Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Shifting Sands Of Free Speech

From BBC News, via Little Green Footballs:

Controversial plans to make incitement to religious hatred illegal have been unveiled by the government.

The new offence gives equal protection to all faiths. Jews and Sikhs are already covered by race hate laws.

Critics say the reintroduced plans - which cover words or behaviour intended or likely to stir up religious hatred - will stifle free speech.

Ministers insist the new law would not affect "criticism, commentary or ridicule of faiths".

The Racial and Religious Bill would create a new offence of incitement to religious hatred and would apply to comments made in public or in the media, as well as through written material.

The aim is to protect people from incitement to hatred against them because of their faith.

But ministers insists it will not ban people - including artists and performers - from offending, criticising or ridiculing faiths.

Home Office Minister Paul Goggins said: "It is about protecting the believer, not the belief."
Mr Goggins said he did not expect many prosecutions under the new laws but it was important for Parliament to send out a clear message.

But, Mr. Goggins speaks out of both sides of his mouth. He says it's about protecting the believer not the belief. Ok, great. So, look what else he says:

Religious hatred is defined in the Bill as "hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief" - showing it will also cover atheists.
He said: "This will be a line in the sand which indicates to people a line beyond which they cannot go...

We can be sure that the line drawn in the sand will shift as much as the sand itself.

One day it will be ok to criticize a belief, and another day criticism will be considered an infringement on the rights of an individual, because their beliefs will be said to be central to their identity.

We have found as a society that it is impossible to simply say that incitement to violence is not protected by free speech. Why? Because "one mans terrorist, is another mans freedom fighter." Therefore, it is better for society to protect all speech, while drawing the line (in concrete) against violence.