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Mar 26Liked by Daniel James Sharp

Really good points that I don't think I've heard put before... What I find most bizarre about it is the naive belief that the police will actually be able to do this, practically speaking. They can't even solve *real* crimes... e.g., the BBC report that 80% of burglaries go unsolved: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-66304969. And that is one of the more optimistic estimates I found. Interesting that, faced with these stats, they think policing speech something worth focusing on. Fighting inequality (*raises fist*) is much more glamorous than the rather dull job of investigating a boring old robbery I suppose.

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To be clear, most hate crime statutes do not make hate speech, thought or behavior a crime. Rather, they add charges and punishment for committing what otherwise would be a crime with the demonstrated intent of racism and the like. So beat up someone because you are angry with them is one charge. Do it while screaming racial epithets or the like shows an added intent that will increase the penalties. I don’t know how it’s worded in Scotland, but they’ve been around in the USA for at least 30 years. The linked video stuck me as simply a caution against letting one’s feelings of hate spin out into a such a crime.

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I appreciate that, and I have my own feelings about whether hateful intent should be taken into account when a crime like assault has been committed (I think probably yes) but that's another thing entirely - this really *does* criminalise speech. You could never have a law like this in the US, with the mighty First Amendment - that's the big difference here.

(Perhaps there's a difference between hate crime - which I take to be harassment or violence on the basis of immutable characteristics - and hate speech. Despite the name of this law, the Hate Crime Act, it's really about speech.)

See also my boss Emma Park's write-up of this worryingly vague law: https://freethinker.co.uk/2024/03/from-satan-to-the-hate-monster/.

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I read the Act. The first two sections seem analogous to US hate crime laws as here the law is directed towards an aggravation of an existing offense. I assume there would be an underlying crime involved like the hate crime laws I mentioned earlier unless I’m misreading the statute. The third section however does seem aimed at potentially pure speech and makes an offense what “a reasonable person” would find to be “abusive or threatening” with free expression principles to be taken into account. That sort of prohibition does exist in the USA but as far as I know only under civil law in the employment context (eg sexual harassment), and the first amendment is not a protection in such a case. The criminalizing of a verbal threat or abuse based on an intent to stir up hate groups in Section 3 sounds more like some of the German laws on certain hate speech (eg Nazi symbols etc) though that’s out of my bailiwick.

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As it happens, it was a hell of a fight to get those free speech principles taken into consideration - and even then, as you see, the extreme vagueness of the act will allow for all sorts of suppression. Happily, I doubt the law will be really enforceable in the end, and with any luck it will languish, unused and forgotten, on the law books. Even without it, Scotland, and the UK in general, is quite restrictive - though not as restrictive as many continental countries.

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