Church leaders have urged the Scottish Government to drop part of proposed new hate crime laws surrounding criticism of gender identity issues.
MSPs have given their initial backing to the legislation, saying it makes laws “fit for purpose” in the 21st century, but Christian leaders claim clauses surrounding trans identity will ban any criticism “for fear of criminal sanctions”.
Leaders from the Catholic and Evangelical church argue the Bill would infringe on the right to freedom of expression.
Anthony Horan of the Catholic Church, Stephen Allison of the Free Church of Scotland, and Fred Drummond from the Evangelical Alliance have written to Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf on the issue.
They wrote: “We believe that people should be completely free to disagree with our faith in any way, 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.
“Transgender identity has been subject of extensive and emotional public discussion. Such free discussion and criticism of views is vital as society wrestles with these ideas.”
The leaders argue the church “cannot accept that any position or opinion at variance with the proposition that sex (or gender) is fluid and changeable should not be heard”.
They conclude: “The Parliament now has approximately four weeks to complete the passage of the Bill. This is extraordinarily tight and risks inadequate and ill-thought through legislation being passed.
“No workable solutions to issues of freedom of expression have so far been suggested.
“If no such solutions can be found, we hope the Scottish Government will now consider withdrawing the stirring up hatred offences in Part 2 of the Bill to allow more detailed consideration and discussion and to ensure freedom of expression provisions, which enshrine free and open debate, are afforded the scrutiny they require.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Bill does not prevent people expressing controversial, challenging or offensive views, nor does it seek to stifle criticism or rigorous debate in any way.
“Work continues to develop a consensus amongst those parties and stakeholders who are seeking to secure the right balance in both protecting freedom of expression and protecting those individuals and communities targeted by hate crime.
“We would fully expect any freedom of expression clause to cover transgender identity, as well as the other characteristics in the Bill.”