Scotland Has Finally Abolished Its Centuries-Old Blasphemy Law March 13, 2021

Scotland Has Finally Abolished Its Centuries-Old Blasphemy Law

At long last, Scotland has gotten rid of its blasphemy law as part of a larger Hate Crimes bill that had its final vote this week in Parliament.

While almost never enforced, the part of the law declaring blasphemy a “crime” has now been abolished. It had been in the books for centuries. An 1825 act said blasphemy was punishable by a fine, imprisonment, or both, though no one had been prosecuted for it since 1843.

But as the saying goes, blasphemy is a victimless crime. Criticizing religion — or mocking it — should always be welcome in a free society. Religious people cannot be considered immune from challenges to their bad ideas, and they certainly shouldn’t be able to use the courts to go after their critics, which was at least theoretically still possible. By allowing it to remain part of the law, theocratic countries could always point to Scotland as a place where criticism of religion could be punished. It was the sort of law primarily used against religious and non-religious minorities.

But after a five-year campaign by the Humanist Society Scotland, that began to change.

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill, designed to modernize the law, was introduced in the nation’s Parliament last year and included a clause to eliminate “blasphemy” as a crime.

The government made clear that the archaic law “no longer reflects the kind of society in which we live.”

According to Humanists International, this makes Scotland the “tenth nation to repeal its blasphemy laws since the launch of the End Blasphemy Laws Campaign in 2015.” (Northern Ireland, which still hasn’t decriminalized it, remains mired in the past.)

Fraser Sutherland, Chief Executive of Humanist Society Scotland, celebrated the news:

The importance of the passage of the Act, and with it the repeal of Scotland’s common law offence of blasphemy, will resonate with humanists both in Scotland and around the world. This has been a long-standing campaign of the Society and part of a global effort to rid the world of blasphemy laws in every country, and we work very closely with our humanist compatriots across the world to achieve this.

Gary McLelland, Chief Executive of Humanists International, added:

Scotland has sent a strong signal here to the rest of the world that so-called “blasphemy laws” are wrong and should be repealed. We echo this message, and re-issue our call for an end to all blasphemy laws around the world.”

As it stands, 13 nations still punish blasphemy or apostasy with the death penalty. But none of them will be able to point to Scotland anymore to justify their cruelty.

(Image via Shutterstock. Large portions of this article were published earlier)

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