All The More Reason

Anne Applebaum
September 22, 2006, 2:55 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

In the following piece, Anne Applebaum claims that people in the West should do more basic defending of free speech.

…I don’t feel that it’s asking too much for the West to quit saying sorry and unite, occasionally, in its own defense. The fanatics attacking the pope already limit the right to free speech among their own followers. I don’t see why we should allow them to limit our right to free speech, too.

Perhaps one way that free speech could be defended a little better would be to help defend the legal cases of those whose opinions we find odious. I’m thinking, for example of David Irving, a holocaust denier who got in trouble with the law in Europe.

Jonathan Smith


5 Comments so far
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Does Europe have a large free speech movement with regard to those type of denial laws and such?

Comment by Raphael

I’d be really curious to know what the European (High or Supreme?) Court precedents are on free speech too. My suspicion, based largely on that David Irving case, is that it’s not defended to nearly the same extent as in the States. I don’t even know what the precedents are in Britain.

Comment by Jonathan Smith

The European Court of Human Rights has upheld the bans on holocaust denial throughout its 60 year history. As with many other cases, it cites ‘national sensitivities’ as a justification for such decisions.

Britain has no constitution, and hence, no right to free speech. We do however have LIBERTY to do what we want within the law. It’s a subtle distinction, but one which is quite important when trying to fathom how the country’s unwritten consitutional settlement operates. As a result, things like incitement to murder are, obviously, banned. Until recently, the only curtailment on freedom of speech qua speech (i.e. rather than incitement) was the law on blasphemy. It is a common law, or judge made, offence and not codified in any Parliamentary statute. It was last enforced just 20 years ago against a publication called ‘Gay Times’ which published a poem about Jesus being fellated by a Roman soldier whilst on the cross.

The recent legislation on the ‘glorification of terrorism’ however has now come into force. It bans exactly what it says on the tin, however prosecution is, unusually, entirely at the discretion of the Attorney General (a Cabinet Minister) rather than the Crown Prosecution Service and the police. George Galloway recently tried to make a martyr of himself under this law by glorifying ‘Sheikh’ Nasrallah of Hizbollah. Quite rightly, nobody bothered to complain.

Comment by Michael P

That was a very enlightening post. Is there a need for a constitutionally supported freedom of speech if it’s already covered within the more general framework of Liberty?
With regard to ‘national sensitivities’, I find it disappointing that it’s forgotten that there are so many ways to express one’s sensitivities without having to resort to putting someone in prison. Nothing wrong with calling the man an ass, or a buffon if that’s what’s needed.
Perhaps food for future thought, even the slogan for that blog Harry’s Place, taken as I understand from George Orwell, is somewhat misleading. “Liberty, if it means anything, is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”. Well, one would not want to hear that a fatwa was out on someone’s head, would they?

Comment by Jonathan Smith

Upon rereading your post, I can see how my hypothetical doesn’t fall within those parameters of how speech is defined in the eyes of the law, as opposed to something that is indeed said, but carries with it the will for murderous action.

Comment by Jonathan Smith

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