The Scottish Parliament has approved a new Hate Crime Bill by 82 votes to 32 and four abstentions, after a marathon debate.
It seeks to extend protection for vulnerable groups, abolishes the offence of blasphemy and adds a new offence of "stirring up hatred".
But the bill has sparked controversy as opponents raised concerns of a potential danger to freedom of speech with many Christian leaders worried that a vague understanding of “stirring up hatred” could criminalise speaking on topics such as sexual identity.
Speaking to Premier, James Mildred, Head of Communications at lobbying charity Care said it is worrying the bill does not have what is called a “dwelling defence”.
“The fact that the hate crime bill doesn't have that I think that's really concerning for Christians,” he said.
“If they have neighbours over, and they happen to share their views on, for example, human identity, human sexuality, trans rights, they may worry that that could be reported, and they could then be under police investigation. I think for pastors as well as church leaders, they may be worried along similar line. Will what they say in sermons be investigated? That remains to be seen,” he continued.
However, for Christian Scottish MSP John Mason, the bill will help protect Christians. In a tweet he said: “Delighted that Hate Crime Bill passed this evening in Parliament. Seems to get the balance right between restraining hatred and protecting freedom of speech. Potential benefits for Christians and other religious people - we get increased protection from hatred against us.”
He continued by saying: “This Bill is at least a step in the right direction, but I accept it will not solve all the expressions of hatred we see. But stirring up hatred against Catholics or Protestants or Jews or Muslims could now be challenged more readily.”
The Scottish parliament has said "stirring up hatred" will only be considered an offence if it is intentional and has vowed to protect the right to disagree.