British police threatened atheist for posting a nonbeliever sign in his yard

This story is from 2012, but the law still applies in the UK. The Public Order Act of 1986 remains in force, and it specifies this:

(1) A person is guilty of an offence if, with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress, 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
thereby causing that or another person harassment, alarm or distress.
(2) An offence under this section may be committed in a public or a private place, except that no offence is committed where the words or behaviour are used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation is displayed, by a person inside a dwelling and the person who is harassed, alarmed or distressed is also inside that or another dwelling.\
(3) It is a defence for the accused to prove:

(a) that he was inside a dwelling and had no reason to believe that the words or behaviour used, or the writing, sign or other visible representation displayed, would be heard or seen by a person outside that or any other dwelling, or
(b) that his conduct was reasonable.

A fair number of readers have defended the “hate speech” laws of places like Canada and Germany, saying that these laws don’t make those countries any more dysfunctional than the U.S., where “hate speech” is legal. But for those who do defend “hate speech” laws, put this in your pipe and smoke it.

According to The Friendly Atheist, who got the story from the UK paper The Boston Standard, in 2012, a Brit named John Richards put up a small, letter-sized sheet of paper in his window that read as follows:

Photo from the Boston Standard

 

Yep, that horrible message, which happens to be true, that “Religions are fairy stories for adults.”

And for that Mr. Richards has been threatened by the police. The Boston Standard notes, in an updated report, that if anybody complains because they were offended by Richards’s poster, the coppers will ask him to take the sheet down. If Richards doesn’t comply, he faces arrest. As the paper notes, (my emphasis):

Officers say that they have not told John Richards he is committing an offence for displaying the poster but said he could only face arrest if he causes offence and refuses to take the poster down when they ask.

In a statement Lincolnshire Police said the 1986 Public Order Act states that a person is guilty of an offence if they display a sign which is threatening or abusive or insulting with the intent to provoke violence or which may cause another person harassment, alarm or distress.

The statement adds: “This is balanced with a right to free speech and the key point is that the offence is committed if it is deemed that a reasonable person would find the content insulting.

“If a complaint is received by the police in relation to a sign displayed in a person’s window, an officer would attend and make a reasoned judgement about whether an offence had been committed under the Act.

“In the majority of cases where it was considered that an offence had been committed, the action taken by the officer would be to issue words of advice and request that the sign be removed. “Only if this request were refused might an arrest be necessary.

Well isn’t that peachy? They give the guy a chance to do the right thing before taking him in.

Note that, according to the constabulary, the “right to free speech” is balanced here by a legal right not to be harassed, or even “alarmed or distressed.” I’m sorry, but that ludicrous balance is the basis of “hate speech” laws, and it’s not only dumb, but it’s inimical to free discourse. As Stephen Fry said, you don’t have the right not to be offended.

Here’s another example of alarming and distressing speech in Britain:

Source: Akira Suemori / AP

Now in this case somebody could complain to the bus company, which would be threatened with legal action if it didn’t take down the posters.  And of course the famous bus posters were offensive to many believers, but who among us would argue that people have a right not to see these words?

And would you say that Richards’s sign is okay, but one that said, “There was probably no Holocaust” is illegal and should be banned? For such signs are illegal—in Germany and, I think, in Canada. This shows the slippery line between hate speech and free speech—and the reason why the line doesn’t exist in America. One person’s free speech, as I always say, is another person’s hate speech. Do not underrate the propensity of people to be alarmed or distressed by things that most of us would consider innocuous.

I won’t go on except to give free-speech advocate and attorney Ken White’s take on this ridiculous “Public Order Act” on the Popehat site:

. . . I’d like to say a word about character.

What is the character of a person who sees a sign like that in a pensioner’s window, and runs to the police to complain?

Could a person with such character stand up, against great odds, in the face of the the very casques that did affright the air at Agincourt? Could such a person do his duty, as England expected, at Trafalgar? Could such a person keep calm and carry on? Would such a person fight on beaches, on landing grounds, in fields and streets, in the hills, and never surrender? Is such a person capable of having a finest hour?

I ask because of this: societies that make rules like this one, encouraging its citizens to scamper mewling behind the skirts of the government when faced with the least offense, produce people with the character necessary to take them up on the offer. It is hard to imagine how a nation run by people of that character can endure — or at least, how it can endure as anyplace you’d want to live.

I would add “It’s hard to imagine how a college inhabited by people of that character could endure.” But many American colleges are just like that, and we’ll hear about one later today.

I’d be glad to hear from readers who think that there is a defensible line between free speech and hate speech, and, if you comment on this, please tell me exactly where that line is.

_____________

UPDATE: If you want a more recent example of thought policing by the UK cops, this is new (click on screenshot). Remember, he didn’t even write the damn tweet, he just liked it.

178 Comments

  1. Posted February 7, 2019 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Yes – welcome to the Fascist State – the privileged position of belief systems. What gets my goat is that we allow swearing on ‘holy books’ in courts. If they are supposed to weigh evidence, what the hell is this god nonsense allowed in for?

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted February 7, 2019 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      In the US, witnesses aren’t required to swear upon a bible or to recite “so help me God.” The applicable evidentiary rule provides only:

      “Before testifying, a witness must give an oath or affirmation to testify truthfully. It must be in a form designed to impress that duty on the witness’s conscience.”

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted February 7, 2019 at 10:04 am | Permalink

        When Krysten Sinema was sworn in by the bible puncher himself, Pence, she used a copy of the Constitution. She is likely an atheist, at least we hope so, but she says unaffiliated. That is probably far as you can go and still get elected.

      • Posted February 7, 2019 at 11:31 am | Permalink

        In UK courts you are also not obliged to swear on the Bible. You can swear on other ‘holy’ texts appropriate to your religious beliefs or, if you are not religious, are allowed to make an affirmation.

        The courts are supposed to weigh the evidence but in order to do so have to have a level of trust that the evidence is reliable. Where the evidence is the testimony of witnesses that means the court has to believe the witness is telling the truth. Perjury is a very serious offence, punishable by imprisonment and I suppose that the swearing/affirming is a little ritual that serves to underline to the witness the importance of being truthful rather than necessarily a mechanism to enlist the support of a deity in getting at the truth.

        • Posted February 7, 2019 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

          When I did jury service in England 8 years ago, two of the jurors affirmed (one being me). I think the other might have been a Quaker (the group who first won the right to affirm). I’m sure the others weren’t all practicing Christians, but they swore on the Bible nonetheless.

          /@

          • Posted February 7, 2019 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

            PS. Oh — and one of the young defendants!

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted February 7, 2019 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

              Loop hole for the non Christians to sweat on the bible. 🙂 I had to swear something at, of all places, the Ministry of Transportstion, so they pulled out the bible & I said “can I take a civic oath” so she got a bit flustered, put the bible away and asked me to swear a non god oath.

              • Heather Hastie
                Posted February 7, 2019 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

                “Sweat” on the Bible! Good typo! 😀

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 7, 2019 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

                Ha ha. I wrote that waiting to talk to my boss at work while on my iPhone & now I forget what I was meaning to say.

          • Serendipitydawg
            Posted February 7, 2019 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

            Same here, though more than 40 years ago. Also, I was handed the wrong crib sheet, so there was a hiatus while they found the card I could actually read aloud! One of my fellow jurors admitted bprivately to not being a beliver, despite taking a religious oath, which failed to impress me… as did his ‘well, it doesn’t really matter’ comment.

          • Randall Schenck
            Posted February 7, 2019 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

            I did jury service but do not remember having to be sworn in at all. It was California so who knows, maybe they don’t do it there.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted February 8, 2019 at 5:42 am | Permalink

            I would guess that a large percentage of those who swore on the Bible were, as you say, not practising Christians, but did so simply because they regarded it as the ‘usual thing to do’ and because, being British, they didn’t think it worth making a fuss about.

            cr

            • Posted February 8, 2019 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

              Just like the time when I was admitted to hospital overnight. Everybody who was admitted after me, and before i went to sleep, when asked for their religion, answered, “Well, Church of England, I suppose,” or, “I guess.” No-one I heard answered definitively.

              /@

              PS. The nurse who did my admission paperwork was taken aback when I answered the question, “Humanist.”

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted February 7, 2019 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

          Perjury is a very serious offence, punishable by imprisonment and I suppose that the swearing/affirming is a little ritual that serves to underline to the witness the importance of being truthful rather than necessarily a mechanism to enlist the support of a deity in getting at the truth.

          Is it worth remembering the origin of the word “testimony”? Put your hand on your balls, and swear upon them with the implication that if you bear false witness, you lose them or they stop working.
          OK, you’d need to add variants for the various anatomical possibilities which need considering in these LGBTQ+-QWERTYUIOP friendly days, and you’d still have to introduce something for those with no interest in the working of their sex organs – celibate clergy being a case in point who would love to have a special procedure to bolster their fragile egos.

      • BJ
        Posted February 7, 2019 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

        Question: when you practiced, would you have ever counseled an atheist client to not swear upon a bible or recite the words “so help me god”? I imagine that, considering public opinion on atheists, the safest route for a criminal defendant is to do both, regardless of their beliefs.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted February 7, 2019 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

          Federal courts have done away with the use of bibles and “so help me God.” So have the state courts I’ve practiced in.

          Anyway, I much prefer to have a Defendant stay off the witness stand.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted February 7, 2019 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

          I think the standard oath is “Do you swear or affirm that the testimony you are about to give in this matter will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”

          The witness is required to say simply “I do.”

          • BJ
            Posted February 7, 2019 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

            That’s good to hear. I didn’t know that. It keeps defendants from being forced to choose between placating the jury and holding true to their beliefs.

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted February 7, 2019 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

              Yeah, that “I do” makes being a witness almost as easy as getting married. 🙂

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted February 8, 2019 at 5:43 am | Permalink

          That might be the case in US. I don’t think it would matter in Britain.

          cr

  2. Tyler Nighswander
    Posted February 7, 2019 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    I’ve always wanted to rent a billboard in the midwest and put something on it along the lines of “You don’t need God/a god to have morality” or “Morals don’t come from God/a god”, etc.

    • Mark R.
      Posted February 7, 2019 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      While living in Wyoming, PETA put up a billboard on I-80 in the middle of Cheyenne. It read: Jesus was a vegetarian. And it had a photo of that iconic Jesus face we all know. I thought it was hilarious, but the residents didn’t. It lasted less than 24-hours. The next day what was left of the billboard was in ribbons, blowing in the wind.

      It is truly remarkable, the thin skins of the deluded masses.

      • Mark R.
        Posted February 7, 2019 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

        I actually tried to bold “Jesus was a vegetarian”…dunno.

  3. GBJames
    Posted February 7, 2019 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    sub

  4. Posted February 7, 2019 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    On a similar topic from the UK, does everyone know that a teenage girl was recently convicted of a criminal offence for posting online rap lyrics containing the word “nigga”. She had posted the lyrics as a tribute to a boy who had been killed in a traffic accident. A policewoman decided that the word was “offensive” to her. The court then decided that intent and context was irrelevant, and so convicted the teenager!

    Yes, really! This actually happened!

    It’s so utterly arbitrary and capricious and ludicrous!

    • Posted February 7, 2019 at 8:56 am | Permalink

      And, by the precedent of this conviction, I just committed a criminal offence by posting the above comment.

      • a-non
        Posted February 7, 2019 at 9:19 am | Permalink

        “then by quoting the song I am equally indictable. Should I also be put on trial? Should the prosecutors be arrested for reading out the lyrics in court? It’s the kind of endless cycle of which MC Escher would be proud. (He’s not a rapper, by the way.)”

        Thanks, I hadn’t heard about this particular case. Unreal.

    • Steve Gerrard
      Posted February 7, 2019 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      Is that spelling of the n word also verboten? I thought the whole purpose of it was to avoid the actual “er” ending as a work around.

      • Posted February 7, 2019 at 11:28 am | Permalink

        Mission creep; before long referring to “the n word” will also be verboten.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted February 7, 2019 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

          First they came for the “niggers”, and I did not complain for I did not write “nigger”,
          Then they came for the n-words …”
          With apologies to Pastor Niemoller, IIRC.

      • Posted February 8, 2019 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

        There are dialects of English which would pronounce “nigger” and “nigga” the same.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted February 7, 2019 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      The black policewoman who received the complaint about the Instagram post is Constable Dominique Walker, who is assigned to a Liverpool specialist police hate crime unit.

      Before joining the police her brother Anthony [18yo] was murdered in July 2005 by a white guy who’d driven an ice pick into Anthony’s head. Dominique asked around & came up with a name for the killer – someone local she’d known since she was 3 years as it turned out.

      She says she joined the force later partly to fight race hate crime & partly because she felt blame for not being there for her younger brother. The Liverpool Echo reports in April 2018:

      PC Walker told the court […] “as a black woman I found the words offensive and upsetting. The words are offensive to both black and white people.” PC Walker also asked Carole Clarke, defending, not to use the word nigga in the court because she found it so offensive.

      In 2012 The Guardian: reported that she sits on the BPMA & also that…

      Walker, though, is determined that skin colour will prove no barrier to meeting her ambition of becoming Britain’s first black female chief constable.<

      All-in-all I am amazed the Instagram girl had to go to court as it’s clear her intention wasn’t race hate related. PC Dominique Walker would have to forward the details to the CPS to rule if the girl should be prosecuted OR PC Walker had it within her power [or her bosses power] to just have a chat with the girl – give her the opportunity to take the post down & maybe issue her with a police ‘caution’

      I think the decision to go to court was politically motivated & the girl must have had a crap lawyer!

      PS Above I’m not discussing the merits or otherwise of Brit race hate laws

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted February 7, 2019 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

        ECHO & GUARDIAN

      • Posted February 7, 2019 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

        The case does indeed seem much more about that PC’s personal issues than about a fair application of the law.

        Someone sensible should have taken PC Walker aside and told her to get a grip.

        • a-non
          Posted February 7, 2019 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

          Someone sensible should have transferred her to another unit.

          Rough to have your brother murdered, sure, and channeling that into police work I can buy. But trying to channel it into the hate crime unit sounds like a red flag, that at very least should have your boss warning you to be 100% professional. And needing special care in court not to mention words related to her chosen line of work? That doesn’t cut it. Surely this was obvious to her boss ages ago.

          Can you imagine the storm if a white guy gave, as his reason for so wanting to be in the hate crime unit, a story about his sister having been murdered by a black man?

          • Michael Fisher
            Posted February 7, 2019 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

            She is a political animal [sitting on her local effectively black or minority ethnic only BPA] & her bosses have seen what happens at other British police forces when the BPA or NBPA stick their nose in.

            Her bosses probably tiptoe around her & look the other way. There would be hell to pay if she was pulled up & anyway modern senior police are drawn from university & many have not been beat coppers [& not made an arrest] – politically correct to a fault!

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted February 7, 2019 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

        give her the opportunity to take the post down & maybe issue her with a police ‘caution’

        Before an offence can be “disposed of” by a caution, the accused must accept the facts of the case as posted, admit guilt and agree to not take the matter to trial or (IIRC) appeal.
        And it’s only after making those undertakings that the police get to decide whether to dispose of the offence (no longer “alleged”) by caution, or to send that case and the acceptance of facts and of guilt to court for more serious treatment.
        Never take a caution without your own lawyer’s advice. NOT a court lawyer.

        • Posted February 8, 2019 at 2:12 am | Permalink

          Is that the voice of experience, Aidan?

          /@

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted February 12, 2019 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

            Standard advice dispatched to protestors in animal rights/ anti-Bomb and pro-trade union demonstrations throughout the 1980s. The filth really, really want you to not go to court and will lie shamelessly to you to try to get you to confess. Then they’ll turn round and shaft you.
            The only time I got nicked, along with about twenty others, we all kept schtum, admitted nothing, tied up about twenty cops in court for three days … out of about sixty counts, they got about three suspended sentences for disorderly conduct, four “not provens” and over fifty cases dismissed.
            But then again, Dad had taught me such things long before I went to Uni. He’d had his head broken open by filth’s clubs in the Grosvenor Square riot of 1968 then been given the third degree to try to get him to admit to attacking the mounted police.

  5. Luana Maroja
    Posted February 7, 2019 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Particularly disturbing to see professors in elite liberal arts colleges calling for: “Other democracies ban hate speech, why not the US”.

  6. Posted February 7, 2019 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Sounds like the laws in the UK protect snowflakes! Let’s get out the crayons, coloring books, and puppies and put all those snowflakes somewhere where they feel safe! LOL!

    • Posted February 7, 2019 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      It’s not necessarily the laws that are at fault, it’s how they are interpreted. The law talks about “harassment, alarm or distress”.

      “Distress” was intended by Parliament to be something serious. If we talk about a fishing boat “in distress” in a storm, then it is serious, lives are at risk.

      But the prosecutors and courts have decided that someone is “in distress” if they are slightly miffed or a bit perturbed at having seen something they regard as mildly offensive.

      • Posted February 7, 2019 at 10:42 am | Permalink

        Well then, the makers of the law and the interpretators of the law all qualify as snowflakes! Case closed!

      • Posted February 7, 2019 at 11:46 am | Permalink

        There is also the bit up there about how once a complaint is sent in, an officer will “attend and make a reasoned judgement about whether an offense had been committed under the Act.” I read that as giving a single police officer a great deal of leeway about enforcing this Act. I bet Mr. Richards had wished that an atheist police officer had been called!

        • BJ
          Posted February 7, 2019 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

          Can’t bet on the police to be helpful or reasonable about this. Check out this tweet from the South Yorkshire Police official Twitter account. Apparently, they don’t have better things to do, despite the significant violent crime in their area.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted February 8, 2019 at 5:53 am | Permalink

          There was no complaint, no policeman was called. Mr Richards himself asked the police for an opinion. Which was, essentially, “if somebody complains we’ll have to look at it, otherwise not”. Hardly a ‘threat’.

          I once rang the (NZ) cops about an abandoned car body that had been dumped by the roadside and whether I could take it for salvage. The officer said “Well, if anyone complains, it’s technically theft. Is anyone likely to complain?” I didn’t take that as a threat, either.

          cr

  7. Sarah
    Posted February 7, 2019 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    A few decades ago in Britain it was normal to speak of a certain shade of brown as “nigger brown”, and a jam company had a logo of a cartoonish black figure called a gollywog. It seems to me that the present horror of the word “nigger” is an almost comical overreaction. Of course it is insulting and should not be in a decent person’s vocabulary (even for a shade of brown), but it is absurd to make its use an arrestable offence.

    • Posted February 7, 2019 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      In fact the particular jam company mentioned also had ( in the 1970s)the (large)gollywog on both sides of the tail of the company aircraft and the registration of said aircraft was G-OLLY. This company was famous for its products and this symbol.
      As a child growing up in post war UK we had golly cuddly toys and collected the golly symbols from the preserve jars, when we had enough we sent them off to the company and received in return a metal enameled lapel brooch. ownership of one of these was a minor status symbol.
      Times have certainly changed.

      • Posted February 7, 2019 at 11:48 am | Permalink

        I just looked that up, and wow. That would not last long now! There were many logos and lawn ornaments of old that would not be acceptable today.

        • Mark R.
          Posted February 7, 2019 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

          At one time in America, the carved wooden Indian statues outside smoke-shops were ubiquitous. It’s still surprising though that sports teams get away with keeping offensive or patronizing names and mascots. In America, sports, like religion, get a pass.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted February 7, 2019 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

            There is an amusing Seinfeld episode that involves one of those wooden statues.

            • Mark R.
              Posted February 7, 2019 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

              I vaguely remember that.

          • Posted February 8, 2019 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

            It seems that in many parts of the US the local religion *is* football.

      • Steve Pollard
        Posted February 7, 2019 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

        I remember it well! As a pre-teen I managed to collect five or six of the badges. The company concerned – Chivers – had a plant not far from where we lived, with one of the images (about 10ft high) over the main entrance. We all called it “the golliwog factory”.

        Autres temps, autres moeurs!

        • Posted February 7, 2019 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

          Robertson’s, not Chivers!

          /@

          • Steve Pollard
            Posted February 7, 2019 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

            Aargh, yes, of course! My mental degeneration has gone further than I thought!

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted February 7, 2019 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

          Which town hosted that site? Are you sure it was Chivers? I thought it was Robertson’s Jam who displayed the Golliwog [or Golly as it became] here is Robertson’s, Catford & the Robertson’s Droylesden site had a similar, but smaller Golly outside.

          The enamelled metal Golliwog badge/pin was manufactured near me in Birmingham Jewellery Quarter – a very effective customer loyalty scheme.I had only three badges, but that’s a heck of a lot of jars of jam to qualify. Naturally we kids put a LOT of jam on our bread to speed up the collection of the paper Golliwog vouchers on the jars

          Below: January 1919, Fancy dress for an ‘American’ night at Princes; a woman dressed as a nurse and two men in ‘golliwog’ outfits which are based on the appearance of a gallant hero in a series of children’s books in verse by US writer Bertha Upton. (Photo by A. R. Coster/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

          • Posted February 7, 2019 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

            Definitely Robertson’s. The aircraft used to come in for maintenance at Oxford Kidlington and was primarily based at Bristol if memory serves me correctly.

          • chrism
            Posted February 7, 2019 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

            In order to keep kids eating jam/marmalade or even lemon curd, Robertson’s changed the design of the golliwog, and had special series of them, such as a set playing various musical instruments. Briefly, they also offered little plaster figurines of golliwogs to collect, but these can’t have been so successful as they weren’t repeated. I also had a knitted golly that my mother made.
            Funny, I still think of those golliwogs every time I make a batch of marmalade!

            • Michael Fisher
              Posted February 7, 2019 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

              Ah yes the musical instruments. I’d forgotten. Good on ya making marmalade!

              • chrism
                Posted February 7, 2019 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

                Can’t buy any decent marmalade in NS, so there’s no choice but to make it. At least it’s very easy to do.

      • Posted February 7, 2019 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

        My mum knitted me a golly when I was a child and I loved it. I don’t think I ever associated it with black people, but if I did it would have been positive.

        Despite the fact that Enid Blyton made gollywogs the villains in her Noddy books. (Replaced by goblins in recent adaptations.)

        /@

        • Posted February 7, 2019 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

          I didn’t associate the golly with black people either but to be honest I cannot remember any black people in my childhood in Epping England in the 40s and 50s. Immigration from the Caribbean was in place but I don’t think it had penetrated to the rural areas at that time so the association wouldn’t have occurred as my mother was quite liberal and my father was always away at sea which was probably a good thing as he was rabidly anti Semitic and no doubt racist also.

          • Michael Fisher
            Posted February 7, 2019 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

            An old, racist, dreary British, white acquaintance of mine spent 35 years in the Merchant Navy rising to the rank of Chief Engineer on some rather large vessels [tankers mainly]. I met him in my local British Legion [& still regret saying “hello”] – he reckoned he spent a total of around seven years in foreign ports on board ship or billeted ashore for periods. Told me he’d never eaten any “foreign muck” nor would he “speak foreign”. Imagine that – no interests when he retired except drinking at the Legion & whining about his lot.

      • Serendipitydawg
        Posted February 7, 2019 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

        The film The Dambusters still features the name of Guy Gibson’s black dog. I very much doubt a remake would even mention it. Also, Nevil Shute’s novel The Checkerboard is quite frank in its use of the term as a racial epithet.

        It was a differentr era and racial discrimmination was almost built in. Things are better these days, though there is still a long way to go.

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted February 7, 2019 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

          Are you old enough to remember this Agatha Christie cover? Mind blowing today in around five ways [look close]:

          DAMBUSTERS: Not just the dog name of course – it was also the Morse code to be transmitted back to base when the Möhne Dam was breached.

          Peter “Hobbit” Jackson has been yacking about a DAMBUSTERS Remake for years, but nowt so far. Stephen Fry was drafted in to script write & he came up with “Digger” & “Nigsy” or some such – you’d think Fry would resist! The American version of the original film has the offensive word dubbed as “Trigger.” The film should be very interesting as it corrects some of the mythology around the mission & the leader Guy Gibson V.C.

          • Posted February 7, 2019 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

            There was some pressure to remove or change the name on Gibson’s dogs grave at RAF Scampton but I think local resistance stopped it. The name was certainly extant on the grave when I was at Scampton in the late 60s.

          • Serendipitydawg
            Posted February 7, 2019 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

            Not just the dog name of course

            Indeed, the controller’s statement at the time of the breach was quite something in the film.

            I don’t remember that cover, mine was plain green. I can remember Christie’s novel being dramatised by the BBC as Ten Little Indians, and that caused a bit of a stir at the time.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted February 7, 2019 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

            I recall a passage in Hitch-22 where the author recounted an uncomfortable dinner party he attended with Dame Agatha, owing to the racial and anti-Semitic odor of the conversation.

            • Michael Fisher
              Posted February 7, 2019 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

              Standard colonial Brit upper crust outlook – though I don’t think she was ever out in ‘the colonies’. My ex-neighbour Betty [RIP] was the same, after WWII she married & spent 25 years in Kenya with her tea plantation hubby lording it over the “delightfully simple people” & their “pickaninnies”, but you had to watch the servants – cutlery counting was her hobby. With so much of the map in pink every Brit had someone they could look down on with patrician ease. Yes I’m stereotyping to a degree – the reality was more nuanced.

              Unlike the bad eggs in Christie’s books & Enid Blyton & many others. When I started noticing this stuff the black hats were worn by commies quite a bit. 🙂

  8. phil brown
    Posted February 7, 2019 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    UK courts/police have been heavy handed in these matters, but I think it’s right to restrict bigoted speech that incites hatred. Blatant racism, like a poster advocating holocaust denial should be banned.

    Freedom of speech is not the ultimate value, but one value to be balanced against others.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted February 7, 2019 at 9:19 am | Permalink

      The problem with your attitude is – who gets to decide? Tell us how that works?

      • David Evans
        Posted February 7, 2019 at 10:06 am | Permalink

        Ultimately the courts would have to decide. This is often the case. There is a UK common law offence of causing a breach of the peace, which is defined thus:
        “There is a breach of the peace whenever harm is actually done or is likely to be done to a person or in his presence to his property or a person is in fear of being so harmed through an assault, an affray, a riot, unlawful assembly or other disturbance.”

        If it comes to court with no actual harm having been done, the court has to decide “how likely is likely?”

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted February 7, 2019 at 10:16 am | Permalink

          So by “court” do you mean the jury or a judge? Either way, the line is very fuzzy.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted February 7, 2019 at 10:44 am | Permalink

          In the US, such statutes are generally construed to mean when a “reasonable person” would be put in fear of physical harm. Such laws can be difficult to apply in close cases (as nearly all laws tend to be), but are reasonably straightforward in most cases.

          I’m not sure applying a “reasonable person” standard as to what is “offensive” would provide much clarity or consistency regarding the application of a hate-speech statute.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted February 7, 2019 at 11:31 am | Permalink

            Also, enforcement of “breach of the peace” statutes isn’t likely to have a chilling effect on any conduct that’s protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution. Statutes directed at speech are likely to have such an effect.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted February 7, 2019 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

            In the US, such statutes are generally construed to mean when a “reasonable person”

            UK jurisprudence (?) incorporates a number of – I forget the term, but it’s something like “identifiable personalities”. Your “reasonable person” was originally “the man on the Clapham omnibus” over here, as I recall. The list of “identifiable personalities” included several nastier ones, including a “certified cretin” for a person whose brain development had been stunted by iodine deficiency.
            Different times. Clapham village hasn’t had more than one omnibus each way a day for years and none of the residents can use it.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted February 7, 2019 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      As our host asked, can you tell us where that line lies?

      Can you propose the wording for a rule that the police, prosecutors, and judges can apply readily and consistently so as to distinguish between prohibited and protected speech?

      If you’re going to have such a rule at all, it’s crucial to make it a “bright line,” one that will not have the “chilling effect” of dissuading citizens from engaging in protected speech out of fear of arrest and prosecution.

      • phil brown
        Posted February 7, 2019 at 10:38 am | Permalink

        I’m pretty sure it would be impossible to have a completely bright line. There will always be ambiguity, and there will always be differences in opinion about what is likely to cause harm. It’s always going to be somewhat of a judgement call, and attitudes will change over time. As ideas and culture changes, so will attitudes about what speech is acceptable.

        • BJ
          Posted February 7, 2019 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

          And that ambiguity is how you slide from reasonable restrictions to things like this: https://twitter.com/syptweet/status/1038891067381350401?lang=en

          Or the man who was convicted for jokingly teaching his dog to do a Nazi salute.

          Or comedians being fined in Human Rights Tribunals for making jokes in Canada.

          Or Germany performing raids on people’s homes for tweets and online comments: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/20/world/europe/germany-36-accused-of-hateful-postings-over-social-media.html

          Sorry, I’d post more links, but two is the limit before the auto-moderator eats one’s comment.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted February 8, 2019 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

            The Canadian comedian I think you’re referring to had nothing to do with hate laws and it was a provincial issue with the province of Quebec. The supreme court of Canada hasn’t been involved but it may if Ward escalates it. You could make the same argument about slander laws.

        • BJ
          Posted February 7, 2019 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

          Oh, and let us not forget that now website like Facebook and Twitter can be held responsible in these countries, like in Germany (where they can be fined up to 50 million Euros). Of course, this will simply chill all speech that could possibly be construed as offensive, since these sites can’t hire a team large enough to police all their comments. So, the sites that have now become the de facto public forum of modern times will be chilled by these laws. We’re already far enough down the slippery slope to know that all of this was wrong to do.

          • phil brown
            Posted February 7, 2019 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

            When we’re seeing a massive resurgence of the far right across the western world, we can’t just sit back and do nothing about hate speech and far right propaganda, most of which is propagated over social media. The rise of the far right is far more chilling than someone getting bumped off twitter for using the n-word. Exactly how social media should be policed is a work in progress, it’s going to take a long time to figure out, and there will no doubt be innocents hurt along the way. But the consequences of leaving it as a free for all would not, I think, just be hurt feelings.

            • Posted February 7, 2019 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

              My suggestion: a. speak back! b. Vote.

              No censorship!

              • phil brown
                Posted February 7, 2019 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

                No censorship at all? Today, for instance, Instagram bowed to pressure to remove images of self-harm, because of concerns they were encouraging vulnerable people to harm themselves. At least if that claim is true, isn’t that a move to be welcomed?

                Yes, speak back where there is reasonable disagreement, and your opponent is willing to listen fairly. But you can’t fight extremism with reasoned debate.

              • Posted February 7, 2019 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

                No government censorship or censorship for speech at universities. Other venues may use different standards, though I’d urge them to be as free as possible. Self-harm is a different kettle of fish, as it comes close to “creating imminent danger” by in effect telling people “hurt yourself.” I don’t have much objection to that if those images did indeed promote physical harm to other people.

            • BJ
              Posted February 7, 2019 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

              And what is far right? We’re all the things I posted “far right”? Who will decide?

              And this is what’s most dangerous: you’ve now gone from advocating for hate speech laws to advocating the suppression of political views and the expression of legitimate policy positions. Is expressing that you’re against immigration far right? Should it be suppressed? What about expressing opposition to allowing in migrants in during the migrant crisis? What if you express that legitimate position, and say your reason is because you feel their culture isn’t compatible with your country’s?

              Where does the freedom to express your legitimate views on your own country’s policy end and your determination to stop “far right” speech begin? And what happens if the far right takes power and decides far left views are too dangerous?

              Would you have advocated these same laws against the far left when communism was on the rise and far left governments were proving deadly to their citizens?

              In the end, you didn’t really say anything that responded to my examples besides the idea that, since the far right is too dangerous any method of suppressing their ideas is acceptable. Remember, suppressing certain speech requires the force of the state. And “force” is a very loaded word.

            • Taz
              Posted February 7, 2019 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

              And you think this absurd government overreach is the answer? That teenager in the UK who posted the rap lyrics wasn’t “bumped off twitter”, she was tried, convicted, fined, and ordered to wear an ankle bracelet. Shit like that is catnip for right-wing recruitment.

            • BJ
              Posted February 8, 2019 at 12:08 am | Permalink

              Boy would I love to see you respond to the points brought up, but you’ve suddenly stopped responding. Hmmmm….

              • phil brown
                Posted February 8, 2019 at 4:35 am | Permalink

                I’ve been put on pre-moderation for some reason, which makes commenting a pain.

                I didn’t say anything about restricting political discussion. I support unfettered political discussion — that’s the main reason to support freedom of speech, in my opinion.

                I think we can have those discussions without resorting to speech that seeks to demonise and incite hatred towards others based on their identities. I worry about the physical and psychological harm that may be a consequence of that kind of speech.

                Of course we need to be vigilant that powers granted to suppress hate speech are not misused to suppress political discussion, or are not used in a draconian fashion.

              • rickflick
                Posted February 8, 2019 at 7:01 am | Permalink

                Then, the question you have to ask yourself is: who decides what’s legitimate political discussion and what’s hate speech. I know how DT would decide the issue, and that would be a serious problem.

      • Posted February 7, 2019 at 11:59 am | Permalink

        Others may wish to correct or refine this, but I think that what we have over here are laws protecting even offensive speech unless it is directed at particular individuals (not a race or other group, but at specific persons), while also directly threatening violence.

        I believe there is a problem, though, which is that there are online trolls that gang up on some poor individual, filling their social media sights with extremely offensive stuff about a particular person, and bring up violence a lot, but they manage to steer just outside the lines of where the law seems to be. The trouble there is that the chosen victim cannot really separate in their minds direct threats versus indirect threats. To them, it feels much the same. So that seems to outline the law in this country, but admittedly there are problems with it.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted February 7, 2019 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

          There is a federal criminal statute, 47 USC section 223, that prohibits the use of telecommunication devices “to repeatedly initiate communication during which conversation or communication ensues, solely to harass any specific person[.]”

          The conduct you describe appears to run afoul of this law.

  9. Posted February 7, 2019 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    “A fair number of readers have defended the “hate speech” laws of places like Canada and Germany, saying that these laws don’t make those countries any more dysfunctional than the U.S., where “hate speech” is legal. But for those who do defend “hate speech” laws, put this in your pipe and smoke it.”

    Indeed… this kind of thinking bothers me so much. Its basically saying that its ok if a few individuals who have hurt nobody get harassed by the state, potentially lose their livelihood or go to jail (this has happened in the UK) are just some eggs that need to get broken to make the civil society cake. This is probably the first line they spew in room 101.

  10. Randall Schenck
    Posted February 7, 2019 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    How could one argue with such a good argument, especially when covering the character of the offended. However, always remembering whatever your offensive line may be, you will have to face the music of the public. As the politicians in Virginia are learning, you don’t gain any points for stupid, although this is often not the case in politics.

  11. Christopher
    Posted February 7, 2019 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    So would a Muslim be able to report a Christian for a Christian religious message because it made the Muslim feel threatened?

    • a-non
      Posted February 7, 2019 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      Presumably. Would it depend who got to the courthouse first, or is there an automatic direction assumed?

      Could you read the official doctrine of the head of state on the street outside her palace? Within 50 yards of a mosque?

      • Posted February 7, 2019 at 10:43 am | Permalink

        Crowned to rule by divine right, but whose divinity? and if not mine am I am offended? The opportunities are never ending!

    • Pierre Masson
      Posted February 7, 2019 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      As an atheist, could I not claim that the Q’uran threatens me with death and that therefore it should be banned? Is that not an egregious example of hate speech? A similar claim could also be made about the hell of the New Testament…

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted February 7, 2019 at 11:36 am | Permalink

        Not to mention all those Mosaic laws in Leviticus punishable by death in the OT.

    • Posted February 7, 2019 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      My notion on that is no if it was a straight-up Christian message: “Jesus is the son of God”. But if it was this: “Jews and Muslims will burn in hell”, then maybe. There is a difference in tooting your own opinions while not referring to others, but it is different to publicize negative stuff about other people.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted February 7, 2019 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

      That is an argument which was made in a recent case trying to get a doctor struck-off. I think the GMC rejected it, but the legal shenanigans were funded by a Christian-evangelist group.

  12. Diana MacPherson
    Posted February 7, 2019 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Not all hate speech laws are the same. Canada’s are very different from the UK and Germany, despite the alt-right propaganda that is often repeated south of the border.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted February 7, 2019 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      So, where is the line?

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 7, 2019 at 9:42 am | Permalink

        It’s specified in legislation. Canada doesn’t recognize offence as hate speech. It also allows for criticism of religion. So, there is a very clear line in the way the law is laid out. After that the line is further explored in courts in the rare case it gets that far.

  13. Rasmo Carenna
    Posted February 7, 2019 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Well, I don’t know how the courts work in UK, but, on a strict reading of the law, it says: “…with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress…”. So, I would argue that it is not enough that some snowflake feels harassed, alarmed or distressed, but that the alleged offender really had the “intent” to do so. Could the accused just say he didn’t intend to cause offend? How would anyone prove what was in his mind? I would argue that it is “reasonable” to conclude, after a careful consideration of the texts and the pertinent history, that religions are indeed fairy tales. It should be for the accusers to prove that I do not hold this opinion reasonably and sincerely but just to harass them… Of course, I am being to naive.

  14. Roo
    Posted February 7, 2019 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    I’m curious if the dynamics of social pressure are different in the UK than they are in the US – in other words, if free speech laws more or less result in the policing function being outsourced to society at large (or if societal outrage exists in both cases, regardless.) For example, this man essentially posted a vaguely insulting (as in it basically says “Aren’t you dumb for believing this” condemnation of other’s beliefs) statement about what people should believe (I suspect if it had been framed in a positive, ‘showing his individualism’ way – “Proud Atheist!” or some such thing – it would have been received differently.)

    In the US, if you want to go on the offensive in preaching a particular belief, it’s not that there aren’t functional restrictions, they’re just not enacted by law enforcement. For example, if you were in deep gun-country Florida, you would probably be fine announcing to people via bumper sticker or yard sign that “Abortion is murder!”. If a Muslim in the same area displayed a statement like “Allah is judging sinners!” in such a manner, however, they would probably want to invest in a security detail. The “religion is a fairy tale” sentiment probably (probably) wouldn’t be as much of a security risk, although I’d bet dollars to donuts the guy would have a steady stream of people knocking on his door trying to convert him. The same dynamic is now also present, of course, in far Left circles, where lives and careers can be ruined by outrage mobs over expressing the wrong kind of sentiment.

    Either way, I am still in favor of free speech laws. The US has always had its libertarian, wild west aspect, and I think this is part of what has made is such a successful nation. Of course for any topic there are always grey areas – I was reading yesterday about Michelle Carter and the texting suicide case, for example. My intuition is that she did commit a crime (Assuming she was mentally healthy enough to know what she was doing – that part of the story is not clear to me. It’s hard to tell if she was a sociopath looking for attention or genuinely so mentally disturbed herself that she saw herself as ‘saving’ her boyfriend by ending his suffering.) in that if you are with someone in a car who wants to rob a bank, and you yell “Shoot! Shoot!”, then you’re taking part in a murder, not exercising your free speech. On the other hand, the ACLU has condemned the ruling, and they are much more the experts on such things than I am.

  15. Posted February 7, 2019 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    By the logic of this decision almost any statement of opinion could result in the police knocking on your door. It very probably was not the intention of Parliament when it passed this law that such innocuous statements should result in prosecution but it is a good example of how, often, when legislation is enacted as a kind of panic response to “the need to do something about” this or that problem, bad laws result. In response to the threat of terrorism (which in fact is a very minor cause of mortality in the UK), successive governments have attempted to pass increasingly repressive laws that erode our rights as citizens of a supposedly free, democratic state.
    It cannot be stated often enough that the right to freedom of speech only has any meaning at all if it is understood to include the right to say things that other people find offensive, disagreeable or uncomfortable.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted February 7, 2019 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

      By the logic of this decision almost any statement of opinion could result in the police knocking on your door.

      That would be one possible outcome. And to some sectors of society, a desirable outcome – as long as they could choose who then gets broken upon the wheel.

  16. Posted February 7, 2019 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    I am confident that it would be legal to place that sign in Germany.

    Generally, the hate-speech laws are understood as a counter-law to fascism, and have to be negotiated with the Meinungsfreiheit (freedom of opinion), which is actually in paragraphed 5 of the Grundgesetz (Foundational Law). The most robust, most core part of the jurisprudence.

    Germany’s hate-speech laws are long a fixture of the Far Right, who really are annoyed that they can’t proudly wear swatiskas, SS runes and spread holocaust denial. These things really are illegal, and have their roots in “de-nazification”. They’re also far from ambiguous, and don’t create a situation where you have to “watch your tongue”.

    A problem exist around art, but the law is generally on the side of the artist. The spirit of the law is curbing fascist activity and I think it was applied that way robustly for decades.

    If there was a swatiska parade of a handful of people, the world would pile on for weeks, so it’s pretty smart to prevent that also out of national interest.

    I don’t agree with everything, because the forbidden symbols create a large halo of “similar” symbology that get tainted and then are owned by the Far Right. The laws also make anti-fascist education more difficult in our age, because algorithms and “better safe than sorry” conduct by YouTube etc scan for symbols, not for context. But I understand why these laws exist.

    Other than that, Volksverhetzung is similar to other laws in every nation I can think of, where it is illegal to incite violence against groups or individuals.

    • a-non
      Posted February 7, 2019 at 9:52 am | Permalink

      Thanks for the detail. I have some sympathy for laws in one country, targeting glorification / denial of particular, foundationaly important, events in its own history.

      How much creep has there in the german laws, or their application? For instance the anglo-world throws the word fascism around very loosely these days… I’m wondering whether such things have driven any widening of the application of these laws. Into modern questions unrelated to historical nazism.

      And also (perhaps related) do any of these laws cover communist history too? Would you get into trouble for having a rally dressed up as the Stasi command, or loudly denying any facts of post-45 history?

  17. darrelle
    Posted February 7, 2019 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    If the consequence of not complying with the “request” is the loss of your freedom, is that really a request?

    • rickflick
      Posted February 7, 2019 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      It seems odd too that the laws balance the right of someone not to be made to say, “Oh, my Gowd!”, against another persons right not to be incarcerated without good cause. In that case, incarceration could be considered cruel and unusual punishment, according to the 8th Amendment.

  18. Posted February 7, 2019 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    I like to defend free speech most of the time, but I do think there is a line between it and hate speech. (This guy’s sign certainly does not fall in the hate speech category). If there is a group in society who have been recognizably and continually oppressed in history, (who are maybe finally beginning to get a little justice and fair treatment), and that group is targeted by an insulting or dismissing sign or article, visible by the public and displayed in a public place, I think the line has been crossed into hate speech. Especially if that sign or article incites violence or any other type of life changing event (or intends to do so) that would impinge on the freedom of individuals of that group. A sign or article like that would ostensibly not bother just the group of people targeted but all of those of us who have recognized the oppression and decided to, as a society, end it. It ‘should’ be an easy thing to spot.
    I would love to display some signs that I wouldn’t consider hate speech on my lawn, lol. I don’t do it (here in Ontario, Canada), not because of any law, but because a) I run a business and people here probably wouldn’t like my signs, b) I need to live in this town for a while longer, and c) there are way too many other signs displayed in this area on people’s lawns or in front of businesses, or at the sides of farm fields, that target many of the things I believe in, so that I know how my signs in opposition to them would be received. If that law in the UK applied here, maybe I could get them to take their signs down so I wouldn’t have to be annoyed, angered and feeling like my views on some topics are unwelcome where I live, every time I go for a walk or out in the car. But, I don’t think it does, and I will grudgingly allow this free speech, because in theory at least, I am ‘allowed’ to do the same thing to them. Even though I do feel the hate in it, and don’t feel the same freedom. For all I know, I am in the majority here, it may just be that these sign-making people really like to make their opinions known. At least I feel safe. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have signs like this all around that made me feel like I was personally in danger.
    Anyway, that is just my take on things, thanks for providing an outlet to express it!

    • Posted February 7, 2019 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      I presume, then, that you’d want to ban a poster that said “Islam is a religion of hate”, right? After all, that sign insults “a group who have been recognizably and continually oppressed in history.” Or, “Judaism is a dumb religion.” (After all, Jews have historically been oppressed more than muslims.

      If you think those signs ARE okay, why are they?

      • Posted February 7, 2019 at 11:49 am | Permalink

        Actually I don’t think either of those posters would be ok to put up in a public place, on their own, and without any further explanation to whatever point the person making the sign may have had. If someone has those opinions and can somehow back them up with what they think are facts, I think it would be ok for them to explain that this is their opinion and why they think those things in an editorial space somewhere. A place where it would be easy for public discourse to ensue. Let the exchange of ideas, however right or wrong, begin. Any idea, however right or wrong, is debatable, and I think that is kind of the point of a hate speech law, to make it so people aren’t just barraged with disturbing things that are in practice difficult to counter. A poster or sign doesn’t really allow for that, on its own, does it? Also, specifying particular religions to pick on without any explanation why… shouldn’t that make us all uncomfortable given what we’ve learned from history? I personally, no matter what my own opinions on these topics might be, wouldn’t want to be going about my daily business and seeing posters out there with this kind of thing on them. Would you? Or would you want to be on your way out of the grocery store and see a poster on the bulletin board saying “Atheism is stupid!”? Same situation, perhaps even more so. A free EXCHANGE of ideas is what we want, isn’t it? So maybe amend my earlier comment to allow an article, if it doesn’t incite violence or impingement of human rights and freedoms.

        • Posted February 7, 2019 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

          How about a sign that simply read, “Matt. 27:25” held outside a synagogue. Would that be okay?

        • Rich Sanderson
          Posted February 7, 2019 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

          How about:

          “Islam is a weakling’s religion” – PZ Myers.

          • Rich Sanderson
            Posted February 7, 2019 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

            There are a few tweets from Dan “The Zionists” Arel that I could link to, but since you think vanilla criticisms of Islam could be “offensive”, you’d be blushing at Dan’s rants at Islam.

            But then Dan is a “great example of a good humanist”, according to Ryan J Bell-End. So his tweets couldn’t possibly be offensive!

    • Curtis
      Posted February 7, 2019 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      So being pro-abortion could be considered hate speech to unborn babies who have been murdered in the millions?

      In case it is not obvious, this is not my opinion but the opinion of legislators in many of the US states.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted February 7, 2019 at 11:41 am | Permalink

        You may be overestimating the auditory acuity of the unborn. 🙂

    • Posted February 7, 2019 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      I like to defend free speech most of the time, but I do think there is a line between it and hate speech.

      Define ‘hate speech’ and give some examples of it.

      Also, would a little sign reading, ‘Allah is gay’ qualify?

      • Posted February 7, 2019 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

        I think I did define it, at least a little better than our Canadian hate speech laws do. Why don’t you decide for yourself if they do, since you have come up with these examples, based on what I have said?

        • Posted February 7, 2019 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

          You identified “dismissive” or “insulting” public speech directed against any historically “recognizably and continually oppressed” group.

          There’s a whole lotta judgment calls in that — who gets to decide what is insulting, or what constitutes ‘recognizable oppression’?

          Even if that could be sorted out, you seem to be advocating for a double standard: insulting a non-historically oppressed group would be just fine in your book. Is there a pecking order? Could I, a white man, be arrested for dismissing (down) blacks or women, but be free to dismiss (up) Englishmen, who continually oppressed my Irish ancestors for 700 years?

          This is beyond absurd. Criminalizing insults is a very, very bad idea.

          • Posted February 7, 2019 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

            It isn’t so much the criminalization of insults but rather the way in which they are delivered. No one really wants signs that insult anybody posted all around us while we go about our day, do we? It would be nice if such a thing didn’t have to be legislated. At least legislation provides a framework or maybe even a deterrent. As for who gets to decide, well, I guess a jury in a courtroom would decide, if it went that far, wouldn’t they? Do you really think it would be so difficult to decide what “insulting” or “recognizable oppression” is? I am pretty sure there would have to be a whole process of complaint, etc. which I agree would be a bit of a waste, since there are many more pressing crimes not being justly dealt with. But since you mentioned it, yeah, I’d be comfortable with the oppressed dissing their oppressors using signs, as long as they are clear about why. That kind of sign would maybe even be educational. Not really a double standard at all, if you look at the standard I gave as a definition of hate speech.

            • Curtis
              Posted February 7, 2019 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

              Whites oppressed blacks so now blacks can oppressed whites by curbing their free speech? How long before whites can start oppressing blacks again?

              But the real problem is who gets to decide? If YOUR friends decide, YOU will be happy. If your enemies decides, not so much.

              • Posted February 7, 2019 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

                Again, I am all for free speech. (If you think white people are being oppressed by black people’s signs, I suggest you look up oppression). Just not real keen on signage lol. (or other methods of ‘hate speech’ that don’t give any opportunity for rebuttal, like the passing around of flyers, or bumper stickers on the car ahead of you). THAT is my point. If someone wants to organize a protest, and march around with their sign for a day, that is fine with me. If someone wants to give a lecture on a topic, go ahead. If someone wants to protest that lecture, fine, as long as they aren’t throwing stones or blocking the other person from actually giving the lecture. If someone wants to include jokes in their comedy routine, let them go ahead. If they want to make a piece of art that displays their opinion and put that in a gallery, then that is for the gallery to decide, as it is for all art. If someone wants to write an opinion piece, fine, as long as there is opportunity for opposing opinions, and as long as that which is not fact, is not presented as fact. There are plenty of opportunities for free speech for everyone, without resorting to stupid ways of annoying or striking fear in people who are just trying to live their lives.

            • Posted February 7, 2019 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

              It isn’t so much the criminalization of insults but rather the way in which they are delivered.

              To be clear, you advocate the criminalization of public insults. A few years back, Michael Nugent gave a public talk titled, “Is Islam a religion of peace? It is an integrated religious, political and judicial ideology of social governance imposed by force.”* Many moslems found it insulting. I take it you would have Nugent arrested. What form of punishment would you levy?

              _

              As for who gets to decide, well, I guess a jury in a courtroom would decide…..

              And how would the police know when to arrest someone? So long as one person said, ‘I’m a member of an historically continually oppressed group, and I feel insulted!’ they’d have to toss the accused into the paddy wagon**. Then there’s the matter of assigning Oppression Points to accuser vs. accused — will there be a cheat sheet, and will it be laminated?

              _

              I’d be comfortable with the oppressed dissing their oppressors using signs, as long as they are clear about why. That kind of sign would maybe even be educational. Not really a double standard at all….

              It most certainly is a double standard! Your proposed law falls afoul of the 14th Amendment, and any other nation’s assurance of equal protection under the law.

              In short, you want different criminal codes for different groups, and hurting someone’s feelings to be a crime. That is indefensible in a free society.

              * https://www.michaelnugent.com/2014/10/12/is-islam-a-religion-of-peace-it-is-an-integrated-ideology-of-social-governance-imposed-by-force/

              ** I get to call it a ‘paddy wagon.’ The rest of you have to call it the ’p-word wagon.’ Totally not a double standard.

              • Posted February 7, 2019 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

                Seriously, did you even read any of what I’ve said or do you just find the first thing that bothers you and skip the rest? You are really working hard to find ways to argue with points I’m not even making.

              • Posted February 12, 2019 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

                I’m not sure whether you’re being intentionally obtuse, or just haven’t thought through what you propose. But here are your arguments in your own words:

                1) You do not consider “hate speech” to be protected free speech: “I do think there is a line between it and hate speech”;

                2) A public “insulting or dismissing sign or article” directed at a group that has been “recognizably and continually oppressed in history” constitutes “hate speech”;

                3) You would prohibit the public display of posters reading ‘Islam is a religion of hate’ or ‘Judaism is a dumb religion’, “without any further explanation to whatever point the person making the sign may have had” and “back[ed] up with facts”. You refused to answer whether signs mocking Allah or calling Jews Christ-killers should also be banned;

                4) The purpose of banning hate speech (now excluding articles or lectures but including flyers and bumper stickers) is to prevent people from being “barraged with disturbing things”, made to “feel like [they are] personally in danger”, o “ma[de] uncomfortable” or simply “annoyed”;

                5) You advocate a double standard when enforcing hate speech law: “I’d be comfortable with the oppressed dissing their oppressors using signs….” You’d consider this “educational”;

                I’m unsure of the state of free speech in Canada nowadays, what with C-16 criminalizing mis-pronouning. And we see that in Europe it’s now a crime to label Mohammed a pedophile, while in the UK the police are arresting people for stating that transwomen are not females. But in the US, the First Amendment protects free speech, including speech you consider ‘hateful’, and in public, and on signs or posters, and right under the noses of the ‘historically oppressed’. The 14th Amendment guarantees equal protection under the law, which your dual standard for oppressed vs. oppressor identities would violate. Nowhere in the US Constitution is the right to not be offended enshrined. Your proposed laws are illiberal and authoritarian. Living in any society that had them would be a nightmare.

  19. Serendipitydawg
    Posted February 7, 2019 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    I suspect he just got fed up with being disturbed by the door to door religionists and if he had reported their ‘hate speech’ he would have been told where to go. Same if I complained about the posters outside the churches up this end of Lincolnshire and the annoying ringing of bells on Sunday mornings (we have incompetent ringers, it isn’t pretty).

    As far as I can see, there is no line that can be usefully defined and current definitions in UK law could affect just about anything, even comedy gigs, if someone decides that they are offended (usually they are also threatened by whatever words are used).

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted February 7, 2019 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      Over here we might just put a sign on the door – No Solicitors In Britain that would probably offend all the lawyers.

      • Serendipitydawg
        Posted February 7, 2019 at 10:46 am | Permalink

        😀

      • Posted February 7, 2019 at 10:58 am | Permalink

        we have a sign near our front door here in NS Canada which states “Do not let the cats out, regardless of what they tell you” I am not sure if they are offended.

    • Posted February 7, 2019 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      Which end of Lincolnshire are you, Serendipotydawg? I’m just south of Lincoln (North Hykeham).

      /@

      • Posted February 7, 2019 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

        & apologies for mistyping your handle! ☹

        • Serendipitydawg
          Posted February 7, 2019 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

          No problem, it is an affectation not worthy of worrying about!

          I am as far north as you can get without bathing in the Humber (actually, we are about a mile or so from the bank, but I do see it regularly).

  20. Barney
    Posted February 7, 2019 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    It seems that Mr Richards contacted the police himself to get clarification on the law, and they explained it, so ‘threatened’ wasn’t really accurate:

    It’s important to be clear about what actually happened in this case. First of all, Richards’ poster has not, as yet, attracted any complaints. When I spoke to him he told me that the only reaction he had received came in the form of an anonymous letter which supported both the message and his right to display it. Nor were Lincolnshire police acting on their own initiative in warning him of the possible consequences were complaints to be made. They only discovered the existence of the sign because he wrote to them, informing them of his intention and enquiring if it might constitute a criminal offence. In setting out the circumstances in which it might they were, he thinks, “just covering themselves”.

    Richards, a retired journalist who is also chairman of the Apostrophe Protection Society, denies that the story is a publicity stunt. He contacted the police, he says, because he was worried about the legal position and wanted to protect himself. Nor did the police response cause him to take the sign down – or, indeed, to do anything except contact the Boston Standard. Nevertheless, however trivial, the story does highlight a genuine issue.

    https://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/religion/2012/06/could-you-be-arrested-putting-atheist-poster-your-window

    So the police statement shouldn’t be read as applying to this specific case, but to signs in general. As far as the general case goes, yes, you could be arrested in England for an ‘offensive’ sign on your property visible to the general public. What is offensive would have to be determined.

    • phil brown
      Posted February 7, 2019 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      No doubt there’s also more to the story about the guy liking a transphobic tweet. Seems highly unlikely the police would pounce on him for that, without him, say, having a history of harassment. Anyway, we should be wary that we’re only getting his side of the story in the Metro report.

      • Posted February 7, 2019 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

        I think you have too much trust in government if you consider its repressive measures against an individual as a proof of the guilt of this individual.
        I suppose he does have a “history of harassment”, I mean, he has presumably liked other tweets as well.
        The UK police are free to provide their version, but they do not. And they have a history of harassment of people with non-fashionalble speech. They have put search posters for some guy who had ranted in a bus against Muslims, they have gone after a girl for posting rap lyrics containing “nigga” (see comments above), they have arrested fathers trying to rescue their young daughters from Muslim rape gangs.

  21. Posted February 7, 2019 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Maybe I didn’t read the post carefully enough. But is there any info about who was offended, or what their claim was? And if an atheist message is considered offensive, what about, say, signs for churches, mosques, etc.?

  22. Posted February 7, 2019 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Neither of the signs in question qualifies as hate speech and both should be allowed under the rubric of free speech.

    That said, what does it say about the character of a person that they would go out of their way to publicly denigrate other people’s beliefs? If the totality of a person’s own belief system can be reduced to scorn, I’d say that person is in trouble. Far better, I would think, to lose the snark and state one’s beliefs positively. E.g., “Stop worrying and enjoy life” is a fine and worthy sentiment without the added conjecture that “There probably is no God.”

    In short, my problem with such signs is not that they are “threatening, abusive or insulting,” but that they are gratuitously unkind.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 7, 2019 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      “If the totality of a person’s own belief system can be reduced to scorn” – OMG I have to steal this for use somewhere, sometime. It’s perfect!

    • GBJames
      Posted February 7, 2019 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      “That said, what does it say about the character of a person that they would go out of their way to publicly denigrate other people’s beliefs?”

      This depends entirely on the nature of the beliefs being ridiculed. There is nothing inherently wrong with ridicule.

    • Sastra
      Posted February 7, 2019 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      You see the statement and assume it is targeted at believers. It’s targeted at religion. Religion is an idea. You cannot be unkind to an idea.

    • Pierre Masson
      Posted February 7, 2019 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      Is it not a good thing to tell someone who is worried that what is worrying them is an imaginary construct if that is a “deeply held conviction” of yours (based on a fair amount of evidence, to boot)? 🙂

      • Posted February 7, 2019 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

        “Is it not a good thing to tell someone who is worried that what is worrying them is an imaginary construct. . . ?”

        I assume from this question that you’re not married.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted February 7, 2019 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      With regard to your example, Gary, I think the second sentence presupposes that one of main things worrying people and keeping them from enjoying life is fear of eternal damnation.

      Do the billboards that say “Jesus Saves” or “America is a Christian Nation” (as the one posted by the First Baptist Church said) similarly run afoul of your “denigrate other people’s beliefs” standard?

      • Steve Pollard
        Posted February 7, 2019 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

        This is an important point. The atheist bus slogans were created as a rejoinder to a bus poster by an evangelical group called JesusSaid.org promoting a site asserting that all non-Christians would burn in hell for all eternity. Seen in that light, they are comparatively innocuous!

        • Posted February 7, 2019 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

          IIRC, “probably” was added to avoid potential legal problems.

          “There is no God” might be distressing (Oi! Nietzsche! No!), but “There is probably no God” is innocuous.

          /@

      • Posted February 7, 2019 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

        Not really, Ken, since both of your examples are positive statements, whether true or false, about one’s beliefs; neither of them says anything pejorative about contrary beliefs.

        I suppose one could generously say the same about “There probably is no God,” but hardly about “Religions are fairy stories for adults,” which perhaps better illustrates my point about going out of one’s way to denigrate other people’s beliefs.

        But then, I’m a “Worry about yourself!” kind of guy, so I may be over-reacting. Always good to hear from you.

        • BJ
          Posted February 8, 2019 at 9:10 am | Permalink

          I agree with you. There’s no reason to be antisocial. I don’t go out of my way to tell my religious or spiritual friends that everything they believe is a superstition. Sometimes we have conversations about the subject, but, in that case, we’re both soliciting the others’ opinions. Going out of one’s way to denigrate the beliefs of your own neighbors (literally) is just curmudgeonly and antisocial.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted February 8, 2019 at 10:03 am | Permalink

            I’d agree with that, but I think “America is a Christian Nation” isn’t so much a statement of affirmative religious belief as it is a political statement trumpeting Christian chauvinism.

  23. Sastra
    Posted February 7, 2019 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    “Religions are fairy stories for adults.”

    This is actually a pretty safe statement to make, even if someone gets offended and complains and the police then decide that it falls under a “hate speech” law.

    The good Mr. Roberts can beat the rap by pulling a Tippett-Armstrong.

    “Religion is an art form, the stories we tell ourselves to express the inexpressible and partake in the intimations of transformative transcendence which are the primal narrative(s) of being (Being.) Theology thus is poetry, mature fairy stories which give voice to an enchanted sense of presence within the sacred (Sacred.)”

    The judge will dismiss the case. Quickly.

  24. Neil
    Posted February 7, 2019 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Maybe it is time for us in the UK to start making compalints under this law about religous signs outside Churches etc to show how stupid it is (the law).
    The blasphamy laws were final killed off complaints about jerry Springer the Opera showing how unworkable a daft they were.

    • Neil
      Posted February 7, 2019 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      So many typos, brain broken.

    • Posted February 7, 2019 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      That sounds like a plan.

      /@

  25. Ray Little
    Posted February 7, 2019 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    No wonder the cops in Britain are nicknamed ‘busies’. I assure you that any Toronto cop who responded to a complaint like this would have a new asshole by the end of shift, courtesy of his duty-sergeant.

    • Posted February 7, 2019 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      Are they? I can’t recall hearing or reading that before.

      /@

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted February 7, 2019 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

        “Bizzies” is Scouse slang – not used elsewhere. It’s thought to be short for “busybodies” or it comes from the tendency of cops to say they’re too busy to spend time investigating low level crimes.

      • Dave Weaver
        Posted February 7, 2019 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

        It’s a scouse thing.

  26. Diana MacPherson
    Posted February 7, 2019 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    And I should add that you are allowed to wear Nazi paraphernalia and deny the holocaust in Canada and before someone says “Ernst Zundel” he was not deported to Germany for denying the holocaust, he went to the US and got booted out of there for visa overstay then tried to claim refugee status in Canada when Germany had a warrant for his arrest where he was a citizen and Canada handed him over to Germany. Here is an article about it: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/lets-try-zundel-denial/article749020/

    Here is all about Zundel’s deportation

    Here are the places where you can’t deny the holocaust (Canada is not there)

    So Soviet Kanuckistan is still pretty free. We even allowed Communism during the Cold War.

  27. Posted February 7, 2019 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Then there’s this: Assistant head ‘threatened’ in LGBT teaching row.

    /@

  28. Posted February 7, 2019 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    There is a line and the courts recognize that there is. But the line constantly changes position. That is why in the US we use the reasonably man or community standards rule. The feelings and beliefs of reasonable men keep changing. And I have never met one. I keep hearing the exist, however. I think they are fictional figuresa. Most people think of their favorite unclas a standard for a reasonable man. I know I always have. Or my grandpa. He was reasonable.

    • Posted February 7, 2019 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

      favorite uncle as a standard

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted February 7, 2019 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

      “There is a line and the courts recognize that there is. But the line constantly changes position.”

      I am no legal expert but I suspect that if they do change position, the courts do not follow the letter of the law or more precisely the pretext (if that is the English term) of the particular law. Practice should not change too much until a new law – or perhaps pretext is in place.

  29. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted February 7, 2019 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    But for those who do defend “hate speech” laws, put this in your pipe and smoke it. … that ludicrous balance is the basis of “hate speech” laws, … please tell me exactly where that line is.

    Sorry, I don’t smoke. Nor do I particularly defend hate speech laws or their absence, they are simply part and parcel of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. The line is drawn within that at a nations discretion, until a different system is in place. So far the UNDHR pitches fairly well.

    But I am asking for statistics that inform on whether or not one or the other option is better, or if it makes no difference. Maybe we can improve on UNDHR based on good reasons or maybe we can see this question laid to rest. I don’t have any particular opinion on a nation that supports it legal system except to say “good for you”, but for what it is worth I do find the line drawn in UK persnickety.

    It is curious that I ask for statistics, but all I see – from limited google fu perhaps – is anecdotes like the ones in the article.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted February 8, 2019 at 5:31 am | Permalink

      “But for those who do defend “hate speech” laws, put this in your pipe and smoke it.”

      ‘This’ dates from 2012, and it wasn’t an actual threat made or initiated by the cops, it was their hypothetical response *when they were asked*.

      If that’s the best that PCC can find… if I put that in my pipe, there’s no way I could even get it to light.

      cr

  30. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted February 7, 2019 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    The Public Order Act of 1986 remains in force,

    And is likely to for a very ong time to come. POA’86 is one of the most popular pieces of legislation and particularly section 5 of it, for the police to detain, arrest and if they desire put someone in the cells over the weekend, without needing anything much stronger than the opinion of a single police officer. Better if there is some corroboration from another policeman, witness, or (say) CCTV, but it’s a damned uesful piece of legislation for locking up troublesome people and giving them a wonderful opportunity to fall out of the back of the paddy wagon where they’re just out of the custody suite’s camera view.
    POA’86 is going to be around for a long, long time.

  31. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted February 8, 2019 at 5:16 am | Permalink

    Talk about a misleading headline.

    The cops did NOT threaten Richards, WHEN ASKED they gave their interpretation of what their response might be IF anyone complained.

    “Officers say that they have not told John Richards he is committing an offence for displaying the poster but said he could only face arrest if he causes offence and refuses to take the poster down when they ask.”

    Far from being busies, they were IMO being eminently reasonable. They have far more important things to do than go looking for trouble with petty interpretations of obscure laws.

    This site is rapidly losing credibility with me.

    cr

  32. Dave
    Posted February 8, 2019 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    Democrats could use a law like this in the U.S. to their advantage. Clearly any “Trump/Pence 2020″ re-election” signs meet the criteria of:

    (b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting thereby causing that or another person harassment, alarm or distress.

    Obviously more medical research is needed to develop methods of thickening human skin to aid in ignoring, coping with, and responding appropriately to such affronts.


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