About Free To Disagree

The Scotland we know and love today is built on free speech.

It upholds our free press, our artistic and cultural institutions and our politics. It allows citizens from all walks of life to participate in the marketplace of ideas, helping society grow and flourish.

Free speech is a vital right that should only be limited by the state when it has strong grounds for doing so. It must include the ability for citizens to discuss, criticise, and refute ideas, beliefs and practices in robust terms. This may result in some people being offended, but there is no right not to be offended.

The Scottish Government’s Hate Crime Bill could criminalise speech merely because it is deemed offensive to certain people. It’s proposed new ‘stirring up hatred’ offences would curb free speech and have a chilling effect on debate over certain issues. This campaign was founded to stop this from happening.

By supporting Free to Disagree, you’ll join other people across Scotland who simply want to defend freedom of expression from the unintended consequences of well-meaning legislation.


The Govt says the Hate Crime Bill is about tackling prejudice. Isn’t this a good thing?

Hatred and prejudice are wrong and should be tackled. The law has a role to play. But strong laws already exist to punish crimes aggravated by prejudice. The planned ‘stirring up hatred’ offences are too broad and risk criminalising speech that is merely felt to be offensive to certain people. In the current political climate, debate around contentious issues could be drastically curbed. The police and courts would have to waste time adjudicating on political disputes. This wouldn’t help the real victims of crime.

Hateful speech is harmful to individuals. Why shouldn’t it be punished?

A. Harmful abuse is already unlawful in Scotland. Under existing laws, behaving in a ‘threatening or abusive manner’ which causes ‘fear or alarm’ is a criminal offence. But the Government’s new proposals try to outlaw ‘stirring up hatred’ in other people. Exactly what this means is hard to say. Some people claim disagreement with their ideas is hatred, in an attempt to close down debate. The idea that mere disagreement could be criminalised is chilling.

The Bill has two free speech clauses. Doesn’t this mean free speech is protected?

The free speech clauses in the Bill do not apply to gender identity – perhaps the most divisive issue in Scottish politics right now. Even where they do apply, they only allow “discussion and criticism” of certain ideas. This language is too academic. There is a risk that these provisions would not protect forthright speech and debate by ordinary people on contentious issues. In order for free speech to be protected, clauses on free speech must make clear that citizens are able to discuss, criticise, and refute ideas, beliefs and practices in robust terms.


Free to Disagree is a campaign of The Christian Institute supported by:

  • Jim Sillars

    Jim Sillars

    Jim is a former Deputy Leader of the Scottish National Party and a long-time MP. He believes that "freedom of thought, articulated by one’s speech, is so fundamental to the civic and intellectual life of our nation that any attempt by the government to restrict that freedom has to be robustly opposed”.

  • Stuart Waiton

    Stuart Waiton

    Stuart is a criminologist at Abertay University and champion of free speech. He describes the hate crime bill as "potentially the greatest threat to-date to what should be a free and tolerant society.”

  • The Christian Institute

    Maddy Kearns

    Maddy is a Glaswegian journalist with an American approach to free speech. Based in New York, she is a staff writer at National Review and a contributor to The Spectator. Maddy describes the hate crime bill as “menacing and humourless” and “precisely the kind of moral orthodoxy that John Stuart Mill warned against in 1859.”

  • The National Secular Society

    The National Secular Society

    The National Secular Society works for the separation of religion and state and equal respect for everyone's human rights so that no one is either advantaged or disadvantaged on account of their beliefs.

  • Peter Tatchell

    Peter Tatchell

    Human rights campaigner.

  • Peter Tatchell Foundation

    Peter Tatchell Foundation

    The Peter Tatchell Foundation seeks to promote and protect the human rights of individuals, communities and nations, in the UK and internationally.