demonstrate that their behavior or communication was reasonable in order to mount a defense.




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