Scottish Jewish council backs controversial measure to outlaw 'stirring up hatred'

Critics say the proposal is too vague and a threat to free speech


The Scottish Council of Jewish Communities is backing a controversial proposal in a new bill designed to curb hate which is making its way through the Scottish Parliament. 

The Hate Crime and Public Order bill would be an “important milestone” in protecting groups, said Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Justice. 

But critics of one proposal to create a new offence of “stirring up hatred” argue it is too vague and could threaten free speech. 

Currently, a more restricted definition of stirring up hatred is covered in public order legislation. But the Scottish government wants to extend protection from just racial or ethnic groups to other grounds such as sexual orientation or religion. 

In its submission to the government, Scojec says it “strongly supports the introduction of this new offence”. 

But in other areas Scojec believes the new law may not go far enough. 

“For example, when a pig's head was dumped on a woman's lawn in Aberdeen, pork pies left with a blue pencil note at Dundee Synagogue, and a passenger made the gesture of firing a gun at a pedestrian from a passing car, it is not certain that any offence was committed,” it said. 

“These would all have been recorded by the police as ‘hate incidents’, rather than ‘hate crimes’.” 

It suggested that the legislation should include the option of prosecution for racially aggravated conduct “for incidents such as those we have described above”. 

Whereas the definition of stirring up hatred or possessing inflammatory material depends on speech or material being “threatening, abusing or insulting” in the case of race or ethnicity, this is limited in the new bill to “threatening” or “abusive” on other grounds. 

But Scojec said that “insulting” should apply to the protection of all groups. “There should not be any hierarchy of equality,” it said. 

It also urged the government to consider introducing legislation to crack down on internet hate and supported the proposed abolition of blasphemy in the bill. 


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