Scottish Justice Minister Humza Yousaf today announced that the Government will drop sections of the draft Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill that would have criminalised insulting religious beliefs. The Bill will now protect ‘antipathy, dislike, ridicule and insult’ of religious beliefs, as part of people’s legitimate right to freedom of expression. Humanists UK, which supported a campaign led by Humanist Society Scotland (HSS) in favour of these precise changes, has welcomed the announcement.
HSS previously raised concerns about the Bill back in July, and in August brought together a coalition of over 20 leading individuals and organisations from the world of arts, journalism, literature, comedy, politics and human rights to publish a joint letter calling for amendments. HSS also met several times with Humza Yousaf about the Bill.
Following this, in September, Mr Yousaf announced that one of the two key changes HSS and Humanists UK had been seeking would be made – tweeting that ‘Humanist Society Scotland have been exceptionally helpful & constructive in advising where changes could be made.’ And now, today’s announced amendment means that the other precise change to the Bill that HSS advocated is also to be implemented.
Humanist Society Scotland’s Chief Executive Fraser Sutherland commented,
‘We are pleased that the Scottish Government has engaged with us over our concerns that this Bill would illegitimately curtail criticism of religious beliefs. We need to ensure that any new hate crime provision in Scotland is in line with international standards on tackling incitement and hatred. Changing the proposed provisions on the criticism of religious belief and the intent to stir up hatred is an important part of achieving this goal.’
Humanists UK’s Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented,
‘The importance of freedom of expression and the right to freely criticise beliefs and ideas of fundamental importance, religious or otherwise, cannot be overstated. We have strongly supported the Scottish Government in its plans to repeal the common law offence of blasphemy in Scotland and with this latest announcement our fears that this Bill would create anew those same restrictions have been allayed.’
For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.
Read our initial concerns about the Scottish Hate Crime Bill.
Read the joint letter we organised about the Bill.
Read about the previously announced changes.
Read more about our work on freedom of expression.
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