The Harry Potter author was quick to test a new Scottish law which criminalises “stirring up hate”. Police say no action will be taken against her, but the legislation could still prohibit Christians from speaking up on marriage, sex and abortion, says Lois McLatchie


Source: Photography Debra Hurford Brown © J.K. Rowling

As the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill finally passed into law on 1 April, JK Rowling immediately set about challenging it. In a series of social media posts, the Harry Potter author described several transgender women as men, including convicted prisoners, trans activists and other public figures. 

She said “freedom of speech and belief” was at an end if accurate descriptions of biological sex were outlawed, and challenged authorities to arrest her on her return to the country.

Yesterday, police confirmed that her remarks had not broken the law, which Rowling said she hoped would reassure others that they, too, could speak truth freely. But what does all this mean for the free speech of Christians?

Blasphemy by another name

In 1697, the last man in Scotland was condemned for blasphemy. Thomas Aitkenhead, a student at the University of Edinburgh, had ridiculed the Christian faith and challenged the authenticity of the Gospel miracles.

When the outdated blasphemy law was finally repealed in 2021, on the same day, it was replaced by proposals for another censorial law. The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill finally became active three years later.

Loving our neighbour doesn’t mean accepting or affirming their choices without question

Scotland’s new hate crime law makes it a crime to “stir up hate” with words or behaviour against anyone based on age, religion, disability, transgender identity, sexual orientation, or “variations in sex characteristics”.

Nobody likes to be hated. No Christians should want to make others feel hated – we are famously called to love our neighbour. But there is no clarity about which words can be defined as “stirring up hate”, and which can’t. The law is wide open to abuse, and can be used to crack down on whatever speech the state deems unacceptable.

The ambiguous legislation will doubtlessly chill conversations, even in family homes, where the ban on “hate speech” still applies. Could certain statements about being created in God’s image - “male and female he created them” - or beliefs about marriage being an exclusive covenant between male and female, soon be illegal to express? Time will tell.

Creeping censorship

Across the UK, Christians have felt the impact of censorship when speaking the truth on issues of social importance. They have have been arrested for praying silently near abortion centers. A street preacher in Bristol was warned that he must not compare Christianity to other religions or atheism, and that his sermons must be pre-approved by authorities (police later admitted this was disproportionate).

The trend doesn’t fill Scottish believers with much confidence, with fellow citizens now empowered to report any speech they find offensive to the police. The gospel can be offensive. It calls us “sinners”. It recognises the darkest parts of our human hearts – the injustice, the greed, the envy, the hate. Humza Yousaf’s law can’t banish the deeply embedded vices of our souls. But Christianity can.

The gospel demands accountability for the darkness which abides in us all. Yet God, in his great love for us, placed the punishment on his son. In Jesus’ death and victory over the grave, we find peace, hope and relationship with a good and perfect God once again. Far from being “hateful” - the Christian gospel is the most strikingly offensive and deeply loving message of all time.

A new revolution

Where Christian truth has transformed men and women, it has impacted societies for the better. Take pre-Christian Rome. One of the most misogynistic, hedonistic, utilitarian cultures ever seen. The Romans valued women about as much as a loaf of bread. Baby girls were left to die on rubbish heaps for the simple crime of not being sons. Sexual immorality was widespread. Abuse was commonplace.

Yet the Christian message changed everything.

Christianity brought about a revolutionary belief in the dignity of every human being – slave or free, Greek or Jew. If all were made in the image of God (including baby girls) all were worthy of protection. The Christian message of repentance, forgiveness and restoration with God transformed the culture, manifesting the first ever human rights framework – one that would be codified, thousands of years later, in the UN Declaration on Human Rights. Even the Enlightenment that Rowling referred to in her posts can be argued to have it’s roots in Christian tradition.

Times have changed, but Christianity hasn’t. We still believe in the grace offered to each person – all sinners, all in need. We still believe in the worth and equality of every human being. We still believe every child is made as intended, in the image of God, and shouldn’t ever be made to feel that they’re in the “wrong body”. We still believe in the uniqueness of men and women, the dignity each holds alone and in partnership as husband and wife, and mother and father.

The Christian gospel is the most strikingly offensive and deeply loving message of all time

We believe these things not just “because the Bible says so” but because they prove true, and are the best basis for human flourishing – individually and as a society. It is vital that we keep all legal doors open for sharing this transformative vision.

Grace and truth

But how do we do that when faced with Scotland’s new hate crime law, and other measures that put the words we speak under pressure?

We’ve already been well instructed. Jesus embodied two distinct and equal virtues - grace and truth. We must speak with compassion, while also giving a reasoned answer for the hope that we have in the Christian message, and why it offers a better vision than the one we see around us. Loving our neighbour doesn’t mean accepting or affirming their choices without question. We can point to truth in love.

Doing so can often mean going against fashionable ideologies. Nobody ever said speaking out against the dominant beliefs of our day would be easy – just ask Thomas Aitkenhead.

It’s been comfortable to be a Christian in our country for many years. That may change - but our mission, message and hope remain the same. As does our instruction - to speak boldly, in grace and truth.