Lois McLatchie: Scandinavia has a warning for Scotland over hate speech law

It’s been almost a year since the controversial Hate Crimes and Public Order Act received enough votes in parliament to become law. Yet in practice, become law, it has not. The government “always works with justice partners” to achieve “effective implementation”. Either way, Police Scotland had to ask the government for permission not to comply with the new law until next year.

Given that the law expects the police to police even what is said around family dinner tables, it’s no wonder they have difficulty putting the heavily censored ideas into practice.

While it may not yet be in a position to effect change in law enforcement, the law has brought about a troubling cultural shift. Police Scotland have faced a huge increase in ‘hate’ cases, including a 76 per cent rise in those relating to transgender issues. Calum Steele, general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, attributed much of the increase to people taking offense at what they read on social media such as Twitter.

For those who follow big names like JK Rowling on the social media giant, Steele’s analysis may not be so shocking. When Rowling challenged the deletion of the word “woman” in exchange for the verbiage “people who menstruate”, the author was accused by celebrity Twitteratti of not only being a “literal scum” and of “actively hurting people”. children”; but even, as one American lawyer put it, “fuelling a genocidal impulse.”

You could say that all is fair in the love and culture war. The world’s best-selling author knows what she wants to do when she stirs up the troubled waters of Twitter. Her outspoken comments on biological femininity sparked wars of words among ardent activists around the world.

But giving legal teeth to the barking mob makes a significant change. Giving serious credence to accusations that Rowling is genocidally “harmful” for supporting women-only rape shelters would shift the needle from “cancel culture” to outright authoritarianism. Any hope for lively debate or meaningful engagement is swallowed up instead of a chilling fear of being arrested for speaking your mind.

Over the summer, the case of feminist Marion Miller represented a close shave with a legalized “cancel culture.” The Scottish businesswoman has been accused of ‘transphobia’ for her social media posts, including that of a suffragette ribbon. Fortunately, the charges were dropped, after an emotional and financial ordeal. But a look to the Scandinavian horizon can show us the chill ahead for those who follow in Marion’s footsteps, should our hate speech law become reality.

Today, Finland’s JK Rowling is back in court in a criminal trial for a tweet. Päivi Räsänen, a longtime MP, former government minister and grandmother of seven children, has been accused of “hate speech”. In the now infamous tweet — which never broke any rules of Twitter’s code of conduct and remains online to this day — she asked her church leadership where in the Bible she found justification for sponsor the Helsinki Pride Parade. She attached a picture of Bible verses.

Räsänen has also been accused of having written a brochure on sexuality for her church in 2004 and of extracting an excerpt from a radio interview in 2019. By the way, her bishop is also on trial – for having published this nearly two-decade-old book pamphlet for the church congregation. Specifically, the two men are charged with committing “ethnic agitation” under the “war crimes and crimes against humanity” section of Finland’s criminal code.

It is ironic that the Scottish Hate Crimes Act simultaneously repealed our old ‘blasphemy’ law. Every detail of Räsänen’s trial resembles a witch hunt for “heresy” against the approved orthodoxy of the time. On the first day of court last month, the prosecutor questioned the politician and the bishop about their theology. Do you follow Finnish law or the Bible? Was the resounding question. Until now, the bishop noted, he had never been asked to choose.

The Finnish case is a canary in the coal mine for what happens when you arm a hyperbolic Twitter mob with the legal grounds to censor free speech. Scotland should take note and make sure to double down on protections for Rowling and all women with an opinion to share.

Lois McLatchie is a writer for ADF UK, an international Christian think tank

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