Evangelical and Catholic church leaders are urging the Scottish Government to drop part of its Hate Crime Bill, saying it could find those who disagree with gender being fluid accused of "stirring up hatred."
One part of the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) bill suggests that "stirring up hatred" could be an offence if the bills is passed. Church leaders want there to be a distinction between "hateful, nasty, vicious, or malevolent attacks on the person on one hand, and disagreement or dispute with an ideological position on the other."
The Catholic Church, the Free Church of Scotland and the Evangelical Alliance have stated in a letter to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice: "While we acknowledge the difficulties and struggles experienced by those with Gender Dysphoria and are acutely aware of the sensitivities involved from our own pastoral care settings, we cannot accept that any position or opinion at variance with the proposition that sex (or gender) is fluid and changeable should not be heard.
"Open and honest debate on the very essence of the human person should never be stifled. We believe provision must therefore be made in the bill for discussion and criticism of views on transgender identity without fear of criminal sanctions. A right to claim that binary sex does not exist or is fluid must be matched with a right to disagree with that opinion; and protection from prosecution for holding it."
Anthony Horan, director of the Catholic parliamentary office of the Bishops' Conference of Scotland; Stephen Allison, assistant clerk of the Free Church of Scotland; and Fred Drummond, national director of the Evangelical Alliance Scotland, wrote to SNP minister Humza Yousaf, saying they have "looked to help play our part in protecting vulnerable communities from hate crime whilst at the same time protecting fundamental freedoms on which we all depend for our common life."
It is the first time Catholic, Free Church and Evangelical Alliance leaders have jointly petitioned the Scottish Government and they have asked for a meeting with the Cabinet Secretary for Justice.
The bill has approximately four more weeks at its current stage, which the church leaders say is not enough time to scrutinise the "stirring up hatred offences" and its impact on freedom of expression if passed.
They explain: "As Christians, we do not always agree with one another and know that many do not necessarily share or even understand our beliefs, but we are utterly committed to the free and open exchange of ideas in society. We believe that people should be completely free to disagree with our faith in any way, including mocking and ridiculing us. We are convinced that our faith is true and has a sufficient evidential basis to withstand any criticism, we therefore welcome open debate."
They also want to make sure that discussion about the gender of people in a marriage can still be discussed, saying: "When marriage between parties of the same sex was introduced in Scotland assurance was given that no religious body would be forced to conduct them, implicit in that assurance was protection for those who expressed doctrinal disagreement with such marriages."