This is the week; the week where we English made a little step towards having this much valued thingy called ‘freedom of speech’ – mark the day in your civil liberties calendar: 1st February 2014!
The day the people of Britain gained a tiny bit more free speech than they previously had. I mean – we haven’t actually got free speech, of course. That would be mental. But we do now have the freedom to insult abstract entities. Like triangles, for example. I can call a triangle a fucking pointy-headed wanker and the police will not come round my house, lock me up, search my computer and take samples of my DNA. Well, they won’t in theory.
You see, there once was a law – called the 1986 Public Order Act – and according to Section 5 of that law it was a crime to:
“(a) use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or (b) display any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, thereby causing that or another person harassment, alarm or distress”
And many right-thinking people thought that the law – and section 5 in particular – was a bit of a screwy law for a supposedly free country. Because it’s a bit difficult to be a free country when the people in it aren’t free to do simple things such as:
1. Carry around a sign that says ‘If you believe in Jesus you’re retarded’
3. Address this woman as ‘Porkpie’….
I guess this post from Return of Kings insults and causes distress to Rebecca Sparrow. And would have been illegal if it had been written in Britain and Ms Sparrow claimed to be harrassed and insulted. Unfortunately it (and any number of other blogs, articles and things that specify a particular person who could conceivably claim to be ‘harrassed’) still would be illegal.
So let’s not get our hopes up…. section 5 has been amended but the law is still, basically, shit.
In its new form – they’ve taken away the ‘insulting’ bit.
It’s a lovely improvement. We now have a little bit more free speech. We can now insult people just so long as the ‘victim’ cannot be identified. Now, I don’t know if the ‘victim’ of the insult has to be an individual or whether the victim can be a group or an organisation or what for free speech to not count… so I think, to be safe, we can just say that free speech now includes the freedom to insult abstract concepts and fictional characters (though probably not some fictional characters that people may be sensitive about) and hypothetical people (as long as they don’t turn out to be not as hypothetical as you thought).
By the way, Americans, if you think you and your cosy little First Amendment are safe from this sort of thing, think again.
“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind” – John Stuart Mill