CARE: Christian Action, Research and Education

For what you believe
Open menu Close menu

Hate Crime Bill passes despite unresolved free speech concerns

Religious Liberty
11 March 2021
Scottish parliament

This evening at the Scottish Parliament, MSPs approved the controversial Hate Crime Bill by 82-32, with 4 abstentions.

The vast majority of SNP MSPs supported the Bill, as did the Scottish Greens and the Scottish Liberal Democrats, while Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives voted against it.

Voting on the Bill was supposed to take place last night, but the debate went on for much longer than had been scheduled for - hardly a surprise given the highly controversial nature of what was being debated.

MSPs from across the Chamber called for various changes yesterday, with amendments tabled to introduce a dwelling defence to protect people for conversations at home, and to strengthen free speech safeguards.

In the end, all amendments were voted down, except for the 'catch-all' free speech amendment tabled by the Justice Secretary, Humza Yousaf and an amendment by Adam Tomkins MSP. This will include a reference in the Bill to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights which 'allows for the expression of information or ideas that offend, shock or disturb'.

CARE’s Response

Thanks, in large part, to efforts of various campaign groups, including CARE for Scotland, there have been some improvements to the Bill, compared to when it was first introduced. These include:

  • Free speech protections have been bolstered (Adam Tomkins’ amendment 1 passing is an unexpected bonus on this front!)
  • The Reasonable Person Test has been inserted so that subjective claims of ‘stirring up hate’ can easily be rebutted
  • Theatres and other public performances have been given license to express themselves in their usual way, which sometimes includes poking fun at people and their beliefs
  • The Bible, or any Christian literature, will not be considered “inflammatory material” in the eyes of the State

However, it is also true that major concerns remain. The absence of a dwelling defence is especially alarming and opens the door to conversations within people's own home's being subject to criminal investigation.

CARE for Scotland's Parliamentary Officer, Michael Veitch, said the implementation of the legislation would need to be closely monitored:

“CARE’s principal concern with this legislation has always been with the potentially very dangerous restrictions on free speech.

“While we are thankful for the important but limited protection for free speech agreed by the Government and Parliament yesterday, it is of great concern that more robust protections were voted down – including those covering conversations in private dwellings.

“It will now be vital to closely monitor the implementation of the legislation going forward in an effort to avoid deeply damaging limits on freedom of expression on a range of matters.”
Michael Veitch Parliamentary Officer, CARE for Scotland

Our CARE for Scotland Director, Dr Stuart Weir has also written a reflection on the debate, praising those MSPs who spoke out for free speech.

Receive news from CARE each week

By signing up stay in touch you agree to receive emails from CARE. You can change your mailing preferences at any time either by getting in touch with CARE, or through the links on any of our emails.

Recent news in Religious Liberty


Religious Liberty

The right to freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental human right. We are campaigning to safeguard these freedoms in our society.

Find out more about the cause