REGARDING recent coverage of the Hate Crime Bill (" Proposed new law could make JK Rowling a criminal", The Herald, July 1,and Letters, June 2, 3, 4 & 10): while I welcome moves in the Hate Crime bill to rationalise statutory aggravators and the scrapping of the blasphemy common law offence, the Government need to fully reconsider the impacts on freedom of expression of the new proposed stirring-up offences in the bill.

The right to express dissent from religion, including criticising, ridiculing, or parodying religious beliefs, is a central tenet of both the right to freedom of religion or belief and the right to freedom of expression. This is laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Each of the rights contained under these articles contains limitations when there is a genuine societal need to restrict expression. However, offence against religious sentiment does not feature in any of these restrictions. In fact, in 2011, the UN Human Rights Council said "prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system are incompatible with the Covenant". This principle applies to all forms of expression, including statements which are critical or disrespectful of religion.

Furthermore, it is generally accepted that forbidding dissenting speech against religion promotes religious intolerance rather than protecting adherents. The UN’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, made this case strongly saying in 2017 "when governments restrict freedom of expression on the grounds of “insult to religion”, any peaceful expression of political or religious views is subject to potential prohibition."

Fraser Sutherland, Chief Executive, Humanist Society Scotland, Edinburgh EH1.

IS political correctness going to stamp out all satire at the expense of religion in Scotland? No more Billy Connollys. No more Dave Allens. No more Life of Brian. The threat is there in the Hate Crime Bill, which the SNP Government has placed before parliament.

Someone isn’t a victim of a hate crime because their religious sentiments are hurt or offended. Many people found the jokes of Billy Connolly and Dave Allen "offensive", but the law did not rush in to prosecute the offending comedians. Likewise with the film Life of Brian. The right to freedom of speech was considered more important than any injured feelings caused by the satire.

In England and Wales, the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 is the counterpart of the Hate Crimes Bill now at Holyrood. In that Act, there is a clear and unambiguous defence of free expression in relation to religion: “Nothing in this [legislation] shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytising or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practising their religion or belief system.”

We need the same safeguard written into the Hate Crimes Bill. The law should concern itself with protecting people from hatred, threats and vilification, but it should not extend that into protecting ideas and beliefs. On the contrary, the law should uphold freedom of expression and the liberty to criticise and mock all sorts of ideas and beliefs. That freedom has been hard earned after centuries of censorship and repression. Surely we shall not cast it lightly aside in pursuit of some politically correct virtue-signalling?

Les Reid, Edinburgh EH15.