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November 12, 2012

Free Speech Outrage of the Day

Thanks to To Hold Nothing
Want to show that you're an asshole? Try burning a poppy on Remembrance Day (Veteran's Day for you Americans, where I don't think the poppy is the same type of symbol as it is in the British Commonwealth countries).

Want to show that not only are you an asshole, but you're a despicable human being? Take a picture of it and blast out there onto social media.

Want to become a sympathetic subject of the constant battle for free speech in civilized and free countries?

Do it in the UK.

According to the Telegraph, a 19-year-old man from Aylesham was arrested not for burning a poppy on Remembrance Day (evidently that's cool), but for posting it on Facebook. It's not even clear he burned the poppy to begin with.

The UK does not have the First Amendment, but you would think in any free society people would have the ability to say whatever they want as long as it wasn't a threat to somebody.

You would be wrong.

The man was arrested under the "Malicious Communications Act".

According to the Guardian:
"According to the website of the CPS, the Malicious Communications Act 1988, section 1, "deals with the sending to another of any article which is indecent or grossly offensive, or which conveys a threat, or which is false, provided there is an intent to cause distress or anxiety to the recipient".

The CPS website states: "The offence covers letters, writing of all descriptions, electronic communications, photographs and other images in a material form, tape recordings, films and video recordings.""
This law is offensive, and is akin to "hate speech" laws that are becoming more prevalent in North America as well. We haven't reached this point yet, but it's almost certain we will if we continue down that path, mainly because the definition of "hate speech" will start getting defined more and more broadly until it's meaningless. Anti-black/gay/Christian/women/etc statements are one thing (and I don't agree with them being against the law either, though they do demonstrate that the person making such statements is a boor who should never be listened to by anybody). But burning poppies? Where do you draw the line? (I seem to be asking that question a lot lately)

Yes, burning a poppy is obnoxious, and doing it on Remembrance Day is offensive. But what gives you the right to live a life free of offense? I find lots of things offensive. I don't think there should be a law against them, though.

Thankfully, the outrage about this online is palpable. Not that the UK government will listen, but at least people aren't lying down for this. These stupid arrests will continue to live on, and the UK will increasingly become a police state where you can't do anything without getting government approval first.

Ok, I exaggerate, but that seems to be the slope they're on.

Thanks to the Telegraph
The UK has a number of laws of similar stupidity, ones that I am truly afraid will be making their way over here at some point. Wonderful actor Rowan Atkinson recently spoke out about another one that appears to be intended to keep people from feeling insulted.

Section 5 of the Public Order Act of 1986 is as follows (thanks to the Digital Journal article I linked to above):
"As it currently stands, Section 5(1) of the Public Order Act 1986 reads:

A person is guilty of an offence if 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, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby."
So insulting somebody is a crime. Outrageous.

Atkinson was quite eloquent in his statement:
"The clear problem with the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such. Criticism is easily construed as insult. Ridicule is easily construed as insult. Sarcasm, unfavourable comparison, merely stating an alternative point of view can be interpreted as insult."
Atkinson spoke as part of the launch of Reform Section 5, a group that is advocating changing the law to remove insults from it. It's supported by a number of officials and public figures, including Stephen Fry.

Personally, I don't think that goes far enough, as I think the entire law should be scrapped, not "reformed." Threats should be covered separately, as anybody who issues a threat, be it written, verbal, or smoke signals, should be punished. They don't need a speech law about it.

Government and laws should not be there to keep people from being offended. People who feel that way actually offend me.

So should they be arrested? Or is one person's offense fine while another's is actionable?


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