In Scotland, flying the Vatican flag 'provocatively' could be criminal

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The flag of Vatican City. Credit: Andreas Duren/CNA.

Police Scotland maintains that “if flown or displayed in a provocative manner or altered,” the display of the Vatican flag could be a criminal act.

Scotland has experienced significant sectarian division since the Scottish Reformation of the 16th century, which led to the formation of the Church of Scotland, an ecclesial community in the Calvinist and Presbyterian tradition which is the country's largest religious community.

Sectarianism and crimes motivated by anti-Catholicism have been on the rise in Scotland in recent years. Football hooliganism in the country can be linked to sectarian football clubs.

“It would be very concerning if the Vatican flag was in any circumstance deemed offensive,” a Church spokesman said, according to the Scottish Catholic Observer.

The Herald obtained the Police Scotland document which shows symbols and flags, the “provocative” use of which could be a crime.

“Whilst the display of the following flags is not an offence, in itself, if flown or displayed in a provocative manner or altered, constitute a common law Breach of the Peace or an offence under Section 38 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2000,” the police document stated.

Among the flags deemed potentially criminal are those of the Vatican, Israel, Ireland, Palestine, Catalonia, and the Basque Country.

“If they are altered to contain a reference to a proscribed organisation they may constitute an offence under Section 13 of the Terrorism Act 2000.”

“Irrespective of the above, the possession of these flags within a football ground may constitute a breach of ground regulations.”

Police Scotland Chief Superindendent John McKenzie said that “often flags themselves are not the issue but the criminal conduct that accompanies them is. This could include, but is not limited to, threatening gestures or words, or flags being amended to show support for a proscribed terrorist group or amendments which constitute a hate crime.”

And a spokesman for the Scottish government said, “It is not an offence to fly the flag of the Vatican or any other country.”

A Church spokesman noted that the Vatican flag “has been flown proudly in Scotland on the occasion of two Papal visits without upset or incident and its use should not be restricted in any way.”

Sectarianism has been a problem in Scotland in recent years.

Glasgow has rerouted Protestant marches associated with the Orange Order.

An April poll of Catholics in Scotland found that 20 percent reported personally experiencing abuse of prejudice toward their faith; and a government report on religiously-motivated crime in 2016 and 2017 found a concentration of incidents in Glasgow.

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