We have been following (here and here and and and here and and here and here) the worsening situation in England concerning free speech. As noted in a recent column, free speech appears to be dying in the West with the increasing criminalization of speech under discrimination, hate, and blasphemy laws. The article below details the crackdown on Internet speech in the country from charging a teenager who made offensive comments about a murder to a man who burned a paper poppy, the symbol of the war dead.
England appears to be on a sharp plunge into censorship and speech crimes. It is a cautionary tale as the West embraces more and more forms of speech regulation. Once in the business of criminalizing speech, these countries find themselves on a slippery slope where more and more speech is declared as unacceptable.
The Associated Press found that the prosecutions for electronic communications rose from 1,263 in 2009 to 1,843 in 2011. We previously discussed the case of Paul Chambers who was prosecuted for complaining about airport closures due to snow.
In October, 19-year-old Matthew Woods was sentenced to 12 weeks in jail for sending offensive tweets about a missing 5-year-old girl.
It is particularly unsettling to see our close cousins in England descend into speech controls. Liberals have long been the advocates of free speech but appear to have developed a taste for censorship and speech crimes — a taste fast becoming an insatiable appetite. The rationale has changed from orthodoxy to pluralism. People are now prosecuted in the name of tolerance. Civil libertarians in England are fighting back but losing ground (despite a couple of favorable court rulings in speech cases).
As an offshoot of that once great English oak, it is particularly unsettling for us to watch this trend from this side of the pond. What is most unsettling is the relative passivity of the English people and the lack of any real debate over this trend in English law. The global community of civil libertarians needs to support those fighting this trend toward criminalization of speech and support our English colleagues.