The National Secular Society has urged Scotland's justice minister not to renege on a commitment to ensure a strengthened level of protection for free speech on religion in the current hate crime bill.
A vital free speech
provision around religion has yet to be determined, even though it had appeared to be settled and a final vote on the legislation is likely to be just days away.
The NSS has long warned that plans to criminalise 'stirring up
hatred' on the grounds of religion within the bill pose a threat to freedom of expression.
The Scottish parliament's Justice Committee had agreed to an amendment to protect expressions of "antipathy, dislike, ridicule and
insult" of religion or belief during previous consideration of the bill. However, this now appears to be under threat after the launch of a last minute consultation on freedom of expression provisions in the bill. The consultation, which closed on
Monday, lasted just four days.
The NSS and Edinburgh Secular Society have now jointly written to Humza Yousaf, Scotland's cabinet secretary for justice, over the issue.
The NSS said a free speech clause
covering religion that only protected "discussion or criticism" would be "too imprecise" and go "nowhere near far enough to protect robust debate, satire, comedy and commentary about religions or beliefs".
It added that the law should "in no way serve to criminalise people for their opposition to ideas or protect people's beliefs from antipathy, dislike, ridicule and insult".
The letter argued that the
"wide consensus and strong support" for the additional protection for speech about religion or belief should be reflected in the legislation. And it says it would be "unconscionable at this late stage to renege on additional free speech
protections already agreed to".