Many Britons would sincerely believe they live in a country with freedom of speech.
Others may not agree, but will instead argue that it’s a good thing that Britain doesn’t have freedom of speech.
This second view is far more alarming to me, and it’s one that I want to address.
For the sake of clarity, I don’t think for a second that threats of violence should be protected under free speech legislation. My concern is with marginalised viewpoints that are being criminalised.
To hold conservative views on gay marriage or immigration is to risk arrest in modern Britain. Even our supposed small-state Conservative government is fond of arresting those who dissent to the accepted social norms of the day.
Let’s take a look at some of this year’s ‘highlights’ in the gallery of state censorship, shall we?
First up, we have Danny Baker, the former BBC presenter. Baker effectively flushed his career down the toilet in May when he tweeted out a photo of a baby chimp, shortly after the birth of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s son, Archie. Of course, it was an extremely foolish thing to do – Baker should have seen the racist implications of comparing a mixed-race baby to a primate. However, does anybody really think that this tweet was deserving of a police investigation?
Well, evidently somebody did, as Baker found himself at the centre of one, before Scotland Yard confirmed the case had been dropped a week later.
In a similar vein was Jo Brand’s remarks on a BBC podcast, a few weeks later. The comedian, when asked about the merit of throwing milkshake over a politician in protest, remarked that it’d be better to make use of battery acid.
For this joke, Brand found herself the subject of an investigation. A comedian telling a joke is grounds for police concern in modern Britain.
Since Brand is a left-winger, this debacle briefly revived the case for free speech on Britain’s modern left. That is, until the next day, when they’d be backing to calling for the arrests of anybody who expressed a viewpoint they didn't like.
Speaking of which!
A 38 year old woman was recently arrested after she yelled homophobic abuse at a pride march down in London. The things she was saying weren’t threats of violence, they were lazy gimmicky lines – ‘Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!’, for example.
Yet, this woman was subjected to a police probe for expressing these views. Waltham Forest Police tweeted that she’d been arrested under Section 4a of the Public Order Act -
A person is guilty of an offence if, with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress, he—
(a)uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
(b)displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,
Note the general terms used in this legislation – ‘insulting’, in particular, is very vague. The woman wasn’t making threats of violence, she was merely expressing her dissent to gay pride parades as a Muslim woman.
Religious Britons, who hold views critical of homosexuality or transgenderism, are at particular risk of prosecution.
Harry Hammond was an infamous case, arrested in 2001 for holding up a sign that read "Jesus Gives Peace, Jesus is Alive, Stop Immorality, Stop Homosexuality, Stop Lesbianism, Jesus is Lord". Incidentally, none of the people who assaulted him for expressing this belief were charged with a criminal offence.
Dale McAlpine also found himself in legal trouble in 2010, after he listed homosexuality as a sin whilst preaching in the street.
Homosexuality is a sin in the Christian religion. To make expressing this viewpoint a criminal offence is a dangerous precedent to set.
Some may think it’s odd that a gay man would defend the rights of those who dislike him. I don’t doubt that Harry Hammond would think less of me – he refused to allow gay rights activist, Peter Tatchell, to testify on his behalf in court.
But if I don’t stand up for the free speech of those I dislike, do I really stand for free speech at all?
This is a question many people in Britain should be asking themselves.