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A whole new ball game

There is much ado about the new Bill on sectarianism launched by the Scottish Government, with a mere ten days to consider, debate and finalise so that the eventual Act can be in place for the start of the new footy season. It takes me that long to read the Sunday papers.

Ok, nobody in their right mind would oppose the policy aims of the Bill – “to tackle sectarianism by preventing offensive and threatening behaviour related to football matches and preventing the communication of threatening material, particularly where it incites religious hatred.” But as the responses start to circulate on email and Twitter concerns seem to be crystallising around several key questions.

This is being rushed through as emergency legislation. But is it an emergency? There is a rationale behind having the new offence relating to behaviour at or around football matches in place before said football matches start up again. But the new offence of “stirring up religious hatred” is a delicate matter – should it not be subject to at least the normal level of scrutiny and consideration?

And why just religious hatred? LGBT groups rightly point out the extent of homophobic abuse, including in the world of football (are we really to believe that not a single one of Scotland’s professional footballers is gay?). We already have laws against stirring up racial hatred, so if we are extending this regime to include religion then why not hatred against LGBT or disabled people, following the pattern already set out in hate crime legislation?

And like many human rights issues this is a matter of balancing competing rights. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees “freedom of thought, conscience or religion” and Article 19 “freedom of opinion and expression”. Crucially these freedoms cover both the right to hold religious views and to be free of religious coercion, to promote religious ideas and to criticise them. It is no simple thing to say that the proposed defence of “reasonableness” will be a sufficient safeguard of freedom of expression, and more time to reflect would be very welcome.

What I can say with more certainty is that a programme of human rights education is the only comprehensive way of changing attitudes towards any and all of the groups so frequently discriminated against in our society.

Human rights education is dedicated to promoting the human rights principles and positive value system that are set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Amnesty International runs an ambitious programme of human rights education resources for use with school age children. By helping young children to understand their own human rights we aim to foster empathy, understanding, and tolerance for the rights, similarities and differences of others.

Evaluation of UNICEF’s “Rights Respecting Schools” programme found that teaching children about their rights reduces bullying and truancy and improves classroom behaviour.

A prime example of human rights education has been Amnesty’s own cross-community “Lift Off” programme in Northern Ireland. Other examples, including educational resources on LGBT rights,  Travellers, Gypsy and Roma rights and the rights of refugees and asylum seekers can be found on our education pages

Legislation can send out an important message, and can prohibit specific kinds of behaviour in specific circumstances, but it is education that can change the way we feel about, and engage with, others.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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