Scotland is set to repeal its blasphemy law, after the Scottish Parliament voted the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill through its final stage of debate. Humanists UK has welcomed the news as a victory for free speech of global significance, and congratulated its sister charity Humanist Society Scotland (HSS) for spearheading the successful campaign for repeal.
The vote leaves Northern Ireland as the only part of the UK still to have a blasphemy law. Northern Ireland Humanists is currently campaigning for its repeal.
In 2015, humanists from around the world came together to found the End Blasphemy Laws campaign, spearheaded by Humanists International. Since then, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, the Republic of Ireland, Malta, France, New Zealand, Canada, and Greece have repealed their blasphemy laws, with Scotland now set to join them.
HSS Chief Executive Fraser Sutherland commented:
‘The importance of the passage of the Act, and with it the repeal of Scotland’s common law offence of blasphemy, will resonate with humanists both in Scotland and around the world. This has been a long-standing campaign of the Society and part of a global effort to rid the world of blasphemy laws in every country, and we work very closely with our humanist compatriots across the world to achieve this.’
Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:
‘We congratulate Humanist Society Scotland, the Scottish Government, and the Scottish Parliament for the repeal of Scotland’s blasphemy law.
‘The repeal of blasphemy laws in the West is important because countries that actively use their blasphemy laws often justify their existence by pointing to similar laws elsewhere. 13 countries have the death penalty for blasphemy and apostasy. Last year Sudan became the first such country in recent years to repeal its death penalty, showing that international pressure is working.’
Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented:
‘Northern Ireland now stands alone in the UK and Ireland in still having blasphemy laws. We urge the Executive and Assembly to build on Ireland and Scotland’s recent repeals, and join the 10 countries that have removed their own laws in the last six years.’
Hate crime reforms
The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act will also update Scotland’s hate crime laws, bringing them more into line with equivalent laws in England and Wales. Humanists UK helped HSS in its successful campaign to make sure robust free speech protections will form part of the Act. The result is that the Bill is very different from the one that was presented originally. Free speech provisions have been strengthened, and a good balance struck on requiring intention to stir up hatred and abuse before possible prosecution.
People can only be prosecuted if ‘a reasonable person would consider to be threatening or abusive’, and the law also provides that behaviour cannot be judged to be threatening or abusive if it relates to ‘discussion or criticism relating to, or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule or insult towards religion, whether religions generally or a particular religion; religious beliefs or practices, whether religious beliefs or practices generally or a particular religious belief or practice; the position of not holding religious beliefs, whether religious beliefs generally or a particular religious belief’ proselytising; or urging of persons to cease practising their religions.’
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 Humanist Society Scotland’s statement.
Read more about our work on blasphemy laws in Northern Ireland.
Read more about our international campaigns.
Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.
Northern Ireland Humanists is part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland.