The Catholic Church has announced that it is to support the Scottish government’s Offensive Behaviour Bill after the Bishop of Paisley met with the First Minister.
The decision to back the SNP’s Bill follows a meeting between Mr Salmond and Philip Tartaglia in which the First Minister agreed to strengthening freedom of speech rights in the new legislation aimed at tackling sectarianism in football.
The First Minister also agreed to a request that data held by the Crown on sectarian offences in Scotland be released.
The meeting was described by Mr Salmond as cordial and friendly as he listened to Bishop Tartaglia’s concerns.
Mr Salmond said:
“This legislation was never meant to stop freedom of expression in Scotland – it is about bearing down on sectarianism and other offensive behaviour in Scotland, and stopping the expression of bigotry and hatred that the overwhelming majority of people in this country wish to see come to an end.”
“I think we are now mature enough and strong enough as a society to take on this appalling behaviour and ensure our beautiful game of football is not tainted by the actions of a mindless minority.”
Bishop Tartaglia said he shared the Scottish government’s concerns over sectarianism and called for it to be “eradicated from Scottish society”.
The Bishop added: “Fears that the wide remit of the ‘offensive behaviour bill’ might impinge on the freedom to hold and express otherwise inoffensive views appear to have been recognised and are being addressed.”
“I particularly welcome the first minister’s commitment to track and analyse sectarian crime on an on-going basis using all data relating to Section 74 of the Criminal Justice Scotland Act 2003. Clearly, we cannot tackle a problem without first measuring it.”
The SNP introduced the Bill after images of violence and reports of parcel bomb threats marred last season’s football campaign. Labour initially supported the Bill but withdrew its support yesterday arguing that the new legislation was “flawed” and that existing legislation may in fact be sufficient. Labour leader Iain Gray said that his party would support the Bill when it “had the support of the country”.
The concerns of the Bishop were widely reported by newspapers and broadcast on both radio and television. Reporting Scotland led on Mr Gray’s attack and highlighted the concerns of the Bishop. The Daily Record ran an article headlined ‘Senior Catholic bishop lays into SNP over same-sex marriage law’ and the Scotsman newspaper claimed ‘Bishop warns Catholics may lose faith in SNP’.
The Scottish government are sure to feel relief that, given such wide media coverage, such a body as the Catholic Church are now fully behind the new legislation.