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UK LGBT Advocate: “Christian Homophobes Should Not Be Criminalized”

Jim Burroway

January 12th, 2011

The American First Amendment has been interpreted very broadly throughout much of the history of the United States. Courts have on occasion allowed a few limits to where free speech can be exercised (free speech zones during political conventions, exclusion zones around abortion clinics, etc.) but efforts to place limits on speech itself, regardless of how many people it offends, have been consistently struck down.

Such is not the case in Great Britain and many other western countries. Last April, British pastor was arrested and detained for standing on a street corner and preaching that homosexuality is a sin. He was charged with violating the Public Order Act by making “threatening, abusive or insulting” remarks to passersby. The case was dropped before it could go to trial, and the preacher received £7,000 in damages and an apology from the Chief Constable. UK LGBT advocate Peter Tatchell writes that the arrest should not have happened in the first place:

As a campaigner for gay rights, I disagree with Mr Mcalpine’s intolerant views. But as a defender of free speech, I endorse his right to express them. Indeed, I had offered to testify in his defence, had his case gone to court.

Freedom of speech is one of the hallmarks of a civilised society. Mr Mcalpine’s views were homophobic, but the fact that he was treated as a criminal for expressing them, shocked me. The officer who arrested him, although doubtless well-intentioned, interpreted the law in a harsh, authoritarian manner. Mr Mcalpine was not aggressive, threatening or intimidating. He did not incite violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) people; unlike some extremist Christians in Uganda and Nigeria.

Tatchell notes that the Public Order Act can lead to arbitrary applications:

Contrast his case with my experience. In 1994, the Islamist fundamentalist group Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) held a mass rally at Wembley Arena. Its members advocated killing gay people and ‘unchaste’ women. They heaped hatred and abuse on Jews and Hindus. Together with five of my colleagues from the gay rights group OutRage!, I staged a peaceful, lawful counter-protest. It was six of us against 6,000 of them. Some members of HT threatened: “We will track you down and kill you.”

Despite these criminal incitements to murder us, they were not arrested. We were. Our free speech was denied. We were charged under the Public Order Act. In contrast to Mr Mcalpine’s case, the police did not drop the charges and apologise, let alone compensate us. It took nearly two years of lengthy, costly legal battles for me to finally win an acquittal.

Comments

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tim
January 12th, 2011 | LINK

Does anyone find it ironic this is posted after the prior post on Phelps?

I’m in complete agreement with Peter Tatchell. Canada also has somewhat arbitrary free speech laws.

MIhangel apYrs
January 12th, 2011 | LINK

Tatchell is a libertarian and something of an idealist (remember he tried to arrest Mugabe!)

In the purest sense, of course, he’s right, but free speech is curtailed and it’s always a judgement of whether such curtailment is correct. By taking the Tatchell view, free speech isn’t influenced by subjective judgement of morality ,etc. The alternative view is that the objectively perilous is proscribed, but by due process.

I really don’t know the better course…

Priya Lynn
January 12th, 2011 | LINK

It appears the problem is not so much the law as it is the improper enforcement of it.

The hate speech laws have worked well in Canada, no one has been wrongly convicted under them and they’ve curtailed the kind of violent rhetoric seen in the States which may have contributed to various murders there.

L. Junius Brutus
January 12th, 2011 | LINK

This has very little to do with gay rights, and everything with the perverted ‘justice’ system in Europe and Canada. Those countries have absolutely no respect for free speech, due to the long period of cultural and political dominance that leftists have had. While murderers and pedophiles are free to do whatever they want, this privilege is not extended to people who have an opinion th stte doesn’t like. People are even being prosecuted for criticism of an ideology, Islam. Just look up the case of Geert Wilders, the leader of the third-largest party in Holland. For his criticism of Islam in defense of traditional Dutch liberties, he has been subjected to a show trial that looks like it’s straight out of Kafka. The Dutch establishment is doing everything it can to silence him (but failing).

As for what MIhangel claims, free speech generally isn’t outlawed for being “objectively perilous”, but for being something that the ruling classes either disapprove of, or don’t want to hear. If you can justify one restiction on free speech, you can justify anything.

L. Junius Brutus
January 12th, 2011 | LINK

Priya: “The hate speech laws have worked well in Canada, no one has been wrongly convicted under them ”

Any conviction under “hate speech” is wrongful. Exactly what is “hate speech”, legally speaking?

Also, you don’t mention that people are dragged before kangaroo courts where they have, where they’ll have to pay exorbitant lawyer fees for years, with a legal cloud hanging over their heads, just because some oversensitive jackass has made a complaint about something they have said that, sniff, hurt that person’s feeeeeeelings. Some of the things people have been dragged before these kangaroo courts for? Publishing the Muhammad cartoons. Now that’s hate speech! http://www.nationalpost.com/news/canada/story.html?id=303895

Priya Lynn
January 12th, 2011 | LINK

Junius said “People are even being prosecuted for criticism of an ideology, Islam.”

No such thing has happened in Canada. The “perverted” justice system here works far better than yours as is evidenced by the far lower crime rate here.

If I remember correctly there has been only one instance of a person being convicted for hate speech and that was someone calling for gays to be put to death. That was an entirely apropriate conviction and something the States would do well to emulate.

Embarcadero
January 12th, 2011 | LINK

I have to agree with the UK advocate. While freedom of speech is interpreted very differently from one country to another, as a matter of policy, fighting homophobia is much more effective when it takes a harm-based approach.

Brazil criminalized homophobia about 6 years ago. The effect: zero prosecutions. Criminalizing types of speech is tricky, since it puts such a burden on prosecutors. Criminalizing violation of rights, or unlawfully depriving certain groups of rights or benefits based on ideology, is a much more effective way to go.

The penal code is the least effective way to enact social policy. Other than blunt-force matters (murder, theft), it’s just too unwieldy.

Priya Lynn
January 12th, 2011 | LINK

Junius said “Some of the things people have been dragged before these kangaroo courts for? Publishing the Muhammad cartoons. Now that’s hate speech! http://www.nationalpost.com/news/canada/story.html?id=303895“.

Utterly irrelevant. Ezra was never convicted which shows the laws are working correctly. Anyone can launch a bogus complaint about another, it happens in the States all the time but I don’t hear you whining about the kangaroo courts there.

It’s ironic that you should bitch about something like this given that when people spend exorbitant lawyer fees for years defending themselves against false murder charges, get convicted, and then sit in prison on death row for years until they are found to be innocent you say “The system works!”

So spare me the whining about how people having to spend money defending themselves from false accustations means the system is perverted because that makes your system far more perverted than Canada’s ever could be. No innocent person has been executed in Canada for over 50 years. You can’t say the same about the States.

L. Junius Brutus
January 12th, 2011 | LINK

“No such thing has happened in Canada. The “perverted” justice system here works far better than yours as is evidenced by the far lower crime rate here.”

If you can demonstrate that being mild toward the worst of criminals is the cause of a far lower crime rate, then fine.

“If I remember correctly there has been only one instance of a person being convicted for hate speech and that was someone calling for gays to be put to death. That was an entirely apropriate conviction and something the States would do well to emulate.”

“In one famous exchange during the Lemire case, [lead investigator for the kangaroo courts] Steacy was asked “What value do you give freedom of speech when you investigate?” — to which he replied “Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don’t give it any value.”

http://network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/fullcomment/archive/2008/03/31/jonathan-kay-a-good-rebuttal-to-norman-spector-s-flip-remark-about-free-speech-and-human-rights.aspx

Sound like a really reasonable bunch of people, eh? Here’s another conviction: Hugh Owens, for publishing an ad mentioning (without quoting) several anti-gay Bible verses. He was convicted, but the conviction was vacated on appeal, NINE years later. http://www.religioustolerance.org/bibl_hate3.htm

Apparently, you are misinformed about these kangaroo courts, but if you think that it’s OK to drag people through the mud for 9 years over something they have said, then you’ll love these. Also, see the link that I posted before. How about being investigated or two years over publishing a series of cartoons, not because you are exonerated, but because the alleged “victim” of those cartoons decided that it was too costly in terms of PR?

L. Junius Brutus
January 12th, 2011 | LINK

Priya: “Utterly irrelevant. Ezra was never convicted which shows the laws are working correctly. Anyone can launch a bogus complaint about another, it happens in the States all the time but I don’t hear you whining about the kangaroo courts there.”

Because when you launch bogus complaint in the US, you actually have to get a lawyer to do that. That’s a strong disincentive. Moreover, if you lose, you’ve got to pay the other side’s attorney’s fees. In Canada, these very nice kangaroo courts will do it for you: the person who files a complaint over someone else’s speech does not have to pay a dime, whereas the person accused of the crime of using his free speech has to pay tens of thousands of dollars.

“It’s ironic that you should bitch about something like this given that when people spend exorbitant lawyer fees for years defending themselves against false murder charges, get convicted, and then sit in prison on death row for years until they are found to be innocent you say “The system works!””

1. Public defenders aren expensive?
2. I think prosecuters who press charges they knew beforehand were false should face the punishment the accused would have gotten.
3. Improper convictions are the inevitable result of having a criminal justice system. Imagine how many more of those you’ll get once you start criminalizing free speech.
4. Oh, and people are compensated for tha.

“No innocent person has been executed in Canada for over 50 years. ”

And how many hardened criminals has Canada executed over the past 50 years? 1?

Priya Lynn
January 12th, 2011 | LINK

Junius, did you watch that Frontline episode on PBS I recommened to you? The one where new evidence shows an innocent man was executed for murder?

Once again, pretty hypocritical for you to complain about people taking 9 years to be exonerated from a hate speech charge when innocent people sit on death row for nine years and are exonerated you shout in glee “The system works!”

Junius said “If you can demonstrate that being mild toward the worst of criminals is the cause of a far lower crime rate, then fine.”.

Studies have shown that the harsher the punishment the higher the rate of recidivism. The longer a person spends in prison the more he learns about how to be a better criminal. One thing is for sure the heavy handedness of the U.S. law hasn’t resulted in a lower crime rate there. But then I suppose you think its a victory when someone is sent to prison for life for stealing a slice of pizza from a child.

You keep whining about people who are never convicted having to spend time and money defending themselves as though that were the determining factor in which laws should exist. If that is your sole criterium (and it appears to be) then ALL laws should be repealed because under every one of them innocent people have been dragged through the courts and have had to spend years paying exorbitant lawyers fees.

Matt
January 12th, 2011 | LINK

Thanks for posting this.

Count me as one who’s in favor of American-style strong-free-speech protections.

“In one famous exchange during the Lemire case, [lead investigator for the kangaroo courts] Steacy was asked “What value do you give freedom of speech when you investigate?” — to which he replied “Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don’t give it any value.”

I remember this quote, too. It is Canada, and Canada is not the United States, and does not have our constitution. But it’s a helpful comment for him to have made. This is a man who sits on a commission charged with “protecting” human rights. I think that this tells us a lot about that commission’s idea of what human rights are.

Priya Lynn
January 12th, 2011 | LINK

Junius said “when you launch bogus complaint in the US, you actually have to get a lawyer to do that. That’s a strong disincentive. Moreover, if you lose, you’ve got to pay the other side’s attorney’s fees.”.

If you lose in the states you SOMETIMES have to pay the other side’s attorney’s fees. Same here in Canada.

I said “It’s ironic that you should bitch about something like this given that when people spend exorbitant lawyer fees for years defending themselves against false murder charges, get convicted, and then sit in prison on death row for years until they are found to be innocent you say “The system works!””

Junius said “1. Public defenders aren expensive?”.

Public defenders are often very poor lawyers. If you want the best defense you can get you have to pay and even if you didn’t that doesn’t give you back all the years you spent in prison on death row and the money you spend trying to exonerate yourself.

Junius said “2. I think prosecuters who press charges they knew beforehand were false should face the punishment the accused would have gotten.”.

You act as if that would be a solution to people being wrongfully convicted, it most certainly wouldn’t. I’d venture to say that in very, very few of wrongful convictions did the prosectures know before hand the charges were false.

Junius said “3. Improper convictions are the inevitable result of having a criminal justice system. Imagine how many more of those you’ll get once you start criminalizing free speech.”.

Some free speech in the States is criminalized as well, so don’t pretend otherwise. If laws shouldn’t be passed if they’ll result in an increase in the number of wrongful convictions, then no law of any sort should ever have been passed. Every new law will result in an increase in the number of wrongful convictions, if you were consistent with your logic you’d be opposed to any new law being passed.

Junius said “4. Oh, and people are compensated for tha.”.

As they are in Canada.

Junius said “And how many hardened criminals has Canada executed over the past 50 years? 1?”.

None – what’s your point?

Priya Lynn
January 12th, 2011 | LINK

“In one famous exchange during the Lemire case, [lead investigator for the kangaroo courts] Steacy was asked “What value do you give freedom of speech when you investigate?” — to which he replied “Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don’t give it any value.”

If one bad investigator calls into disrepute the entire justice system then the U.S. justice system has been condemned thousands of times over by the unethical and often illegal behavior of many American prosecutors.

Matt
January 12th, 2011 | LINK

If one bad investigator calls into disrepute the entire justice system then the U.S. justice system has been condemned thousands of times over by the unethical and often illegal behavior of many American prosecutors.

Yes, I understand that American people and the American justice system have been guilty of many monstrous crimes. But I don’t feel it’s a good idea to create and/or empower an arm of the government to decide if speech is hateful or not. To do so is to pay people who have an incentive to regulate or prosecute speech (since their livelihood depends on it – if they don’t find any examples, they can’t justify their jobs!)

Priya Lynn
January 12th, 2011 | LINK

Matt, the same is true with the prosecution of any law. If that’s a valid reason to not have hate speech laws, then its a valid reason not to have any laws.

Tone
January 12th, 2011 | LINK

Speech that is merely offensive is not actionable as hate speech in Canada. Everyone has the right to be a jerk.

When that speech is urging active discrimination and violence against a group then it can be addressed both under provincial human rights legislation and criminal code provisions. Feel free to google the details.

We treat holocaust deniers, racists, and homophobes the same way in Canada.

Don’t like it? Don’t live here.

But don’t attack our philosophy or our laws until you have achieved a more peaceful society than Canadians enjoy.

paul canning
January 12th, 2011 | LINK

@MIhangel apYrs

Peter is not a libertarian, he’s a member of and former candidate for the Green Party.

One point which Jim misses is Peter’s call to action, which is for guidance on how the relevant ‘public order’ law is enforced to be given to police officers.

He rightly cites the issue being over-zealous protection of LGBT ears from the likes of these preachers. Incorrect application of the law in other words.

The UK is covered by free speech clauses in European Law, as well as a long, long history in our unwritten constitution of free speech protection, which Peter also cites.

Timothy (TRiG)
January 12th, 2011 | LINK

Most countries have some form of speech protection, though it may be named differently from one country to the next. The UK has the Human Rights Act (1998), by which the UK adopted the European Convention on Human Rights:

Article 10: Freedom of Expression

(1) Everyone has the right of freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without inference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

(2) The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk/946400.stm#expression

And Peter Tatchell is a hero.

TRiG.

Ben in Oakland
January 12th, 2011 | LINK

“Speech that is merely offensive is not actionable as hate speech in Canada. Everyone has the right to be a jerk.

When that speech is urging active discrimination and violence against a group then it can be addressed both under provincial human rights legislation and criminal code provisions.”

This is a very sensible way to approach it. and we do it in this country.

you can call the president a jerk with impunity. you cannot call for his assassination.

You can yell fire if you are standing in the middle of a street. you can’t do it in the middle ofa crowded theater.

Timothy (TRiG)
January 12th, 2011 | LINK

And the US fetishisation of Free Speech tends, in my view, to overshadow the equally important right to privacy, which I think is protected better in Europe than it is in the US.

TRiG.

TampaZeke
January 12th, 2011 | LINK

Bet your ass that if Peter Tatchell ever gets arrested for expressing an “anti-Christian” view NONE of those people he’s defending will come to his defense.

We always seem to be more concerned about defending the rights of homophobes than they are about defending ours. I’m not saying that that’s a bad thing; just an extremely annoying, frustrating thing.

L. Junius Brutus
January 12th, 2011 | LINK

Priya: “Once again, pretty hypocritical for you to complain about people taking 9 years to be exonerated from a hate speech charge when innocent people sit on death row for nine years and are exonerated you shout in glee “The system works!””

The death penalty system, yes. After all, we are trying to prevent innocent people from being executed. No hypocrisy there. Murder is universally criminalized, you can’t just abolish murder laws because innocents are sometimes caught up in them. However, your bizarre “hate speech” laws that pretty much exclusively ruin the lives of innocent people (you have only managed to conjure up one example of a(n) investigation/prosecution you thought was legitimate) are idiot and they violate people’s right to free speech. A call to violence can be prosecuted with a law criminalizing calls to violence, not “hate speech”. Also, you don’t need unaccountable kangaroo courts, staffed with bleeding-heart liberals for that, the regular court system will suffice (even in Canada).

“Studies have shown that the harsher the punishment the higher the rate of recidivism.”

Free all child molesters NOW! Else there will be a greater chance that they will strike again once released! BTW, is Maggie Gallagher your rhetoric teacher? “Studies show [insert what you wish]”

“The longer a person spends in prison the more he learns about how to be a better criminal.”

There is a simple and obvious solution to that. Rehabilitate low-level criminals like robbers, and never release people or execute who commit serious crimes (murder, rape, child molestation, etc.).

“You act as if that would be a solution to people being wrongfully convicted, it most certainly wouldn’t. I’d venture to say that in very, very few of wrongful convictions did the prosectures know before hand the charges were false.”

No, I agree. But your entire argument was rather strange.

“Every new law will result in an increase in the number of wrongful convictions, if you were consistent with your logic you’d be opposed to any new law being passed.”

I prefer to oppose ridiculous laws that have a near-100% wrongful conviction rate, like your hate speech laws.

“None – what’s your point?”

You’re taking credit for not having executed innocent people, when you don’t have the death penalty? That’s like me taking credit for not having jailed innocent people (when I am not in the business of jailing people).

Tone: “When that speech is urging active discrimination and violence against a group then it can be addressed both under provincial human rights legislation and criminal code provisions. Feel free to google the details.”

Yeah, right. What about that 2-year investigation faced by someone who published the Muhammad cartoons? What about the 9-year legal ordeal that the Bible-printing man had to face? If your ridiculous “hate speech” laws had anything to d with “urging active discrimination and violence”, these complaints would have been laughed out of the kangaroo courts within two days, which they were not.

“But don’t attack our philosophy or our laws until you have achieved a more peaceful society than Canadians enjoy.”

We will, and we are right to. Also, having your government destroy the lives of people who use their free speech is not “peaceful”, it’s totalitarian. The Chinese government salutes you. Just so you know.

Timothy: “And the US fetishisation of Free Speech tends, in my view, to overshadow the equally important right to privacy, which I think is protected better in Europe than it is in the US.”

I also think that there should be more privacy, but it has nothing to do with the subject of this thread. We’re talking about ridiculous “hate speech” laws, not the right to reveal personal and private information about others.

TampaZeke: “We always seem to be more concerned about defending the rights of homophobes than they are about defending ours. I’m not saying that that’s a bad thing; just an extremely annoying, frustrating thing.”

Not at all. They can all go to hell, for all I care. I’m not defending these idiots, I’m defending free speech. Also, I’ll point out that you are more likely to be arrested for being “anti-Christian” in a country with than without these ridiculous “hate speech” laws.

Priya Lynn
January 12th, 2011 | LINK

What Tone said.

Timothy (TRiG)
January 12th, 2011 | LINK

I’m surprised that this post is titled “UK LGBT advocate”. Is Peter Tatchell not well known?

TRiG.

L. Junius Brutus
January 12th, 2011 | LINK

Priya: “What Tone said.”

Have you come up with an argument yet for why “hate speech” should be criminalized, when a more narrow criminalization of incitement to violence would suffice to take care of the case you mentioned, and criminalizing “hate speech” leads to countless abuses like the ones I mentioned?

Or is it Canadian chauvinism that’s rearing its head in your post and Tone’s?

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