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SCOTLAND: Confusion over free speech protection on religion in hate crime bill: two viewpoints

National Secular Society (18.02.2021) – https://bit.ly/2ZxlZn3 – New proposals from the Scottish government could substantially weaken the protection for freedom of expression on religion in its current hate crime bill – even though this appeared to be settled.

The bill, which was introduced last year, would create new offences of ‘stirring up hatred’, including on the grounds of religion.

Earlier this week the Scottish parliament’s Justice Committee approved several amendments to it, one of which would provide greater protection for freedom of expression on religion.

But on Thursday the committee issued a call for views on four new options for freedom of expression protections, which have been proposed by the justice secretary.

Only two of the options contain the agreed amendment on free speech on religion. The other two substantially dilute protection for freedom of expression on religion in comparison.

The committee has requested that views on the proposals be submitted by 10:00 this coming Monday (22 February).

The National Secular Society has been among those warning that the ‘stirring up hatred’ offences within the bill pose a threat to freedom of expression, and has criticised the latest confusion.

How the new options differ from the agreed amendment

A conviction for ‘stirring up hatred’ on religious grounds would require the prosecution to demonstrate that the accused had behaved in a manner which is “threatening or abusive” and intended to stir up hatred.

One of the amendments would have provided greater protection to expressions of “antipathy”, “ridicule”, “dislike” or “insult” of religion or belief.

The Scottish government previously agreed to the amendment, and the committee approved it unanimously this week.

But two of the four options now proposed only say behaviour would not reach the threshold for prosecution “solely on the basis that it involves or includes discussion or criticism” of religion.

The NSS previously argued that the original amendment should be toughened further, to bring it in line with an equivalent clause in England and Wales’s Racial and Religious Hatred Act.

NSS comment

NSS chief executive Stephen Evans said the Scottish government’s position was “perplexing and farcical”.

“The level of protection for freedom of expression on religion in this bill appeared settled. The agreed amendment was a significant step in the right direction and the Scottish government shouldn’t be reopening this.

“This episode simply reinforces legitimate concerns that the bill will unacceptably intrude on freedom of speech. With this in mind, and amid a deeply confused and rushed process, MSPs should press pause on the relevant section of this bill.”

NSS lobbying

The NSS has warned that the ‘stirring up hatred’ offences in the bill pose a threat to freedom of expression since it was introduced last year.

The NSS has lobbied for substantial changes, including a robust protection for free speech on religion.

The society has also joined the Free to Disagree campaign, which is warning of the threat the bill poses to free speech.

Last week the NSS was among civil society groups who signed a joint letter urging ministers to defer scrutiny of the ‘stirring up hatred’ proposals until after the May election.

Amendments since introduction of bill

The Scottish government has previously announced several amendments to the bill.

These have included the introduction of a “reasonable person” test, to apply when charges are brought on the basis that behaviour was “abusive”, and a requirement to demonstrate intent to secure a conviction for ‘stirring up hatred’.

The bill as initially drafted would have also enabled convictions in circumstances where it was “likely” that hatred would be stirred up.

Photo : Humza Yousaf, the justice secretary, speaking to the Justice Committee this week.





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SCOTLAND: Mr. Bean and Christian Churches opposing new hate speech law

Catholics, Evangelicals, and famous comedians all claim that the draft “Hate Crime and Public Order Bill” threatens free speech and religious liberty.

By Massimo Introvigne

Bitter Winter (18.02.2021)- https://bit.ly/37sXOLb – It does not happen often in Scotland that leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, the Free Church, and the Evangelical Alliance join forces to protest against the government. In fact, it never happened before. When they are even joined by Mr. Bean, the government should start being concerned.

The bone of contention is a new draft law called “Hate Crime and Public Order Bill,” expected to be passed next month. The laudable aim of the new bill is to get rid of the century-old Scottish law against blasphemy. Although it was almost never enforced in recent decades, everybody agrees it should go.

What many do not agree with is the content of the bill that will replace the old anti-blasphemy statutes. The new bill punishes with jail penalties up to seven years those guilty of “stirring up hatred” through the expression of “bigoted and offensive opinions” against groups of people identified by “disability, race, religion, sexual orientation, and transgender identity.” A provision allows the law to be revised in the future including “sex” among the protected categories, thus punishing those who would offend women or men as general categories.

It would seem that religions should be happy that those who offend them will go to jail. This is not the case, explain a letter dated February 12 and signed by the Roman Catholic Church, the Free Church, and the Evangelical Alliance. “We believe that people should be completely free to disagree with our faith in any way, wrote the main Christian leaders of Scotland, including mocking and ridiculing us. We are convinced that our faith is true and has a sufficient evidential basis to withstand any criticism, we therefore welcome open debate.”

Churches are also concerned that calling another religion heretical or false, something which is common in religious controversy, will be punished by the law, just as in Russia those who call “false” a religion different from their own are punished as “extremist” (unless they belong to the majority Russian Orthodox Church).

Comedians agree, and here is where Rowan Atkinson—actually, Sir Rowan Atkinson, due to his achievements as Mr. Bean—comes into the picture. He is one of many celebrities who want to keep “the right to critique ideas, philosophical, religious and other.” The government has tried to reassure them by stating that only those whose intent is to offend and discriminate will be punished, but they are not reassured. How will the intent be ascertained?

The churches, mindful of a recent controversy that involved Jane Rowling, the Scottish author of Harry Potter fame, are also concerned about the reference in the law to “sexual orientation and transgender identity.” The churches agree that violence and insults against LGBT people should not be tolerated, yet ask whether those churches that teach that homosexual acts are a sin will be punished because of this teaching. They also note in their letter that “transgender identity has been the subject of extensive and emotional public discussion. Such free discussion and criticism of views is vital as society wrestles with these ideas.” They state that they “cannot accept that any position or opinion at variance with the proposition that sex (or gender) is fluid and changeable should not be heard… A right to claim that binary sex does not exist or is fluid must be matched with a right to disagree with that opinion; and protection from prosecution for holding it.” The churches do not want that those who “mock and ridicule” Christians, inter alia criticizing them as homophobic, will be punished by the law. But neither they want Christians to go to jail for expressing unpopular opinions on gender issues, that some may find wrong or outdated but nonetheless should have a right to be freely expressed, as part of religious liberty and free speech.

Photo: The Scottish Parliament building





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SCOTLAND: Legal challenge over definition of ‘woman’ gets under way

A legal challenge over the definition of the word “woman” has begun at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

 

By Kirsty McIntosh

The Courier (07.01.2021) – https://bit.ly/2JS3dme – Campaign group For Women Scotland is challenging the Scottish Government over the wording of the Gender Representation on Public Boards Act 2018.

 

The legislation, which was passed two years ago, aims to increase the number of women in senior positions on public bodies.

 

Its wording covers trans women who hold a gender recognition certificate, which changes their legal gender from male to female, as well as those who are “living as a woman” and are “proposing to undergo” such a change “for the purpose of becoming female”.

 

Virtual hearing

 

However, For Women Scotland say that definition clashes with the UK Government’s Equality Act 2010, which defines a woman as a female of any age.

 

For Women Scotland’s website says the group’s aim is “To stop the Scottish Government redefining ‘woman’ to include men”.

 

They believe the Scottish Government has acted outwith its powers, as the matter is reserved to Westminster, and believe MSPs are breaching their responsibilities to equality legislation.

 

The group was granted a judicial review, to be heard by Lady Wise.

 

The matter is being heard in a virtual hearing at the Court of Session today and tomorrow.

 

The hearing will also receive submissions from human rights lawyers Just Right Scotland on behalf of Scottish Trans, which is part of LGBT organisation Equality Network.

 

The submission includes a 5,000 word document detailing the experience of transwomen living in Scotland.

 

The Equality network believes that if the challenge is successful it will discriminate against transwomen.

 

Previous controversy

 

It comes just weeks after the Scottish Parliament debated an amendment to the Forensic Medical Services Bill.

 

The Bill aims to improve services for those who have experienced rape or sexual assault by allowing access to a forensic medical examination without the need to report to the police.

 

Johann Lamont tabled an amendment of just six words – “for the word ‘gender’ substitute ‘sex’” –  after stating that the original wording “could be ambiguous in the bill, which has the potential to cause distress to individuals undergoing forensic medical examination”.

 

The change allows rape survivors to request that an examination be carried out by an individual of the same sex.

 

The Scottish Government initially rejected this argument, but ministers backed the amendment on Thursday.

 

The change in wording was backed by 113 MSPs.

 

The issue led Scottish Greens MSP Andy Wightman to quit the party after disagreeing with their stance on the issue.

 

All members of the Scottish Green Party, as well as the Lib Dems, voted against the amendment.

 

For Women Scotland has a list of the group’s beliefs on its website, including that “sex is immutable and is a protected characteristic”.

 

They also believe that “women are entitled to privacy, dignity, safety and fairness”.

 

And “women’s rights should be strengthened”.

 

Members say they “campaign on a positive, pro-women basis and we call for evidence-based discussion and legislation”.





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SCOTLAND becomes first country to provide period products for free

Tampons, sanitary towels and other period products will have to be available free of cost in Scotland.

 

By Pierre-Paul Bermingham

 

POLITICO (25.11.2020) – https://politi.co/2JqD0us – Scotland became the first country in the world to make feminine hygiene products available for free as the Scottish Parliament unanimously passed the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Act on Tuesday evening.

 

The law requires local authorities to ensure period products such as tampons or sanitary towels are available free of cost in their area. Schools, universities, and other education institutions must also have free period products in their restrooms, as must a number of public buildings.

 

Scottish Labour MSP Monica Lennon introduced the bill in April 2019 and led the legislative effort. “Periods should never be a barrier to education or push anyone into poverty,” said Lennon, also the spokesperson for health and sport of her party. “Women, girls and all people who menstruate deserve period dignity,” she added.

 

A study in May by Plan International UK found that 30 percent of girls aged 14-21 struggled to access sanitary products during the lockdown in the United Kingdom.

 

Lennon thanked grassroots activists who played an important role in campaigning for the measure, as well as precursors such as the North Ayrshire council, which had implemented a policy of free sanitary products in 2018.

 

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was “proud to vote for this groundbreaking legislation.”

 

Though Scotland is the first nation to make feminine hygiene freely available to all, a handful of countries have banned the “tampon tax” – the levying of VAT on sanitary products.

 

In Europe, Ireland is the only country with no tampon tax. The EU only allows zero-rate VAT derogations on products which were zero-rated before EU legislation.

Photo: 30 percent of girls aged 14-21 struggled to access sanitary products during the lockdown in the U.K., according to Plan International UK | Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images.


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