The Scottish bishops stated that the bill “creates an offense of possessing inflammatory material which, if taken with the low threshold contained therein, could render material such as the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and other texts such as Bishops’ Conference of Scotland submissions to government consultations, as being inflammatory under the new provision.”
The bishops also noted that pronouncements of Catholic teaching on sex and gender “might be perceived by others as an abuse of their own, personal worldview and likely to stir up hatred.”
In their submission, the bishops said they had no objection to the proposal to abolish the common law of blasphemy, which has not been prosecuted in Scotland for more than 175 years. But the bishops said they were concerned the bill could feed “cancel culture.”
“The growth of what some describe as the ‘cancel culture’— hunting down those who disagree with prominent orthodoxies with the intention to expunge the non-compliant from public discourse and with callous disregard for their livelihoods— is deeply concerning,” they wrote.
The original text of the bill includes a provision meant to protect religious freedom of expression, stating that “behaviour or material is not to be taken to be threatening or abusive solely on the basis that it involves or includes...discussion or criticism of...religion, whether religions generally or a particular religion...religious beliefs or practices...proselytising, or...urging of persons to cease practising their religions.”
Yousaf also stated during the Oct. 27 hearing that he would be open to including freedom of speech protections to cover all of the protected categories in the bill; currently it only includes protections for certain statements about religion and about sexual orientation.
The Parliament’s Justice Committee is reviewing the 2,000 public comments received and is currently hearing testimony. The committee will aim to complete its Stage 1 report by Dec. 18, though the date could be pushed back, the BBC reported.
Scotland has experienced significant sectarian division since the Scottish Reformation of the 16th century, which led to the formation of the Church of Scotland, an ecclesial community in the Calvinist and Presbyterian tradition which is the country's largest religious community.
Sectarianism and crimes motivated by anti-Catholicism have been on the rise in Scotland in recent years, and Catholics in Scotland are increasingly concerned that the government could consider their faith “hate speech,” according to local reports.