Big Brother Has A British Accent.

I’ve addressed,  tangentially, hate laws and attempts to criminalize “hate” speech.  The danger of such laws has now become crystal clear in Great Britain. 

The man at issue is Stephen Green.  Mr. Green is the Director of Christian Voice.  He has said some outlandish things.  He has said some outright dumb things.  See this press release.

Nevertheless, it is my belief that Mr. Green gets to say whatever he wants as long as he does not slander any one individual or impede a lawful assembly or engage in disorderly conduct while speaking.  Apparently that is not the case in Britain.  Britain has passed a law that criminalizes ‘threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.’  The problems with such a law should be readily apparent from the reading of it.

What did Stephen Green do that brought forth the wrath of the South Wales police?  Well, he didn’t engage in disorderly conduct.  He distributed leaflets at a parade that was promoting tolerance.  The leaflets “were headed Same-Sex Love – Same-Sex Sex: What does the Bible Say?, and included a series of quotations from the 1611 King James Bible.” – [Daily Mail article]

(I note that zilch, one of regular posters here, has stated that of the Bibles, the King James is the “most beautiful.”)

Organizers for the parade have refused comment.  [Pink News article] Mr. Green has pled “not guilty” to the charges.

Laws such as the one in Britain criminalize thought and speech.  They make political correctness the law of the land.  They also make otherwise legal behavior, distributing leaflets and quoting centuries old literature, illegal. At least, they do make such actions illegal when done in conjunction by an unpopular personality.

I find it difficult to believe that he would be found guilty.  But that really isn’t the point.  Nobody should face prosecution for their thoughts, and nobody, except in exceptional circumstances such as inciting a riot, should ever be faced with prosecution for saying what they think. 

20 thoughts on “Big Brother Has A British Accent.

  1. Consi writes…

    I find it difficult to believe that he would be found guilty.  But that really isn’t the point.  Nobody should face prosecution for their thoughts, and nobody, except in exceptional circumstances such as inciting a riot, should ever be faced with prosecution for saying what they think.

    I agree wholeheartedly and this is one of the reasons why I’m a big fan of the Bill of Rights here in the United States. Under Great Britain’s law my website is probably illegal many times over. A law such as that here would almost certainly be struck down by the courts, just as it should be.

    It’s a shame the same can’t be said in the U.K..

  2. within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment

    Depends on how they define ‘within hearing’. That said, I’ll second both your opinions. While such laws are rarely very much enforced, they should not be there in the first place.

  3. I’m nearly a free-speech absolutist, and absolutism fits very few other things for me.  It horrifies me to think he could go into a public place and be arrested for saying stuff.  Even outright dumb stuff.

    If he was chasing people down the street and stuffing brochures into their shirts, OK then it’s harassment but if he is just talking to people…

  4. Consi, there are two paragraphs from the Daily Mail article you did not quote:

    The anti-gay campaigners were first asked by police to leave the site of the show following ‘complaints from the public’, and complied with the request. However, they were approached again by police when they began handing out leaflets at the entrance to the park where the Mardi Gras was staged.

    Mr Green refused to stop distributing leaflets and was arrested, and then questioned for four hours at a police station. He was charged after refusing a caution.

    In other words, your spin on the events omits material facts.

    The law you refer to was and remains controversial, but the example you pick is not a particularly good one.

  5. Consi said:

    Nevertheless, it is my belief that Mr. Green gets to say whatever he wants as long as he does not slander any one individual or impede a lawful assembly or engage in disorderly conduct while speaking.

    What were you thinking?  Clearly, there should be a law against saying whatever you want.  Otherwise – well – we’d have – uh – free speech.

  6. Can’t say as I understand why ‘complaints from the public’ make a difference. 

    I would love to see a sense-of-congress resolution to the effect that ‘the whole of America is a free-speech zone’.  As an example to our allies.

    Not much chance of it, though.  Our president sets the bar pretty low.

  7. In other words, your spin on the events omits material facts.

    I think it omits details as any paraphrasing of a story would do.  I think this is especially so as there is a link to pink news amongst others included in the original post. Would you spell out specifically how those facts are material?  By material, I’m assuming you mean facts that would change a reader’s opinion should they be known. 

    In addition, let’s take a poll.  Any reader here have the opinion after reading the orginal post that what the British are doing goes against the right to free speech and then have their opinion switched once they read the unabridged story available through the link or by reading Elwed’s post?  If so, please post here and let me know. Les, DOF, ingolfson, and/or Peacock or anybody else, did Elwed’s inclusion of the paragraph in his post materially change your opinion of the story?

  8. Les: …this is one of the reasons why I’m a big fan of the Bill of Rights …

    As am I.
    Our laws here in Oz are, near enough to, the same as the laws in the UK and, I’d presume, NZ.
    Every now and again we have groups calling for a Bill of Rights here.
    I haven’t taken the time to see what the argurments against such a thing are, yet.

  9. Matthew Batten, Policy and Public Affairs Officer for Stonewall Cymru … told PinkNews.co.uk “Wales’ gay community has the right to be protected from this deeply offensive material, which equated being gay with incest.” (Pink News)

    No, they don’t have the right to be protected from offensive material.  No one has that right.

    Green was asked to leave the Mardi Gras event and stood outside the gate, handing out leaflets.  But the police were casting their net wider:

    The decision to prosecute Mr Green is the latest in a series of police initiatives aimed against those who have expressed public disapproval of homosexual behaviour. (Daily Mail)

    The article says police ‘warned’ a radio commentator and an author.

    I disagree with Mr. Green, but this is the wrong response.  [Insert all the standard arguments for free speech HERE]

    A better response would have been to stand 10 feet from Mr. Green and hand out phamplets saying that God would punish those who ate shellfish.  Heck, it’s only one verse over in the bible.  My best guess is that Moses ate shellfish and had a gay dream that night so we got both verses.

  10. Oh, and to answer Consi’s question, Elwed’s reference did materially change my opinion.  It strengthened it by confirming that Green wasn’t violent or even really harassing. 

    In this country, we have Fred Phelps; we know from harassing.

  11. In this country, we have Fred Phelps; we know from harassing.

    I attended the University of Kansas, and occasionally we would be subjected to Phelps and his minions as they came on campus to try to spread their hate. Now there’s a man who deserves to be drawn and quartered. Mr. Green is merely an idiot expressing a highly misguided opinion—if that were against the law here, half of the population would be in jail.

  12. Nobody should face prosecution for their thoughts, and nobody, except in exceptional circumstances such as inciting a riot, should ever be faced with prosecution for saying what they think.

    Yep.  The problem comes in trying to decide when the line is crossed between just expressing one’s opinion, and inciting to riot or worse.  There is no such line until someone infers one.

    Since Green didn’t seem to be violent or even harrassing, I would say that justice and goodness were not served in siccing the law on him.  If we want to censor hate messages, based on how many people they’ve killed, we should rather start with the Bible and the Koran.

    Just kidding (not)… LOL

  13. Consi,

    first, I do not put my opinions up to a majority vote. You can appeal to the audience, but even everybody else disagreeing with me will not sway me.

    Second, the law you mention was and remains controversial in the U.K. – if memory serves me right, it was transparently designed to shut up Islamists, but if it’s instead used against Christian homophobes, that’s just toooo bad. Note the dripping sarcasm.

    Third, if you don’t like British laws, get a British passport and work to have them changed. Or speak out against similar domestic agendas.

    Fourth, free speech is overrated and in any case, I’m not aware of a single country where speech is unconditionally free. Some speech is protected, some proscribed, some things you can freely say and freely face the consequences for.

    Your central thesis appeats to be that not only must you able to express your opinions, but that you be free to do so at the place, time, and duration of your choosing. In other words, you assert a right to be heard.

    I find it interesting that you use the phrase “slander against an individual” – one way to define hate speech is “slander against a group”.

    You yourself have given a number of qualifications to the free expression of opinion – e.g. impeding a lawful assembly and slander against an individual. Arguably, the minister and cohorts ran afoul of both of the above. You can beg to differ, of course. It doesn’t impress me, by the way, that the minister isn’t as bad as Phelps.

    In summary, that law is controversial and misguided; my recollection is that what it is supposed to do could have been handled by laws already on the book, but we all know that lawgivers enjoy giving the appearance of actually tackling a problem by passing more laws. I might be more sympathetic had you picked an example other than a Christian homophobe running into a self-made problem. And before you ask, I would be equally unsympathetic if gay activists had tried to hand out homophile pamphlets at a Christian procession, say. Having said that, the Christians over there complain that gay rights trump free speech, but I have no doubt that they also believe that the free exercise of religion trumps free speech.

    Whatever. I’m not subscribing to this thread, I had better things to do than to comment, my opinions will not change, and we’ll just have to agree to disagree when lines are getting crossed.

  14. Elwed:

    You sidestepped outlining what you saw as the omission of material facts from your earlier post.  I shall take that as recantation by silence.

    I do not put my opinions up to a majority vote.

    You didn’t.  I did.  I believe if one is on a path that nobody else is traveling then that individual is brilliant in their navigational skills or they’re lost. It was for me, since I’m not brilliant.

    Second, the law you mention was and remains controversial in the U.K….but if it’s instead used against Christian homophobes, that’s just toooo bad. Note the dripping sarcasm.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that with the sarcasm added you are saying that the abuse of a the law is a good thing, as long as it is a particular group that gets the abuse.  That is troubling at best. 

    Third, if you don’t like British laws, get a British passport and work to have them changed. Or speak out against similar domestic agendas.

    What does the fact that it is a British law have do with anything?  If one isn’t a citizen or living in a country it precludes commentary about law and policy within that country?  You’ve got to be kidding me.

    Fourth, free speech is overrated and in any case…

    I must say I’m shocked to hear this coming from you.  To me, speech is the trunk of the tree from which other rights branch from and are supported. Sure the trunk isn’t the prettiest part, but without you have no tree and certainly no blossoms.

    Your central thesis appeats to be that not only must you able to express your opinions, but that you be free to do so at the place, time, and duration of your choosing.

    In public places during reasonable hours and a reasonable volume everybody has the right to speak about whatever they want.  Not just me, even Fred Phelps and you have the same right.

    In summary, that law is controversial and misguided; my recollection is that what it is supposed to do could have been handled by laws already on the book, but we all know that lawgivers enjoy giving the appearance of actually tackling a problem by passing more laws.

    With this I can agree.

    I might be more sympathetic had you picked an example other than a Christian homophobe running into a self-made problem.

      It is when the prosecuted is unsympathetic that we find out about the true nature of the system.  Free speech is not just for the sympathetic.  It is for everyone.

    I’m not subscribing to this thread, I had better things to do than to comment

    You are free to exercise your right not to speak whenever you want.

  15. Elwed: … we all know that lawgivers enjoy giving the appearance of actually tackling a problem by passing more laws.

    A politician’s raison d’être is to make more and more laws thereby slicing even more slivers from our freedoms.
    Where will it end?
    Would it be a fair assumption that with every law passed we become less free?

  16. No it wouldn’t – the Freedom Of Information Act made everyone here quite a bit more free, so much so that the government (and in particular the Bush admin) has made getting around it a full-time job.

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