Am I Stirring Up Hatred?

I grew up hearing people shout insults and then, when challenged for their hate, retort that 'it's a free country.' They may have been saying nasty things, and they may have been nasty people, but they were quite right - it was a free country. But, as we wake up today following the passing of the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland Bill) in the Scottish Parliament last night, will that still be the case? In all honesty, I'm not entirely sure.

Hate Crime and Free Speech

Undoubtedly, the Bill has been improved since it was introduced to Parliament in April 2020 (see article: Scotland's New Blasphemy Laws - Kinloch Free Church (kinlochfc.org)). However, there are still serious concerns with regards to how it shall be prosecuted. The offending section is Part 2 of the Bill. The explanatory notes summarise the section as follows:

Part 2 creates offences of stirring up hatred against a group of persons based on the group being defined by reference to a listed characteristic (age, disability, race (and related characteristics), religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity and variations in sex characteristics). It also creates offences of possessing inflammatory material with a view to communicating the material in circumstances where there is an intention to stir up hatred or it is likely that hatred would be stirred up.

The sharp edge has arguably been removed from this section by an amendment by Conservative MSP Adam Tomkins which seeks to guard the freedom of speech. In his own words, the amendment would make sure that

You are not committing a hate crime unless you cross that threshold of saying something that is not only offensive, but saying something that a reasonable person would hold to be threatening or abusive in a manner that intends to stir up hatred.

This is certainly a helpful clarification, and it's good that it was included. However, it is not foolproof. For example, where exactly is that threshold? What defines a reasonable person? In our polarised day, what is hatred? What does it look like to stir it up? Many of the key words in this debate have been left worryingly undefined.

Humza Yousaf tried to reassure the man on the street by saying,

To those who think they may accidentally somehow fall foul of the law... because they believe sex is immutable, or they believe an adult man cannot become a female or they campaign for the rights of Palestinians... or those that proselytise that same-sex relationships are sinful, none of these people would fall foul of the stirring up of hatred offence for solely stating their belief - even if they did so in a robust manner ... Why? Because solely stating any belief, which I accept may be offensive to some, is not breaching the criminal threshold.

Interesting use of "proselytise."

So, clearly, at least according to the drafters of the law, 'solely stating any belief ... is not breaching the criminal threshold.' One wonders, then, not only how this crime will be prosecuted, but also who it will satisfy? One group will be constantly looking over their shoulder, worried that they may have broken a taboo, and another group will be frustrated that those who disagree with them, offend them, and therefore arguably hate them, will not be prosecuted, shamed and silenced. How, then, is this Bill going to deal with the, apparently systemic, hatred at the grassroots level of society?

The fact is that you can't have a free speech provision in a Bill that is, in its very essence, designed to curtail free speech, and still expect the Bill to do what it was designed to do in the first place. That is a confusing sentence, but its is a confusing piece of legislation.

Stirring up Hatred

Most people are not in a position in which they could stir up hatred even if they tried. As a minister, however, I feel a bit nervous. It is, after all, my job to stir people up. The Apostle Peter wrote to the Church in his own day saying,

This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour. (2 Peter 3:1-2)

His intention is to sir up the minds of the people to remember the words of the prophets and the commandments of the apostles. Bear in mind that, in Biblical terminology, to 'remember' something isn't simply to recollect it - it's to act upon it. Peter was stirring up the Church to action.

And so it is with the preacher. Not dissimilar to the comedian who wants to make you laugh, or the singer who wants to move your emotions, so the minister preaches for a response. It is our job to stir you up to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and to go out and live a consistent Christian life in the public sphere while you 'contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.' (Jude 3) Can we still do this?

Examples

With regard to the protected characteristics under this legislation, there are significant points of tension. In terms of religion, I will continue to preach that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the only way to Heaven. I will encourage my congregation to promote this view and to witness to people of all faiths to embrace Biblical Christianity. Is this stirring up hatred?

With regards to sexual orientation, I will teach that the only legitimate place for sexual relations is in a lawful marriage between a man and a woman. I will encourage my congregation to live in accordance with this teaching and to promote it in their own spheres as the only legitimate moral position. Moreover, the elders of the Church will deny membership to any who defy that Biblical principle. Under this new legislation, will myself and the elders who serve alongside me be illegally stirring up hatred?

With regards to transgender identity, I will continue to teach the congregation, in the words of Jesus, that 'from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.' (Mark 10:6) I will teach that there are two  sexes and two genders and that what we are born with is simply the hand that God has dealt us - to deny that or to seek to alter it is both sinful and unnatural. Not only will I teach this but I will also call my congregation to hold to it and to promote it. Will that be stirring up hatred?

To the, arguably legitimate, anger of some, sex has not been included as a protected characteristic under this Bill. Should it be introduced, as it is expected that it will be, I will continue to preach that men and women are, in many cases, naturally suited to different but complementary roles. I will expound the Bible's teaching that, although women are invaluable to the Church, they are not to hold office in it (i.e., be ministers, elders or deacons). Will I be stirring up hatred?

What Next?

It is my job to stir people up to specific views on all of these issues. I will never do so out of hate but, rather, out of love. Indeed, I hope that I would give the shirt off my back for those who disagree with me and are living lives which Scripture deems to be sinful and dishonouring to God. They are all welcome in the Church and they are welcome at my dinner table.

However, without a shadow of a doubt, there will be feminists, homosexuals, members of other religions, and transgender people who will believe that I am stirring up hatred against them. Does this legislation give them a grounds to say that? Does it give a judge a legal basis to charge me? Will 'speaking the truth in love' (Ephesians 4:15) be deemed hate speech in 21st century Scotland?

I hope not. However, in all honesty, I am not sure. This new legislation has certainly made it a worrying possibility, if not yet a reality. I suppose time will tell.

One thing is for sure - in this increasingly transparent day, there will be new fears and anxieties as ministers preach on such moral issues in the future. Not just that we might offend someone in the congregation, but that we might have a policeman knocking at the door on Monday morning. However, regardless of what the future holds, I hope that, like thousands before us, ministers will continue to understand that 'we ought to obey God rather than men.' (Acts 5:29)

 

As always, these opinions are my own and do not necessarily represent those of Kinloch Free Church or the Free Church of Scotland. 


Scotland's New Blasphemy Laws

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, we would be forgiven for missing it but, on Friday the 24th of April, when the mind of the nation was on other things, the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament.

The proposed legislation, which is largely based on Lord Bracadale's Independent Review of Hate Crime Legislation in Scotland, 'seeks to modernise, consolidate and extend existing hate crime law ensuring it is fit for the 21st Century.' Additionally, the Bill recommends the abolition of abeyant historic blasphemy laws.

But is Parliament just replacing one form of blasphemy with another?

"The Milestone"

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has called the new Bill 'an important milestone' and argued that

By creating robust laws for the justice system, parliament will send a strong message to victims, perpetrators, communities and to wider society that offences motivated by prejudice will be treated seriously and will not be tolerated. Stirring up of hatred can contribute to a social atmosphere in which discrimination is accepted as normal. Our legislation, if passed, would offer greater protection for those who experience this kind of behaviour. We all have a responsibility to challenge prejudice in order to ensure Scotland is the inclusive and respectful society we want it to be.

Mr Yousaf majors on prejudice as the key motivation in hate crime. The offending prejudices, as defined by the Bill, are those relating to race, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation and variations in sex characteristics, with a clause to add misogyny in due course.

Hate Crime

If these are the protected categories, what does hate crime look like in these instances? The Bill is, unfortunately, vague on what hate crime actually is:

There is no single accepted definition of hate crime with different definitions produced for different purposes, however Lord Bracadale stated in his review: “Hate crime is the term used to describe behaviour which is both criminal and rooted in prejudice”.

Lord Bracadale is arguing that hate crime is a current crime (murder, assault and breach of the peace are listed as examples) which is committed because of prejudice, rather than, for example, gain or revenge. In other words, you can only commit a hate crime as part of another crime. If you do so out of prejudice, that will count against you in court.

Thus far, most people would not have a great deal of trouble with the proposal. We may not agree with some practices or ways of life, but neither would we agree that crimes against such people should go unpunished.

Stirring up Hatred

What, then, is the "milestone"? For the first time, apart from in cases of racism, it will be unlawful to stir up hatred against anyone on the basis of the aforementioned prejudices. Hate crime will include conduct which is either threatening or abusive to those in the protected categories, or language which appears to promote such conduct.

The problem is particularly with the term 'abusive'. The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘abusive’ as ‘extremely offensive and insulting.’ In Westminster's laws on racial hate crime, the similarity between the terms 'abusive' and 'insulting' resulted in the removal of the word 'insulting' on the basis that it was superfluous. In every case where somebody had been insulted on the basis of race, they were deemed to have been abused as well.

As such, it will be illegal, not only to encourage conduct which is threatening on the basis of the above - most would probably agree with that - but also to share thoughts, ideas and teachings which are deemed to be abusive or insulting. What is more, the explanatory notes explain that such hatred can be stirred up intentionally or as a likely consequence of the material which was communicated. In other words, you can do it without knowing that you are doing it and then be prosecuted for it.

It takes very little to insult people in Scotland today. No doubt, many will interpret such insults as abuse.

Free Speech

That is certainly a milestone. If passed, it will most certainly be the death of free speech as we have known it in Scotland.

Freedom is something that we hold dear in this country. Historically, it is something that people have died for. Today, as a democratic nation, we feel that we have a right to it.

In his classic On Liberty, John Stuart Mill wrote that human liberty demands

absolute freedom of opinion and sentiment on all subjects, practical or speculative, scientific, moral, or theological. The liberty of expressing and publishing opinions ... [is] practically inseparable from it.

Mill argues that both freedom of thought and freedom of expression are integral to a healthy democracy. When they are impinged upon, democracy moves axiomatically towards becoming the tyranny of the majority. People's consciences are violated as fear of being found out becomes the order of the day. Without freedom of information, the people run the risk of being kept in a state-imposed ignorance which, among other things, hinders their ability to vote intelligently. That works well in a dictatorship, but it negates a healthy democracy.

This Bill might look as if it is just trying to stop a minority of bad, old-fashioned people saying some bad, old-fashioned things. However, it could signal the beginning of the end of our free society.

The legislation does contain a section on free speech. However, the refusal to heed the recommendation of Lord Bracadale to include provisions on its protection as robust as those implemented in Westminster over a decade ago shows that it is little more than lip-service. How could it be anything else? You cannot legitimately protect free speech in a Bill that is designed to stop people saying things.

On Brexit Day in January, the Scottish Parliament suggested that one of its four great aims was to 'embody progressive, democratic values on the world stage.' On the contrary, this Bill shows them to be leaving democratic values behind and regressing towards a form of despotism. Sadly, if you dig deep enough into Scottish history, you will find that despotism is not new and never popular.

The Enemy of Individuality

In Leftism Revisited, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn argued that political-correctness was the very antithesis of democracy. When there are certain things that we are not allowed to say, or even think, our freedoms are surrendered and our individuality forced to give way to a state-agreed form of equality.

Political-correctness has gained ground in 21st century Scotland and is now in the process of being passed into law. In the name of diversity, Parliament is threatening to criminalise diverse thought - that is, thought which doesn't conform to the state-agreed dogma. Although on the one hand it is taking the side of the individual - or at least the offended individual - on the other, it is wanting us all to think the same and is prosecuting us for promoting a different perspective.

Where does this leave those who have a different perspective? Where does it leave those who believe in a different form of truth? Where does it leave those whose concept of right and wrong differs from that of Parliament? Presumably, in a very precarious position.

Where will the new laws leave old ladies who refuse to be washed by a carer who is a man? Where will they leave women who refuse to share changing facilities with transgender women?  Up until now, such parties have had the right, not only to their opinions, but also to express these opinions publicly without fear that they will be marginalised or criminalised. They may have offended people with their different opinions, but being offended comes part in parcel with freedom and individuality.

And, of course, to offend of insult someone does not mean that you hate them. On the contrary, difficult truths and different perspectives often do us good.

The Enemy of Religious Freedom

Where will the new laws leave religious groups in Scotland? Can Churches still make truth claims about issues such as gender roles, sexual ethics and marriage? Will it be criminally misogynistic to refuse to ordain women? These things are, without doubt, insulting to some, but many Churches hold them to be absolute truths from God.

Can the Christian minister still preach that the only way to Heaven is through personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? Can the Muslim Imam still proclaim that the only way to Paradise is through following the teachings of Mohammed? Can the New Atheist write books saying that all religion is superstition and, therefore, irrelevant to public life?

Such teachings cannot but be mutually exclusive and, therefore, potentially insulting to those who don't agree with them. Should they be criminalised? The details are vague but, according to this proposed legislation, yes they should.

The New Blasphemy

The repealing of the blasphemy law as part of this Bill is so ironic that it cannot but be intentionally so. The report explains that this has come about as a response to calls from the Humanist Society of Scotland, the National Secular Society of Scotland and 45 individuals (who probably belong to the aforementioned groups). The only explanation given for the abolition is that

The offence has not been prosecuted in Scotland for more than 175 years and no longer reflects the kind of society in which we live.

If anyone needed proof that Scotland was no longer a Christian country, there you have it. But we thought that we had become a secular country, not a totalitarian country.

Does our Parliament's top-down legislation reflect our society, or is it the fruit of the liberal elite's attempt to shape it through fear, intimidation and, now, the law? What they have done is hammered the last legal nail into the proverbial coffin of the old morality and replaced it with a new morality which promises to be far more fierce and unforgiving than the old ever was. To speak out against it will be political blasphemy.

Better a historical blasphemy law that isn't prosecuted than a Hate Crime Bill which, in all likelihood, will be.