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Great debate: Christianity in the public square?


  • Experts debate the role of Christianity in pressing contemporary issues
  • ‘Hate speech’ laws increasingly threaten free speech in Europe

EDINBURGH (28 October 2019) – How can Christianity contribute to the 21st-century public square? On Friday, a panel of experts debated the role of Christianity in pressing contemporary issues. Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International, discussed the criminalization of “hate speech” and the threat this poses to freedom of speech in society.

“Freedom of speech is a fundamental right which is central to a democratic society. It should be protected and fostered in the public sphere, both in person and online. The unclear and broad definition of so-called ‘hate speech’ makes it impossible to achieve consensus amongst legislators and private individuals on what should or should not be allowed to be said or written. ‘Hate speech’ laws open the door to censorship and violations of freedom of thought and expression as minority opinions are shut out from the public square simply because they may ‘offend’ someone,” said Coleman, who has written widely on the subject and is the author of the book, Censored.

Freedom of speech is a fundamental right which is central to a democratic society. It should be protected and fostered in the public sphere.

The debate was jointly hosted by the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship, the Christian Medical Fellowship, and the Christian Dental Fellowship. Speakers included Donald Findlay QC, Dr Andy Bannister, Prof. David Galloway, Lord Purvis of Tweed, Dr Donald Macaskill, and Paul Coleman.

Impact of “hate speech” laws

The 2018 Bracadale Report recommended new legislation on “hate speech” in Scotland. This raises questions about such laws and whether they are compatible with freedom of speech, expression, and thought.

Censored addresses the rise of “hate speech” laws in Europe and their devastating effect on freedom of speech. In Germany, for example, committing an “insult” can be a criminal offence while in Poland offending “religious feelings” carries a two-year prison sentence. Such examples, along with fifty different cases described in the book, show how “hate speech” laws are readily being used in Europe.

Silencing honest debate

Coleman said, “‘Hate speech’ laws threaten to silence honest debate about difficult topics. Driving these topics out of the public sphere by silencing them through legislation based on loose definitions, will not make them simply go away but only lead to serious infringements of freedom of speech and expression.”

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Faith-based legal advocacy organization that protects fundamental freedoms and promotes the inherent dignity of all people.