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. Now, a Scottish man has been convicted of a message that was grossly offensive, indecent or menacing. According to the Evening Express, the prosecutor (appropriately named Susan Love) cited the fact that Terry Myers, 41, called the Irish boyfriend of his ex-girlfriend a “leprechaun.”
Love declared that the mail was threatening but added that it was a racially aggravated offense due to the use of the word “leprechaun.”
His defense attorney said that the two men had a “petty and pathetic” history and that his client regretted the use of the term.
He was nevertheless found guilty and fined £280 ($350) for the offense.
We have been following (here and here and here and and and here and and here and here) the worsening situation in England concerning free speech. The problem is trying to draw such lines rather than embracing free speech as protecting not just popular but unpopular and even hateful speech. Once you start as a government to criminalize speech, you end up on a slippery slope of censorship. What constitutes hate speech remains a highly subjective matter and we have seen a steady expansion of prohibited terms and words and gestures. As noted in a prior column, free speech appears to be dying in the West with the increasing criminalization of speech under discrimination, hate, and blasphemy laws.
As someone of Irish (and Italian) descent I would not be insulted to be called a leprechaun. Indeed, being called a magical figure is a substantial improvement from the usual abuse that tends to follow more scatological than magical themes.