Friday, 11 May 2012

What part of 'free speech' do you not understand?

The Stasi, the old East German secret police, seem to be alive, well and living in England. They have assumed different identities and are now manifested as enforcers of sanctions against those they deem to be deviating from their determination of what is acceptable and approvable. The latest example is manifested in attempts to suppress the Coalition for Marriage's campaign against the proposals to 'redefine marriage'.

Now, I don't care where you stand on this debate, for the purposes of this issue. I really don't. What I do care about is the freedom of people to speak in support of what they believe - so long as they aren't inciting murder, offences against the person (including incitement to racial hatred) or other easily-recognised long-standing offences. Disagreements make the world go round and discussion of them often leads to better society and an improved laws (not always, but often). Attempts to suppress free speech (with the caveats outlined above) have a nasty habit of feeding upon themselves and can actually come back round and bite those who first championed them.

 A blogger named Archbishop Cranmer has received communications from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that can only be described as intimidatory. They have said that the enquiries should be kept 'confidential'. It sounds like a Star Chamber inquisition - conducted in secret. 'Archbishop Cranmer' has chosen to make the complaint public, and hats off to him for that. . His offence? To reproduce a promotional gif in support of the Coalition for Marriage. The complaints allege that this gif is 'homophobic' and 'offensive'. In my humble opinion, the complaints are crass and idiotic - as idiotic as that head teacher who, a few years ago, denounced Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet' as 'blatantly heterosexist' and turned down free tickets for her school's pupils to attend a performance by the RSC or somesuch.

Those who engage in such attempts at censorship really should think carefully. I recall several local worthies saying to me that 'what this country needs is a benevolent dictatorship'. They were rather surprised when I responded: what if that dictator agreed with me, rather than with you? Would they still seem so benevolent then?' clearly, the idea that bullies might not be on their side had never occurred to them. It should have, and it should to anyone who thinks that their ias are in the ascendant and they can impose their will on anyone else. That way, damnation and the end of civilised society lies. As and when the backlash comes - and it will - there may be no-one able or willing to speak up for you.

'Archbishop Cranmer' observed: "Freedom of speech must be tolerated, and everyone living in the United Kingdom must accept that they may be insulted about their own beliefs, or indeed be offended, and that is something which they must simply endure, not least because some suffer fates far worse... "

For those unaware, I am more than happy to reproduce the advert here. If anyone objects, feel free to complain to the ASA. I may exhort you to avoid showing yourself up as a complete idiot but I won't stop you. .

. Archbishop Cranmer's blog can be found at: