Scotland is increasingly finding itself among those countries where draconian actions and reactions to what is perceived as hate speech are raising eyebrows among rights activists and freedom-loving people in general.
Now, some star comedians and other artists are joining forces against the ruling SNP party’s shocking Hate Crime and Public Order Bill.
The bill is the work of Scottish Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf, who defends it as “an important milestone in the fight against prejudice.”
But famed comedian Rowan Atkinson and 20 others, including actors, philosophers, and writers, working with Humanist Society Scotland, see it as posing danger to freedom of expression, because the new legislation aims to introduce the offense of “stirring up hatred” without taking into account if hatred was the intent, bringing with it the danger of criminalizing and jailing people simply for their controversial views, the article said of the artists’ concerns.
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A letter the group penned specifies that the offense means “merely words, action, or artwork” might be construed as hatred-stirring regardless of intent behind it.
But in this context, the new bill would merely formalize what has shockingly already been happening in Scotland’s courts, as there have already been some highly visible cases of comedians being to all intents and purposes persecuted for their jokes.
While they describe the bill as well-meaning, Atkinson and others point out the potential for unintended consequences and for abuse in restricting freedom of expression and disrupting what is described as rational debate, discussion, and freedom to criticize ideas, be they philosophical, religious, or otherwise.
Taking these rights away would impair democracy and artistic expression, the signatories of the letter warned.
When lawyers from the Faculty of Advocates addressed the issue last week, they were blunt: the bill could produce “a large number of prosecutions”; while Conservative member of the Scottish Parliament Liam Kerr called it “deeply flawed.”
Humanist Society Scotland’s CEO Fraser Sutherland said the bill’s intent was not as problematic as the actual provisions contained in the draft.
The government, meanwhile, maintains the bill “does not seek to stifle criticism or rigorous debate in any way” and promises to “work with stakeholders and opposition where there are genuine concerns raised.”