The parliament of Scotland introduced a bill on Friday to modernize hate crimes laws, including a section that would abolish the crime of blasphemy.
The purpose of the proposed legislation is “to modernise, consolidate and extend existing hate crime law,” updating the list of protected characteristics, including for the first time adding age to the list. Protected characteristics also include disability, race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity. These characteristics would be included under “stirring up of hatred” offenses, which until now have only applied to the stirring up of racial hatred.
The bill would also abolish the common law offense of blasphemy. No one has been prosecuted under the blasphemy law for over 175 years, and the bill’s authors note that the offense “no longer reflects the kind of society in which we live.” The last recorded charge was brought against publisher and book seller Thomas Paterson in 1842, for displaying placards in his shop window advertising his periodical The Oracle of Reason, dedicated “to examine, expose, and overthrow that by which priests live – namely, religion; not forms of worship, but worship itself – not the attributes, but the existence of deity.”