Posted on April 30, 2020

Scotland Swaps One Blasphemy Law for Another

Madeleine Kearns, National Review, April 29, 2020

On Friday, reports emerged that the Scottish Parliament had introduced a bill decriminalizing blasphemy. No one has been prosecuted under the blasphemy law in question for 175 years, but still, the law “no longer reflects the kind of society in which we live,” the government said.

Fair enough, one might think. But look closer: The new bill does not simply repeal the dormant blasphemy law, as reports suggest. Instead, it replaces the law with a new one, designed for actual use in the 21st century. {snip}

The single sentence abolishing “the offence of blasphemy,” does not appear until part four of the Hate Crimes and Public Order (Scotland) Act. In part one, the drafters make the bill more palatable by creating enhanced penalties for existing crimes that are “aggravated by prejudice.” In explaining how this could be applied, Lord Bracadale, who conducted an independent review of the legislation, gave ministers two hypothetical scenarios:

A man who was annoyed at the noise his gay neighbor made putting out the bins in the early morning engaged in abusive shouting, in the course of which he made comments about the neighbor’s sexual orientation including hoping that “people like you die of AIDS. . . .”

A man shouts at a disabled person in a wheelchair on a street saying, “get out of my way you cripple” and proceeds to tip them out of their wheelchair . . .


Bracadale explains that the law is intended to ensure that crimes aggravated by prejudice against protected “identity” groups are “treated differently from ordinary crimes.” Presumably, if we accept this, then we will move more seamlessly from the “hate crimes” listed in part one of the bill to the prohibitions on “stirring up hatred” listed in part two.

Just as the 1837 blasphemy law prohibited “composing, printing or publishing any blasphemous or seditious libel,” the new bill outlaws “displaying, publishing or distributing” anything that “stirs up hatred,” as well possessing “inflammatory material” or performing a hateful play. The prosecution would not even need to prove “intent” on the part of the accused; it would only need to prove that from their actions, hatred would be “likely to be stirred up.” As for what constitutes “stirring up hatred,” unlike Bracadale, the law is short on specifics, leaving that judgment entirely to the subjective perception of a member of a victim group or some other third party. {snip}

“The Scottish Government is committed to taking this opportunity to shape hate crime legislation so that it is fit for 21st century Scotland and, most importantly, affords sufficient protection for those that need it,” the justice minister explained. {snip}


Under the newly proposed bill, a person convicted of “stirring up hatred” could face up to seven years’ imprisonment. The Scottish government maintains that it has a mandate for such measures, because in 2015 the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey found that 69 percent of Scots felt “Scotland should do everything it can to get rid of all kinds of prejudice.” {snip}