I have been a critic of the alarming criminalizing of speech in Great Britain through hate speech laws. Such laws create an insatiable appetite for greater and greater speech regulation and create a sense of empowerment among citizens to silence those with whom they disagree. We have yet another example of how religious and political speech is being rapidly curtailed in Great Britain under expanding speech codes. Carolina Farrow, a Roman Catholic columnist, is now being investigated because, on Twitter, she referred to the biological rather than identified gender of the child of a transgender rights activist. She is accused of referring to Green’s daughter as a boy. For that, the activist, Susie Green, filed a complaint under Malicious Communications Act, which bars offensive, threatening and abusive content online. Police wanted a “taped interview with caution” on possible charges for transphobic conduct on social media. After criticism, Green decided to drop her demand for a criminal investigation but the point is that such references are now treated as criminal matters. The chilling effect on free speech is obvious.
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 hereand here) and England ( here and here and here and here and here and hereand here and here and here and here). Much of this trend is tied to the expansion of hate speech and non-discrimination laws. Once allowed to criminalize speech, individuals and groups demand more and more prohibitions. England is in a free fall over free speech. The police have indicated that they are considering making wolf whistles the latest category of hate speech.We also have even seen comedians targeted with such court orders under this expanding and worrisome trend. (here and here).
In this case, you have someone who is engaging in a national debate from her religious and political viewpoint. Farrow is accused of “misgendering” even though she does not recognize such transgender changes in biological genders. Notably, this tweet occurred months ago and Farrow did not even remember the reference. However, it is sufficient for a criminal investigation.
Rather than debate the issue (and there are strong arguments supporting Green’s position), Green elected to try to punish someone with an opposing view with a criminal charge.
Farrow vowed to stand by her free speech rights. She maintains “I have done nothing wrong, nothing illegal and will happily do jail time for my right to say that people cannot change sex.”
On April 9th, I will be debating NYU Professor Jeremy Waldron on such hate speech laws at Rice University in Houston.