Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner.

National Secular Society chief warns new abuse laws ‘seriously risk chilling free speech’

Post Thumbnail

New powers drawn up to protect victims of hate crime are “excessive, vague and seriously risks chilling free speech”, the chief executive of a secular organisation has claimed.

Stephen Evans, chief executive of the National Secular Society, a non-party-political organisation which promotes the separation of religion and state, believes the new ‘stirring up hatred’ offences within the Hate Crime Bill include “dangerously low thresholds for prosecution”.

Stephen Evans, chief executive of the National Secular Society.

The legislation seeks to extend that protection beyond race to include age, religion, disability, sexual orientation and transgender issues.

He adds: “Freedom of expression is such a fundamental right; it is imperative for governments to tread carefully in this area.

“However well-intentioned, the legislation as drafted is excessive, vague and seriously risks chilling free speech.

“Freedom only to say what others find acceptable is no freedom at all.”

The organisation has said it is also concerned that under the proposed laws, individuals can commit a ‘stirring up hatred’ offence without intending to do so, and without actually having done so, if the court feels their actions were ‘likely’ to stir up hatred.

Mr Evans added: “This lack of mens rea – mental culpability – drastically widens the reach of the offence.”

Freedom only to say what others find acceptable is no freedom at all.”

Stephen Evans, chief executive of the National Secular Society

It comes as a new campaign ‘Free to Disagree’ was launched on Friday, supported by the National Secular Society, former deputy leader of the SNP Jim Sillars, The Christian Institute and Abertay University criminologist Dr Stuart Waiton, which calls for the draft offences to be scrapped or amended to protect freedom of expression.

Dr Waiton said the “best antidote to bad speech is good speech”.

He added: “The more tolerant people become, it seems, the more intolerant our politicians become and the more laws we have to criminalise people for words and even thoughts that are labelled as unacceptable.

“This proposed hate crime bill is potentially the greatest threat to-date to what should be a free and tolerant society.”

Simon Calvert, Deputy Director for Public Affairs at The Christian Institute, said in the “current hyper-sensitive political climate”, it is “vital that politicians don’t add fuel to the fire by legislating badly-drafted speech laws that will cause further division, while doing nothing to help real victims of crime”.

However, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf, has said the legislation will give 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”.

Already a subscriber? Sign in

[[title]]

[[text]]

More from The Courier Scottish politics team

More from The Courier