Aaron Edwards, a theologian at Cliff College in England, has been reportedly fired after he declared homosexuality a sin on Twitter. He was also threatened with being reported to authorities as a “terrorist” for his views. It is the latest attack on religious and political speech in Great Britain.
Edwards maintains that he never had a prior complaint or disciplinary action at the college. However, he tweeted the following in February:
“Homosexuality is invading the church. Evangelicals no longer see the severity of this [because] they’re busy apologizing for their apparently barbaric homophobia, whether or not it’s true. If sin is no longer sin, we no longer need a Saviour.”
That tweet brought a swift response and termination by the college. Edwards was asked to take down the tweet, which he refused.
He is planning an appeal.
The threat to report him as a terrorist is a real concern in Great Britain where even “toxic ideologies” are now considered a crime. Recently a woman was arrested for praying to herself near an abortion clinic.
Last year, Nicholas Brock, 52, was convicted of a thought crime in Maidenhead, Berkshire. The neo-Nazi was given a four-year sentence for what the court called his “toxic ideology” based on the contents of the home he shared with his mother in Maidenhead, Berkshire.
While most of us find Brock’s views repellent and hateful, they were confined to his head and his room. Yet, Judge Peter Lodder QC dismissed free speech or free thought concerns with a truly Orwellian statement: “I do not sentence you for your political views, but the extremity of those views informs the assessment of dangerousness.”
Lodder lambasted Brock for holding Nazi and other hateful values:
“[i]t is clear that you are a right-wing extremist, your enthusiasm for this repulsive and toxic ideology is demonstrated by the graphic and racist iconography which you have studied and appeared to share with others…”
Even though Lodder agreed that the defendant was older, had limited mobility, and “there was no evidence of disseminating to others,” he still sent him to prison for holding extremist views.
After the sentencing Detective Chief Superintendent Kath Barnes, Head of Counter Terrorism Policing South East (CTPSE), warned others that he was going to prison because he “showed a clear right-wing ideology with the evidence seized from his possessions during the investigation….We are committed to tackling all forms of toxic ideology which has the potential to threaten public safety and security.”
“Toxic ideology” also appears to be the target in Ireland with the recently proposed Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) law. It would criminalize the possession of material deemed hateful. The law is a free speech nightmare. The law makes it a crime to possess “harmful material” as well as “condoning, denying or grossly trivialising genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes against peace.” The law expressly states the intent to combat “forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law.”
What is so striking about the law is that it allows for the prosecution of citizens for “preparing or possessing material likely to incite violence or hatred against persons on account of their protected characteristics.” That could sweep deeply into not just political but literary expression.
The expansion of such prosecutions to thought crimes is a natural extension of the anti-free speech movement that took hold of much of Europe decades ago. The decline of free speech in the United Kingdom has long been a concern for free speech advocates. A man was convicted for sending a tweet while drunk referring to dead soldiers. Another was arrested for an anti-police teeshirt. Another was arrested for calling the Irish boyfriend of his ex-girlfriend a “leprechaun.” Yet another was arrested for singing “Kung Fu Fighting.” A teenager was arrested for protesting outside of a Scientology center with a sign calling the religion a “cult.”
Once you start as a government to criminalize speech, you end up on a slippery slope of censorship. What constitutes hate speech or “malicious communications” remains a highly subjective matter and we have seen a steady expansion of prohibited terms and words and gestures.
In the meantime, a theologian has been fired by a college for expressing his views on sin on social media. Yet, most faculty are silent. Imagine if a professor were fired for arguing that homosexuality was permitted under the Holy Scripture. The college would be fortunate to survive the likely backlash. The different treatment based on the content of these statements makes a mockery of free speech and academic freedom. Yet, the intolerance for dissenting views is now a common reality in higher education on both sides of “the pond.”