Atheist activist says Scotland's hate crime Bill can be used to prosecute faith groups 'for spreading hatred'

(Photo: Unsplash/CarolynV)

An atheist activist has said he is supporting a controversial hate crime Bill in Scotland because it can be used to prosecute religious groups. 

Ian Stewart, Convener of Atheist Scotland, said in a letter to The Courier newspaper that the SNP's Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill "will enable the prosecution of all Scotland's religions and their Holy Books for spreading hatred"

"It is utterly unacceptable that in progressive, social democratic Scotland that squalid, Bronze Age village disputes, as described in the Holy Books, about control of women, goats or water should give Scotland's 'Holy Willies' authority to spout out vitriol against atheists, agnostics, apostates, sceptics, non-believers, women, trans people and homosexuals," he wrote. 

"We fully intend to monitor all Holy Books, sermons in places of worship and the social media accounts of the various religions and report any hatred to Police Scotland for criminal investigation." 

His views contrast with the National Secular Society and Humanist Society Scotland, which have both come out against the Bill. 

If the legislation is passed, it will criminalise "stirring up hatred". Controversially, the Bill states that an offence has been committed if it can be shown that words were "abusive" or "likely" to stir up hatred.

Commenting on Mr Stewart's letter, The Christian Institute's Simon Calvert said it was evidence of why 'stirring up' offences are "dangerous". 

Mr Calvert said the proposed law was "unworkable" and likely to be used by people to advance their own personal views. 

"[It] will give politically-motivated complainants like Mr Stewart a powerful weapon against their ideological opponents," he said.

"Vexatious activists will be able to dial 999 and accuse someone of stirring up hatred and the police may have no alternative but to investigate.

"The threshold of the proposed offences is so low that Mr Stewart might well be able to persuade a police officer that certain unfashionable Bible verses or sermons are 'hate crimes'.

"Does the Scottish Government really want to expose church ministers to the risk of prosecution at the instigation of anti-religious zealots?" 

He added: "In the current political climate, all kinds of legitimate speech gets tagged as 'abusive' and 'hateful' by cynical activists who are just trying to shut down debate.

"This is the febrile climate into which the Scottish Government plans to inject its new hate crime law. Ministers are playing a dangerous game. The Bill is going to increase division and rancour. Meanwhile it will do little to help real victims of crime."