Opposition to the controversial hate crime bill has grown in recent weeks, with comedian John Cleese voicing his strong objections.
The bill, as currently drafted, could outlaw any content that someone finds offensive. Atheist groups have already said they would use the proposed laws to monitor the content of sermons, evangelism, and the Bible.
The proposed legislation could also have impact on other areas of free speech, which is why religious and secular groups are equally concerned.
Cleese believes the bill could have a disastrous effect on freedom of expression, saying there seemed to be a group of people just ‘waiting to be offended’.
He added, ‘we don’t want to run society according to the sensitivities of the people who are most easily upset.’
Opposition to the bill is also growing within the Scottish National Party itself. Previously loyal SNP supporters are now threatening to leave the party if the bill is passed into law.
A freedom of information request was made by the Scottish Conservatives to reveal the growing pressure within the SNP.
As reported in The Scotsman, SNP supporters had written to the party asking for the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill to be amended or scrapped forever.
One supporter wrote, ‘I feel I am now unable to support both your government and party. Please do not allow legislation which even slightly curbs free speech, regardless of its content, to pass into law.’
Liam Kerr, shadow justice secretary for the Scottish Conservatives, said, ‘The SNP’s Hate Crime Bill will have a chilling impact on our fundamental right to freedom of speech.’
In response to the increased pressure, Humza Yousaf, the SNP minister who brought the bill to the table, acknowledged the strength of feeling among SNP supporters and said the bill would be changed.
Mr Yousaf said he had listened to the many concerns about a new offence of ‘stirring up hatred’ within the bill, which would not have required proof of ‘intent’ for an offence to be committed.
At the end of September, the Scottish government therefore agreed to raise the threshold of the ‘stirring up’ offences from behaviour ‘likely to stir up hatred’ to behaviour ‘intended to stir up hatred’.
However, opponents do not believe the concessions have gone far enough. Simon Calvert, deputy director for public affairs for The Christian Institute, commented, ‘Mr Yousaf has agreed to change one aspect of his unpopular hate crime bill. This is a start and is welcome as far as it goes.
‘But the criticisms levelled at the legislation by institutions and individuals across Scotland are much more far-reaching, and so more changes are needed.’