We have previously discussed the alarming rollback on free speech rights in the West, particularly in France (here and here and here and here and here and here) and England ( here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). Much of this trend is tied to the expansion of hate speech and non-discrimination laws. We have even seen comedians targeted with such court orders under this expanding and worrisome trend. (here and here). Now a recent complaint filed by a professor against Home Secretary Amber Rudd illustrates vividly how hate speech has become for some people an extension of political disagreements. The complaint by Prof Joshua Silver, an astrophysicist, will not result in any serious investigation but it was recorded as a hate crime allegation under the existing standards. We recently discussed the criminal charges brought against a conservative Dutch politician.
Silver is an example of how people who abandoned free speech values in seeking to silence or punish those with whom they disagree. It is particularly chilling to see an academic adopt such an anti-free speech position but we have seen the same trend on U.S. campuses with academics leading the fight to curtail or prohibit speech. He told BBC News: “Some politicians have been using hate crime as an instrument to foster support for their political aims.”
A glance at the hate speech laws explains why Professor Silver thought that he could punish those with differing views. Public Order Act 1986 prohibits, by its Part 3, expressions deemed hateful on the basis of color, race, nationality (including citizenship) or ethnic or national origins. Section 18 includes any speech revealing an intent “to stir up racial hatred, or . . . having regard to all the circumstances racial hatred is likely to be stirred up thereby.” The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 prohibits language that “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.” Thus, insulting people is enough to trigger a sanction.
Here is Professor Silver speaking on his own behalf: