The extension of the law on «hate crimes» is expected to have profound negative results for freedom of expression and religious freedom.
The Scottish Government is considering the introduction of new «hate crime» legislation through the Holyrood Justice Committee, which has required a public consultation on the Hate Crimes and Public Order Act scheme.
Extension of the Act
The current law includes offences against race, but Scottish Ministers aim to extend it to cover all other «protected characteristics», including religion, sexual orientation and transgender identity.
While Christians never support genuinely threatening or abusive behaviour, it is difficult to pass this bill because of some of the things it includes, including new «hate crimes».
Extending the law in this way will have profound consequences for «freedom of speech and religious freedom. These new offenses could very simply limit our freedom to proclaim Christ as the only way to salvation or to call people to repent of sin, even on church premises.
It will be a risk to the freedoms of the nation
Furthermore, it is a matter of concern that the Bill does not include important legal safeguards that are contained in parallel legislation in England and Wales, which makes this Act particularly dangerous.
Conduct does not have to be threatening or even intended to stir up hatred for a crime to be committed. Instead, the Bill covers any abusive behaviour that is deemed likely to provoke hatred.
A crime can even be committed absent-mindedly in the privacy of your own home. And there is not enough protection for freedom of speech.
Many of those who oppose the truth of the Bible claim that to disagree with them is tantamount to hatred. The proposed «hate speech» offenses would give those hostile to Christianity a new tool to try to close the debate and silence Christians.
Impacts for Evangelization
Such legislation, especially in the current climate, would without hesitation have a frightening effect on freedom of expression. Think of how this could impact on student evangelization, church outreach, or Christians seeking to debate moral and ethical issues.
If this bill becomes law, many people will criticize themselves, preferring not to express their own perfectly sensible views for fear of offending someone who might disagree. A legal, but unpopular, point of view may soon become too reckless.
A matter of concern for the churches
This poses a particularly difficult problem for Christians, as we know that the Gospel will be «offensive» to many, such as telling people that they are sinners, that their conduct separates them from God, and that there is no way to heaven except through Jesus. Together, Christians cannot help but say that, as it is written in Romans 1:16, «I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God that brings salvation to all who believe.
That means that if Christians hold on to their convictions, persist in the gospel, and remain to explain to people what the Bible says about such matters as sexuality and religious diversity, they will inevitably be offended.
Unfortunately, in a culture where crowds seem increasingly unable to distance themselves from what they do not agree with, it is only a matter of time before the police become involved in the matter.
Sermons in cults will be offensive
A Sunday morning sermon where Christ is preached as the only savior and all other religions are said to be false, or where homosexual behavior is said to be sinful, could see the preacher prosecuted for stirring up hatred.
We are currently seeing cases of Christians and others with unpopular views being investigated by the police for their views, and this without legislation being passed.