A plan in England and Wales to criminalize “hate speech” in private homes regarding issues such as same-sex marriage and transgenderism has been dropped by the Law Commission of the United Kingdom.
But the plan still is pending in neighboring Scotland.
The U.K.’s Christian Institute said “serious concerns” were raised in a public consultation over the proposal.
Statutes already are in place restricting public speech that some find offensive, but the proposal is to extend the restrictions to private homes. The Law Commission, which advises the government on policy issues, will no longer recommend the change for England and Wales.
In a letter published by London Telegraph, the chairman of the commission, Lord Justice Green, said they were pursuing “alternative ways” to make the law “compatible with both the right to freedom of expression and respect for one’s home and private and family life.”
However, a similar plan in Scotland remains on track. Its updated hate crime bill eliminates entirely any protection for statements made in private homes.
A recent amendment to include a home exception recently was voted down by lawmakers in Scotland.
According to the Law Gazette, the commission for Wales and England had planned to remove the dwelling exception, but the agenda then was changed.
Green said that when a person confesses to a serious crime “it is proper that the criminal justice system is able to look at those offenses, even where the conversation took place in a domestic setting.”
There also was discussion about differentiating between “two trespassers in a third party’s home, but not private conversations between two family members in the family’s car.”
But significant concern remains regarding the prosecution of people for speech in homes regarding controversial topics.
The think tank Civitas noted the removal of the protection for statements in homes would have eroded “the concept of equality before the law.”
The author of the Civitas report, Joanna Williams, director of the Freedom, Democracy and Victimhood Project, warned, “The combined effect of lowering the threshold of ‘hostility’ and broadening the criteria for protected characteristics will be to bring far more people into contact with the police and criminalize a far wider range of speech and behavior.
“Every aspect of people’s lives will come under legal scrutiny in order to promote a set of state sanctioned values that have been determined by lawyers rather than voted on by the electorate,” she said.
The Christian Institute’s Ciarán Kelly, warning against government monitoring of private dwellings, said: “Restricting free speech, and policing ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ views, sows division and resentment. The government needs to realize how dangerous the Law Commission’s proposals are.”
In Scotland, it is Humza Haroon Yousaf, the cabinet secretary for justice, who is demanding that “hateful speech” in homes be criminalized.
His plan also would allow journalists and theater directors to face charges if what they write is perceived as deliberately stoking “prejudice.”
The Christian Institute warned that under such extreme proposals, the Bible could be criminalized.
Ian Stewart of the group Atheist Scotland told the U.K.’s The Courier that atheists see “merit” in the proposed Hate Crime and Public Order Bill for Scotland.
He said it “will enable the prosecution of all Scotland’s religions and their holy books for spreading hatred.”
“We fully intend to monitor all holy books, sermons in places of worship and the social media accounts of the various religions and report any hatred to police Scotland for criminal investigation,” Stewart said.
The institute has warned that the bill would criminalize words deemed “likely” to “stir up hatred” against particular groups. It would not require any proof of intent.
Simon Calvert, deputy director for public affairs at the Christian Institute, warned such a move would give “politically motivated complainants like Mr. Stewart a powerful weapon against their ideological opponents.”
“The threshold of the proposed offenses is so low that Mr. Stewart might well be able to persuade a police officer that certain unfashionable Bible verses or sermons are ‘hate crimes,’” he said. “Does the Scottish government really want to expose church ministers to the risk of prosecution at the instigation of anti-religious zealots?”
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