Giving evidence to the Equalities and Human Rights Committee of the Scottish Parliament today (15th June 2017) Anthony Horan, Director of the Catholic Parliamentary Office claimed; “a culture of fear prevents people from being open about their faith.”
Mr Horan who was giving evidence to MSP’s on the topic of bullying and harassment in schools, with an emphasis on anti-religious prejudice. The Committee heard evidence from a number of people, including representatives of the Church of Scotland, Muslim Community, Jewish Community, and the Scottish Secular Society.
In his comments to MSP’s, Mr Horan said, “My overriding concern about this subject is the culture of fear that runs right through society and which makes people feel, at best uncomfortable, and at worst totally frightened to be open about their faith. In my written submission to the Committee I provided testimonies of a number of young people who had experienced anti-Catholic prejudice in their school, most of it relating to the Church’s teaching on abortion and marriage. One student even dropped a subject to “avoid the harassment.”
Mr Horan added, “There is an alarming level of intolerance being levelled at some young people simply because they are Catholic or because they hold a particular view that others may disagree with. This is not a culture of tolerance and respect. We have to be very mindful of the need to tackle anti-religious behaviour and be wary of creating a hierarchy of rights in relation to the protected characteristics listed in the Equality Act 2010. We cannot allow some to trump others. It must be all or nothing.”
“There is also the sad reality of an increase in religious hate crime in Scotland, with a recently published report revealing that religiously aggravated crime is at an all time high. Within that, a deeply worrying and disturbing 57% of charges are as a result of anti-Catholic behaviour. Compare this to the percentage of charges relating to Protestantism (27%) and Islam (17%) and we are left with an undoubted sectarian problem that needs to be addressed.”
Mr Horan then concluded, “If we are to build a culture of tolerance and respect for our young people we need to take on board the hard facts which reveal to us the reality of hate crime in our country and allow people across all protected characteristics to feel free to express themselves and to be open about their faith.”