The sun sets on freedom of speech in Britain

Over at The Corner, Charles C. W. Cooke writes:

The sun has risen in the East, which means that someone in Britain has probably been arrested for writing something silly on Twitter…

Precisely why should that matter? This is not a “nuanced” case. It is not “difficult” or “tricky” or “thorny” or “complicated” or any of those words that the chin-stroking members of the British chattering classes like to use in faux-thoughtful overtures on BBC Radio 4, just before oh-so-predictably arguing for a government-imposed British speech code that happens exactly to proscribe what they personally find “offensive.” This is miles and miles and miles from the border of controversy: It is a slam-dunk violation of the unalienable speech rights of a free citizen of a putatively free country, even — no, especially — a free citizen who might well just be a nasty piece of work and might say things that a majority finds reprehensible.Britain is now a country in which you can be arrested for writing racist tweets, for criticizing your local government on the Internet, for telling a policeman that his horse is “gay,” for shouting offensive things on a bus, for issuing leaflets condemning homosexuality, for evangelizing for Christianity on the street, for issuing leaflets evangelizing for atheism in an airport, and so on and so forth. And the press, as ever, is silent.

The laws that enable the police force to arrest and prosecute those who write mean-spirited, racist, or ugly things should be immediately repealed and the signed bills publicly burned at a ceremony expressly dedicated to restoring awareness of principles that Britain spread throughout the world but seems now incapable of defending at home. And rather than maintaining their silence, British conservatives and libertarians should be leading the charge; for they should realize that, without restoring this foundational liberty to its rightful place on the escutcheon, the others that have been progressively undermined alongside it are likely to remain cowering in the shadows of exile for a long time to come. Surely Timothy Garton-Ash and I cannot be the only two Brits to hold this view?

My own opinion? The Golden Rule applies two ways here: (1) If you want others to speak nicely about you, speak nicely about them. Had the tweeter followed the Golden Rule, he never would’ve posted the offending tweet in the first place. (2) If you want the freedom to speak your mind, you must grant others the freedom to speak their minds too. This, it seems to me, applies against government restrictions on speech. Those currently in power like to restrict the speech of people with whom they disagree. They won’t find those restrictions so beneficial, however, when applied against them by the regime that succeeds them.


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