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Scotland makes 'stirring up hatred' punishable by law; J.K. Rowling, others protest new bill

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Scotland has officially enacted the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021, which creates several new offenses relating to discriminatory harassment. 

According to the BBC, among the new crimes created is "stirring up hatred against a group of persons" relating to age disability, religion and sexual orientation. The act also consolidates the existing law on crimes "aggravated by prejudice" and addresses "racially aggravated harassment." 

The maximum penalty for stirring up hatred is seven years in prison. 

"For example, if an assailant punched someone in the face while also making a hateful comment about their age, that might be assault aggravated by age-related hatred," BBC said. 

"Stirring up hatred" based on race, color, nationality or ethnicity was already illegal in Great Britain under the Public Order Act 1986, but the crime has now been added to the Hate Crime Act "in an attempt to streamline the criminal law in Scotland," BBC reported. 

The act was passed by Members of the Scottish Parliament in 2021 by a vote of 82 to 32, with four abstentions. 

A person takes part in a demonstration for trans rights outside the UK Government Office at Queen Elizabeth House in Edinburgh, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023. (Jane Barlow/PA via AP)

Opponents of the bill cited infringement of free speech; according to the Associated Press, they said its "sweeping provisions" could criminalize religious views or tasteless jokes. 

Among the most vehement critics is J.K. Rowling, the author of the "Harry Potter" book series who came under fire in 2019 for comments she made on social media regarding transgender people. 

"Scottish lawmakers seem to have placed higher value on the feelings of men performing their idea of femaleness, however misogynistically or opportunistically, than on the rights and freedoms of actual women and girls," Rowling said on X, formerly Twitter on Monday. "The new legislation is wide open to abuse by activists who wish to silence those of us speaking out about the dangers of eliminating women's and girls' single-sex spaces, the nonsense made of crime data if violent and sexual assaults committed by men are recorded as female crimes, the grotesque unfairness of allowing males to compete in female sports, the injustice of women's jobs, honours [sic] and opportunities being taken by trans-identified men and the reality and immutability of biological sex." 

The "Harry Potter" author published a lengthy post to X that followed a thread of posts about notable transgender people in the U.K., including controversial trans activist Beth Douglas, transgender Gaelic footballer Giulia Valentino and model Munroe Bergdorf, among others. 

United Kingdom Prime Minister Rishi Sunak seemed to back the award-winning author, telling The Telegraph that "people should not be criminalized for stating simple facts on biology."  

Rishi Sunak (right) departs 10 Downing Street to attend a questions and answers session in parliament in London, UK, on March 20, 2024 | J.K. Rowling attends "Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore" World Premiere at The Royal Festival Hall on March 29, 2022 in London, England. | Both Rowling and Sunak are against a new bill in Scotland that creates several new offenses relating to discriminatory harassment. (Chris J. Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images & Mike Marsland/WireImage)

Tesla CEO Elon Musk also remarked on social media in March that it is "so important" to preserve freedom of speech after reports from The Herald said that Scottish police would "investigate actors and comedians" if a complaint is made against them, citing leaked training documents.   

Authorities in Scotland quickly denied the claim that they were "instructing officers to target actors, comedians or any other people or groups" when enforcing the new law. 

After its enactment on Monday, Scottish government officials insisted that the law doesn't stifle individual expression but does provide protection from hate and prejudice, BBC said. 

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