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The new blasphemy law – only gays and Muslims need complain


The SNP government intends to abolish Scotland’s blasphemy law, introduced in 1690 and unused since 1843. The SNP’s ruling Council passed a motion arguing that abolishing the blasphemy law would give Scotland greater moral authority when speaking out against blasphemy laws elsewhere.

Vigorous opposition to blasphemy laws is necessary to protect freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Pakistan’s new ‘moderate’ prime minister, Imran Khan, has expressed a desire to see enacted a ‘universal blasphemy law’ enabling criticism of Mohammed and Islam anywhere in the world to be punished in accordance with sharia law.

The SNP would have an acceptable argument if it were not clear that, whilst eager to abolish its Christian blasphemy law, the Scottish government has in effect allowed a new blasphemy standard to emerge. Expressing disagreement with Islam or with political correctness and its results can land you in a Scottish court.

Scotland’s Christian street preachers are being targeted in an attempt to silence them. Activists ask them questions regarding Islam or LGBT rights, and wait eager to be offended. When the preachers repeat what the Bible says, no matter how respectfully, the activists have their feelings hurt, make a complaint to the police and the preachers are arrested.

Police Scotland now treat expression of disagreement with LGBT beliefs as a ‘hate crime’. Entirely peaceful street preachers have been arrested solely on grounds of a complaint, without any evidence supporting the complaint. Often the charges are either quietly dropped months later or dismissed out of hand in court. Nevertheless, the atmosphere of intimidation and attacks on freedom of speech have an inevitable gagging effect.

Gordon Lamour was confronted by two young men in Irvine, Ayrshire, in an attempt to silence him. Asked about the biblical position on homosexuality, Mr Lamour referred to Genesis and stated that God created Adam and Eve to produce children. The young men chased him, then complained to the police.

Despite being chased it was Mr Lamour who was arrested and ‘frogmarched’ to a police van. He was accused of threatening or abusive behaviour ‘aggravated by prejudice relating to sexual orientation’. Apparently saying: ‘Don’t forget Jesus loves you and He died for your sins’ is triggering for Scotland’s snowflakes.

Despite there being no evidence of Mr Lamour swearing or using any form of offensive language or physical aggression, he had to spend the night in a police cell. After he had endured the tension of waiting six months for trial, it took Kilmarnock Sheriff Court mere minutes to dismiss the charges against him.

Sheriff Alistair Watson acquitted Mr Lamour, ruling that there was no case to answer. The sheriff also found him not guilty of a second charge of assault aggravated by prejudice relating to sexual orientation.

The use of ‘hate crime’ legislation to silence reasoned and biblically based criticism of Islam or politically correct orthodoxy, no matter how respectfully expressed, should alarm all who value freedom of speech and belief. Under our SNP government one blasphemy law protecting Christianity is being replaced by what is in all but name a new blasphemy law.

If Scotland’s government genuinely wishes to set an example to the world by ensuring there is no possibility of anyone ever being arrested for blasphemy it should first put its own house in order. Laws used to protect beliefs rather than people empower extremists. It is clear that present legislation is being used in an attempt to silence Christians.

Shortly after Mr Lamour’s acquittal, Annabelle Ewing, Scotland’s Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs, announced an independent review of hate crime laws. The terms of reference of the review, conducted by retired judge Lord Bracadale, included exploring the creation of new categories of hate crime.

The question as to the whether or not existing legislation was being misused was not within the report’s remit.

The final report of the review includes an examination of hate crime legislation elsewhere and the results of a public consultation. Unfortunately, there is no acknowledgement of the damage hate crime legislation does to freedom of religion and freedom of speech caused by the, often deliberate, misuse of such legislation.

The report does acknowledge that a large number of respondents to the public consultation tried to raise concerns regarding the effect of existing hate crime legislation on freedom of religion and speech. Their concerns were, however, largely disregarded by the inquiry.

The report acknowledges that examination of legislation elsewhere made a ‘huge contribution . . . providing legal benchmarks for testing recommendations’. Unfortunately, the review of hate crime laws in other countries again failed to evaluate the impact these laws have had on the important human rights of freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

The Australian State of Victoria’s ‘Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001’ is extensively cited. This law was enacted shortly after 9/11 and was immediately used by the Islamic Council of Victoria to target a church seminar on Islam. Two seminar speakers had supposedly ‘vilified’ Islam. This ‘vilification’ consisted of quoting verses from the Quran concerning the treatment of non-Muslims.

Islamic organisations around the world have cited this as a landmark case in ‘protecting Islam’ in the West from any form of criticism. It was seen that it could be used as an Islamic blasphemy law.

The two speakers, Pakistani pastor Daniel Scot and Sri Lankan pastor Danny Nalliah, faced up to six months in prison. The ensuing court case and appeals dragged on for five years before both pastors were finally acquitted. The particular legislation, seen as a ‘benchmark’ by the Bracadale report, came in for strong criticism by the trial judge.

Annabelle Ewing has said: ‘The Scottish Government will use this report as a basis for wider consultation with communities and groups across the country on how to bring forward new legislation that is fit for the 21st century’.

Given the progressive stance of the SNP, Scotland may soon have a new blasphemy law in all but name.

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Dr Campbell Campbell-Jack
Dr Campbell Campbell-Jack
Campbell is a retired Presbyterian minister who lives in Stirlingshire. He blogs at A Grain of Sand.

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