For Americans, it’s easy to take the First Amendment for granted. We live our lives secure in the knowledge that, regardless of who it might anger or what the cancel culture vultures may try, we can believe what we want and express those beliefs without fear of government persecution – or prosecution.
But that simply isn’t the case throughout most of the world, and few events demonstrate that nigh-universal lack of liberty quite like the recent decision by the Scottish Parliament. Kept afloat by support from the Scottish National Party (SNP), Labour, and the Liberal Democrats, the newest Hate Crime Bill passed 82 votes to 32 Thursday, March 11. And in one fell swoop, free speech was left slain in Scotland on the Parliament floor.
Abridging the Freedom of Speech
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads, in full:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Now that’s quite a mouthful, but what it comes down to is simply this: Humans ought to have the right to think and believe whatever they want, politically, religiously, or otherwise, and to express those beliefs without fear of persecution, even to the point of holding the government accountable. Does that mean that sometimes disagreements will occur or that feelings may get hurt? Of course. There’s no good reason to be rude or hateful, but there’s no right to never be offended, either. Those ruffled feathers are merely the price to be paid for the freedom of belief and expression.
But would it be so bad to amend the law so that there’s some safeguards against unpleasant folk? That war is waged daily in America, but Scotland’s newest law provides some insight into just how much harm can be done.
Stirring up Hatred
The Hate Crime Bill creates a new criminal offense for “stirring up hatred.” It extends to prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or variations in sex characteristics. What is that last one, exactly? Well, the bill isn’t clear – but it does include language that allows legislators to add new characteristics later. What’s worse, it’s not limited to public speech – the law applies even to conversations in private homes.
“The bill does not prevent people expressing controversial, challenging or offensive views, nor does it seek to stifle criticism of rigorous debate in any way,” a government official told reporters. Defenders of the bill point to language requiring that intent must be established to stir up hatred against protected groups and must be considered “abusive by a reasonable person” before charges would be levied.
What assurance is that? When legislators pass laws allowing prosecution whenever a “reasonable person” would assume abusive intent, they’re referring to themselves and other agents of the government as the reasonable people! What defines hate speech in Scotland now? That all depends on how an officer presents the conversation to the judge, it would seem. And if you’re wondering, yes, that explicitly does include such hateful and hurtful things as stating that there are only two biological sexes.
At Home in the Public Domain
But surely that won’t have any effect on folks who voice their vile sentiments in the shadows, right? Enraged exes, spurned spouses, cranky children, and nosy neighbors spring immediately to mind. But what if it isn’t another person who reports you?
How many Scots own a smartphone, smart TV, or a Google device, Amazon, or Apple home device listening to their every word? How about Ring doorbell cameras, or any home security system, for that matter? In an age of gadgets smarter than most of the goobers using them, what happens when the woke world of modern tech decides to do its part to stamp out hate?
Read more from James Fite.