No more free speech

I have just updated the blog header, and also the About page, to remove the references to my interest in freedom of speech online.  Old posts on the subject will remain, but I have no plans to post more on this subject.

I grew up in times in which you could express pretty much any political or religious opinion that you pleased, so long as it wasn’t indecent or calculated to insult those who were with.  A man full of wine might express himself particularly strongly; and the worst he might hear would be “It’s a free country”.  When the internet came along, people like ourselves found ourselves able to say whatever we wished to people anywhere in the world.  There was much abuse; but nothing worse than trolling.

Those days are gone.  In the US the constitution still offers much protection from legal action, but extra-legal intimidation  is rampant, designed to deprive political opponents of the means to feed their families.  In the UK police forces boast how they scan social media for opinions, and the same US-style intimidation is also in effect here.  On the continent prosecutions for opinion have never ceased, as the political elite increasingly grow out of touch with their peoples.  These are sad times.

Increasingly I see a trend whereby the powerful deny free speech to their political opponents.  I see companies being advised to Google for job candidates, in case they are “unsafe”.  Those who still dare to protest are almost all of one political complexion, and that not the one in power.  To protest is increasingly presented, cynically, as a party statement.

Bluntly, free speech, of the kind that we all remember from 15 years ago, has vanished.  Prudent people must comport themselves accordingly.

Let us hope for better days.

“Freedom of speech is not something to be awarded to those who are thought deserving and denied to those who are thought undeserving’ – judge

Another valuable article appears today in the Daily Mail.  The context is a curious system of secret ‘family’ courts who take children from families but may not be reported by the press.  This evil seems peculiar to Britain, and the details may be read in the article.   The new judge in charge of the system, Sir James Munby, is reforming the system.

But Sir James went on to make a number of statements which deserve much wider notice.

As part of a ruling against secrecy in the  family courts, Sir James declared: ‘Freedom of speech is not something to be  awarded to those who are thought deserving and denied to those who are thought  undeserving’.

….

Sir James, who is president of the Family  Division of the High Court, said the Press was necessary to ensure scrutiny of  the courts and that occasional bad behaviour by some journalists had to be  tolerated.

If Press criticism ‘exceeds what is lawful’  there are already laws to deal with that.

‘It is not the role of the judge to seek to  exercise any kind of editorial control over the manner in which the media  reports information which it is entitled to publish,’ he said. ‘Comment and  criticism may be ill informed and based on misunderstanding or misrepresentation  of the facts.

‘The fear of such criticism, however  justified the fear may be, is, however, not of itself a justification for prior  restraint by injunction.’

He also stood up for the rights of tabloid  newspapers to express criticism in ‘intemperate language’.

‘If there is no basis for injuncting a story  expressed in the temperate or scholarly language of a legal periodical or the  broadsheet press, there can be no basis for injuncting the same story simply  because it is expressed in the more robust, colourful or intemperate language of  the tabloid press or even in language which is crude, insulting and  vulgar.

‘The publicist … may be an unprincipled  charlatan seeking to manipulate public opinion by feeding it tendentious  accounts of the proceedings. But freedom of speech is not something to be  awarded to those who are thought deserving and denied to those who are thought  undeserving.’

Unlike Lord Leveson, he emphasised the  ‘enormous challenges’ posed by the internet ‘The law must develop and adapt,  as it always has done down the years in response to other revolutionary  technologies.’

Privacy law, developed by judges and based on  the Human Rights Act, has encouraged increasing numbers of celebrities to apply  for injunctions concealing embarrassing stories about themselves.

I think that the point about intemperate language is important.   Powerful pressure groups have arranged for “anti-hate” laws to be published.  These have the effect of making it dangerous to criticise those groups, and very dangerous to do so in an unguarded way.  The judge is right to point out that this is nonsense.

Let us hope that this is the first signs of a new and more liberal approach to free speech in Britain.

There is, however, some way to go.  At the foot of the article we find the words: “Sorry we are unable to accept comments for legal reasons.”

I can think of no good reason why we, the public, should be unable to comment on this subject.

Norwich Reform Church banned from meeting and from their own market stall by Norwich Council for “hate”

BBC East report from yesterday (16/4/12):

Norwich Reformed Church banned for Islam ‘hate’ leaflet

A church has been banned from holding a weekly bookstall in Norwich following a complaint it was producing “hate-motivated” literature against Islam.

The Norwich Reformed Church held the stall on the city’s Hay Hill, which is owned by Norwich City Council.

The council has stopped the church using the site for equality reasons.

Pastor Alan Clifford said the church would appeal in the hope “the council will see sense and see how they are violating our freedom of speech”.

Mr Clifford wrote the leaflet, Why Not Islam, about 10 years ago. The church has been distributing the literature from Hay Hill since 2008.

‘High and mighty’

He said: “Our first response was one of surprise.

“We felt this a violation of freedom of speech and I was accused of hate motivation in producing this leaflet.

“It’s an intolerance from the city council acting in a high and mighty manner as we’ve had it confirmed by Norfolk Police – who’ve inspected the document – there is no crime involved.”

Masoud Gadir, Muslim chaplain at University of East Anglia and president of Norwich and Norfolk Muslim Association, said: “When you look at the leaflet it brings in hatred and scaremongers as to what Islam is.

“God has given us the mind and brain to think – not to follow any religion blindly.”

The Norwich Reformed Church, associated with the Farthing Trust, received notice from the council on 5 April that it would no longer be able to do outreach work on Hay Hill.

The authority has also advised the council-owned Eaton Park Community Centre not to take any further bookings from the church, which has used the centre as a place of worship since 1994.

A council spokesman said: “We received a complaint from a member of the public about material published by the Norwich Reformed Church which uses council facilities.

“This was considered to be hate motivated.”

The spokesman added that the police advised that no criminal offence had been committed, but the council had a “duty to foster good relations between people of all backgrounds and religions”.

The Farthing Trust is appealing against what it describes as the city council’s “dramatic action”.

The Norwich Evening News also have the story.

More details are accessible, courtesy of Max Farquar.  The leaflet was HERE in PDF form, but has sadly vanished.  The story is also mentioned here at the Happy Propagandist blog, who comments:

Unfortunately, [the law in question] is extremely vague and the criteria for breaking the law are entirely subjective. We all know some people who are taken aback by even the most minor of grievances.  This law also allows individuals or groups with ulterior agendas to target freedom of speech, at will. Consequently, the law needs to get a grip on the difference between ‘inciting religious hatred’ and simply voicing innocuous opinions, which we are all entitled to do (just about).  It also needs to define what ‘grossly offensive’ means.  I was of the opinion that one of the great things about a liberal society is that one does not have the right to ‘not be offended’.

It seems that the church have contacted the Christian Institute, and are taking legal advice.

Now I know that bookstall personally, because I pass it every time I visit Norwich.  It’s a tiny little table, with a little hut built around it, about 6 foot long in its largest dimension.  It’s unobtrusive, and innocuous in every way, as is the literature on it.  Yet, apparently, the council — paid for by the taxes of church members — can ban the stall, expel the church from a building paid for by taxpayers, even though no crime has been committed.

It is useless to complain that the council officials — nameless, of course — have acted in this manner.  Rather, a legal climate has been created in which those officials are afraid NOT to censor in this way.  I only learned of this case by accident.  Yet up and down the country, liberty is being interfered with, routinely, deliberately, without malice.  This is what comes of evil laws and bad government.

I would suggest that younger church members organise a sit-in at the next council meeting, notifying the local TV just before they do, and appear on TV being dragged out by the police or security.  Protest visibly, chaps.  It’s the only way.

The silencing of Michel van Rijn

There are people out there who love secrecy.  The manuscript of the gospel of Judas and three other texts were traded around the art world for 20 years, suffering considerable damage in the process.  Dutch art-dealer Michel van Rijn exposed much of this, and indeed many other evil deeds in the art world.  Unsurprisingly those he exposed want his site off-line.

Some years ago his first site was the target of an injunction by James Ferrell of Ferrellgas.  I’ve corresponded with the latter, and found him a pleasant and helpful man.  The injunction seems to suggest that the action was taken mainly because material on van Rijn’s site was compromising a suit by Ferrell against the notorious Bruce Ferrini, the man who did more damage to those four manuscripts than any other single source.

Someone also persuaded Google to remove all reference to his site.  He moved to http://www.michelvanrijn.nl/, which also never appeared in Google. 

I recently noticed that the site had vanished.  It seems that it vanished in October 2006, after death threats to his children.

We are all the poorer for this.  It’s understandable, but why haven’t the police stepped in? I hope that we will see you again, old inkslinger.