Scotland's Catholic bishops have raised concerns the Bible could fall foul of controversial new hate crime legislation.

The Catholic Church voiced fears its "understanding of the human person, including the belief that sex and gender are not fluid and changeable" could also be criminalised.

It is the latest organisation to express concerns over the planned reforms.

The Scottish Police Federation previously said the legislation could “paralyse freedom of speech” and “devastate” the relationship between the public and the police.

The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill will, if passed, create an offence of "stirring up hatred" against a protected group, expanding on existing laws protecting racial groups.

But the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland warned "how hatred is defined is not clear which leaves it open to wide interpretation".

It said this "could lead to vexatious claims having to be dealt with by police".

In a submission to Holyrood's Justice Committee, which is examining the legislation, it said: "We are also concerned that section 5 of the Bill creates an offence of possessing inflammatory material which, if taken with the low threshold contained therein, could render material such as the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and other texts such as Bishops’ Conference of Scotland submissions to government consultations, as being inflammatory under the new provision.

"For example, in a recent submission to the Scottish Government on proposed reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004, the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland stated the Catholic Church’s understanding of the human person, including the belief that sex and gender are not fluid and changeable, and that male and female are complementary and ordered towards the creation of new life.

"Such pronouncements, which are widely held, might be perceived by others as an abuse of their own, personal worldview and likely to stir up hatred."

The Church said any new law "must be carefully weighed against fundamental freedoms, such as the right to free speech, freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience and religion".

Anthony Horan, director of the Catholic Parliamentary Office, said: “Whilst acknowledging that stirring up of hatred is morally wrong and supporting moves to discourage and condemn such behaviour the bishops have expressed concerns about the lack of clarity around definitions and a potentially low threshold for committing an offence, which they fear could lead to a ‘deluge of vexatious claims’."

He continued: “The Church believes that fundamental freedoms must be protected, as the right to exercise freedom, especially in moral and religious matters, is ‘an inalienable requirement of the dignity of the human person’ and ‘a right that must be recognised and protected by civil authority, always within the limits of the common good and public order’.

"The courts have noted that the freedom to shock, offend and disturb, as well as the contentious and unwelcome are protected by the right to freedom of expression, and the bishops have declared that freedom of expression provisions must be robust enough to protect the freedom to disagree."

Mr Horan added: “The bishops decry so-called ‘cancel culture’ in their submission, expressing deep concern at the ‘hunting down of those who disagree with prominent orthodoxies with the intention to expunge the non-compliant from public discourse and with callous disregard for their livelihoods’."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Religious beliefs are an integral part of Scottish society and this Bill does not change that in any way.

"The Bill does not criminalise religious beliefs or practices and possessing a Bible would not constitute an offence.

“The Bill includes provisions on freedom of expression to provide reassurance that the prohibition on stirring up hatred will not limit people’s right to express their faith."

He added: “No one can commit a stirring up of religious hatred offence unless they act in a threatening or abusive manner or communicate threatening or abusive material that is intended to stir up hatred or likely to stir up hatred.”