Late last week, the Scottish government announced that its ‘blasphemy’ law would be abolished, and secular organizations around the world began to celebrate the news.
Seems like they were counting their chickens, for the Bill that’s supposedly going to abolish the offence of blasphemy seeks to expand the definitions of hate crimes, and could end up putting people behind bars for entertaining unpopular ideas:
This Bill aims to do three things. It updates these existing laws and pulls most of these laws into one Bill. It also adds to the groups currently specifically protected by hate crime laws.
Criminal courts can generally take into account any prejudice when sentencing a person. Also, people are protected from hate crime through specific laws that apply.
People are currently protected by specific laws on the basis of:
• race (and related characteristics)
• sexual orientation
• transgender identity
This Bill adds age to that list and allows sex to be added at a later date.
The Bill creates a new crime of stirring up hatred against any of the protected groups covered by the Bill.
The Bill also abolishes the offence of blasphemy which has not been prosecuted in Scotland for more than 175 years.
That “stirring up hatred” bit is particularly dangerous, because once the bill gets royal assent and becomes part of the common law, it will be enough for someone to feel insulted or offended by what someone else said for a hate offence to have taken place — given that a not insignificant number of believers do not seem able to distinguish between ideas and people, and that they believe that questioning their superstition is tantamount to attacking them personally, it does not sound like the offence of blasphemy was abolished, but rather that it was put on steroids and disguised as anti-discrimination legislation.
It seems the Scottish government doubled down on laying charges against people with unpopular ideas who have the temerity of speaking out, even when those ideas do not pose an immediate or indirect danger or threat to any particular person or population.
It can be said louder but not clearer that the problem with laws that punish blasphemy is that they fall into the fallacy of assuming that words are violence, and in the process amputate the free speech of those who think differently. And this Bill does exactly that, among other things.
I could be wrong, but I think this hardly calls for a celebration.
(pic: Nicolas Raymond)