Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Britain Does It Again

Here’s another case of the British police “investigating” someone for making mildly anti-gay comments:

Joe Roberts 73, and his wife Helen, 68, of Fleetwood, Lancashire, wrote to Wyre Borough Council complaining at their bid to promote awareness of gay issues.

The devout Christians said the council was “pandering” to minority groups and said they felt discriminated against.

Police questioned the couple but decided no crime had been committed…

A Lancashire Police spokesman said: “As a matter of routine, a police officer attended an address in Fleetwood to make further inquiries and to establish whether any crime had been or was likely to be committed.

“As a result of those inquiries, words of suitable advice were given and we will not be taking any further action.

“Hate crime is a very serious matter and all allegations must be investigated thoroughly.”

A council spokeswoman added: “We received a telephone call and letter from Mr and Mrs Roberts.

“Some of the wording in the letter was clearly inappropriate and so it was decided to consult the police on suitable action.”

Suitable action would be for the police to stay out of it. They expressed an opinion, one I happen to disagree with completely, but that is absolutely within their rights. If you aren’t bothered by this sort of thing, change the facts around slightly and see how you feel. Imagine the police “investigating thoroughly” the “very serious matter” of someone criticizing a religious viewpoint or a political one. There is no difference – freedom of speech and freedom of thought are not dependent on whether one likes the content.

Comments

  1. #1 Troy Britain
    December 24, 2005

    Britain Does It Again

    Hey, hey! You need to be a bit more specific with your headlines there pal.
    ;)

    (And now a seriousish question to through in with my silly joke.)

    They expressed an opinion, one I happen to disagree with completely, but that is absolutely within their rights.

    Does England have some sort of 1st Amendment equivalent that I am unfamiliar with or do you speak of natural rights that you (we) believe all people have regardless of their government?

  2. #2 Troy Britain
    December 24, 2005

    Doh! “throw in”, damm it, “throw in”.

  3. #3 Ed Brayton
    December 24, 2005

    Troy wrote:

    Hey, hey! You need to be a bit more specific with your headlines there pal.

    LOL. If I’m referring to you it’ll say “That damned Britain does it again”.

    Does England have some sort of 1st Amendment equivalent that I am unfamiliar with or do you speak of natural rights that you (we) believe all people have regardless of their government?

    If England has something equivalent to the first amendment and it doesn’t prevent laws like that one from being enforced, it’s pretty much useless. I refer, of course, to the free speech rights that all human beings have and the lack of justifiable authority for any government to regulate such speech.

  4. #4 Tim Makinson
    December 24, 2005

    I suspect that it isn’t uncommon for police to have ‘always investigate’ policies for certain issues (particularly those that are likely to get adverse attention for lax enforcement) – they consider the wasted time of investigating cases that are confirmed as trivial is worth it to ensure that no real cases fall through the cracks.

  5. #5 Gretchen
    December 24, 2005

    England does not have a constitution, and therefore of course does not have a bill of rights. However, it is bound by the European court of human rights. Articles 9 and 10 of that provide for freedom of religion and expression, respectively. However, the second part of Article 10 is as follows:

    The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

    So…basically, the second parts allows the government to get around the first part whenever they want. So it sounds to me like freedom of expression, for them, basically means nothing.

  6. #6 Gretchen
    December 24, 2005

    England does not have a constitution, and therefore of course does not have a bill of rights. However, it is bound by the European Convention of Human Rights. Articles 9 and 10 of that provide for freedom of religion and expression, respectively. However, the second part of Article 10 is as follows:

    The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

    So…basically, the second parts allows the government to get around the first part whenever they want. So it sounds to me like freedom of expression, for them, basically means nothing.

  7. #7 Matthew
    December 24, 2005

    To look on the bright side, at least the British do not have to worry about murders or theft or kidnapping since the police have obviously already fixed all of those problems and can concentrate on speech issues.

  8. #8 spyder
    December 25, 2005

    “If you aren’t bothered by this sort of thing, change the facts around slightly and see how you feel.”

    The “it can’t happen here” crowd needs to feel ever more alarmed, since it does happen here, even with our precious civil rights and liberties:

    http://www.counterpunch.org/leupp12192005.html

    Just when you think it can’t get crazier, it gets crazier. Aaron Nicodemus, a journalist with the southern Massachusetts newspaper The Standard-Times, reports that in October of this year a senior at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth was visited by federal agents and questioned about a book he had ordered through inter-library loan. Apparently U Mass librarians are cooperating with the USA-Patriot Act. You know, the one that’s all about Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. The book was for a research paper he was doing for a course on fascism and totalitarianism taught by Professor Robert Pontbriand, a specialist in European intellectual and cultural history. The agents visited the student after he ordered a book that is, they informed him, on a “watch list.”

    The book being watched? No, not some Islamist tome, al-Qaeda training manual or technical work on explosives, but a well-known book the whole text of which you can find online or order from amazon.com. It’s Quotations from Chairman Mao Tsetung, also known as the “Little Red Book,” a book once rivaling the Bible in circulation. To really monitor its readership would involve watching all internet access to the text, purchases of the book, and library loans of it. A formidable task and insane waste of FBI time, surely. But these are mad times.

  9. #9 Treban
    December 25, 2005

    Actually spyder, the kid admitted recently that this was just a hoax. I have read a number of people who had mentioned it previously retracting. If I wasn’t clueless about posting links I would give you some but it shouldn’t be hard to find them yourself. I think nearly everyone who posted about it has retracted it by now, excepting those caught up in the holidays.

  10. #10 Treban
    December 25, 2005

    Not that this and worse haven’t been happening in this country, the un-patriot act gives a lot of leeway for this kind of crap. . .

  11. #11 raj
    December 26, 2005

    Police questioned the couple but decided no crime had been committed…

    Did you miss that point? The police, after an investigation, decided that no crime had been commited. What more would you want? That the police not have investigated? If so, it is unlikely that the police would never investigate much of anything.

    From the article

    A council spokeswoman added: “We received a telephone call and letter from Mr and Mrs Roberts (the complainants).

    “Some of the wording in the letter was clearly inappropriate and so it was decided to consult the police on suitable action.”

    And the police decided that there was no “suitable action.” What more do you want?

    Regarding the Nicodemous article mentioned by spyder, I’ll cite you to the original source http://www.southcoasttoday.com/daily/12-05/12-17-05/a09lo650.htm What is also interesting about the article is the last couple of paragraphs:

    “My instinct is that there is a lot more monitoring than we think,” he said.

    Dr. Williams said he had been planning to offer a course on terrorism next semester, but is reconsidering, because it might put his students at risk.

    “I shudder to think of all the students I’ve had monitoring al-Qaeda Web sites, what the government must think of that,” he said. “Mao Tse-Tung is completely harmless.”

    The ridiculously named USA PATRIOT act is stifling not only academic freedom, but also learning in the US.

  12. #12 Ed Brayton
    December 26, 2005

    raj wrote:

    Did you miss that point? The police, after an investigation, decided that no crime had been commited. What more would you want? That the police not have investigated? If so, it is unlikely that the police would never investigate much of anything.

    What more do I want? I don’t want the police opening up investigations regarding free speech. There was no grounds for ever believing that any crime had been committed, the couple had done nothing more than written a letter expressing an opinion. What possible real crime could that have indicated? You don’t think it’s just a bit chilling toward free speech that every time someone publicly asserts an unpopular opinion, they get a visit from Scotland Yard as a warning? Would you think this was okay if this happened every time anyone wrote a letter or made a speech critical of religion? Or of the ruling political party? I would certainly hope not. I don’t want the police deciding on such a flimsy basis what is and is not “inappropriate” and sending people around to intimidate.

  13. #13 raj
    December 26, 2005

    Ed Brayton at December 26, 2005 09:12 AM

    What more do I want? I don’t want the police opening up investigations regarding free speech.

    Ed, what leads you to believe that this investigation was carried out as merely a “free speech” issue? I don’t know the details of the contents of the letter that had been sent to the town council or the leaflets that they wanted distributed–and I doubt that you do, either–but the letter and leaflets may have been indicative of either incitement or a conspiracy to incite.

    The police went to the couple, talked to them (they may not have known their ages when they went to talk to them), decided that there was no criminal intent, and left.

    I’m actually surprised that the newspaper bothered reporting on the case. It must have been a slow news day.

    What possible real crime could that have indicated?

    I don’t know because I don’t know what was said either in the letter or in the leaflets, and I don’t know what the laws are in the UK. There are excerpts of the letter in the news reports, but not the entirety. Nor do I know whether there is some history that is not mentioned in the news story–there oftentimes is–that may put some context on this.

    BTW, what the heck is a “real crime”? Something that violates a statute or local ordinance? Or something that you believe should be a crime? There is a difference. They–the amorphous “they,” don’t necessarily agree with you, particularly when referring to “them” in foreign countries. “They” in Congress didn’t even agree with you in 1798 (shortly after ratification of the 1st amendment) when they passed the Alien&Sedition acts, and 130 years later when they passed the sedition acts under which Schenck and Frohwerk were convicted during WWI–whose convictions were affirmed by the US SupCt.

    I don’t want the police deciding on such a flimsy basis what is and is not “inappropriate” and sending people around to intimidate.

    Just to remind you from the linked-to article, it was not the police who considered that the wording of the letter was inappropriate, it appears that it was the council (or at least the council’s spokeswoman) that considered that the wording of the letter was inappropriate.

    I don’t disagree with your other points, and won’t extend this. Actually, I will.

    Would you think this was okay if this happened every time anyone wrote a letter or made a speech critical of religion? Or of the ruling political party? I would certainly hope not.

    Actually, it depends on what was specifically written, what was specifically said, and the context. The last is one reason why I found your defense a couple of months ago of Repent America’s right to disturb the peace at the gay festival in Philadelphia off the wall.

    Criticizing establishments of religion or the ruling political party would be no problem. Criticism that is part of a conspiracy to incite attacks against members of establishments of religion or supporters of the ruling political party is a problem. There is a difference.

    I don’t know what the police in the UK were investigating, and it is not clear from the article.

  14. #14 Ed Brayton
    December 26, 2005

    raj wrote:

    Ed, what leads you to believe that this investigation was carried out as merely a “free speech” issue? I don’t know the details of the contents of the letter that had been sent to the town council or the leaflets that they wanted distributed–and I doubt that you do, either–but the letter and leaflets may have been indicative of either incitement or a conspiracy to incite.

    Read the article. It describes the contents of the letter, but does not have the actual text. The couple apparently questioned their burough council’s decision to distribute literature about gay rights and indicated that they felt this was discriminating against their beliefs. Now, that’s a stupid position but there is nothing at all that is threatening about it or that should attract the attention of the police. And the article that prompted my prior posting on this issue indicated, with quotes from the British police, that they do this any time they have a report of anyone saying anything that someone believes to be homophobic or anti-gay. There is nothing whatsoever to indicate a conspiracy to incite or anything even close to such a thing.

    BTW, what the heck is a “real crime”? Something that violates a statute or local ordinance? Or something that you believe should be a crime? There is a difference. They–the amorphous “they,” don’t necessarily agree with you, particularly when referring to “them” in foreign countries. “They” in Congress didn’t even agree with you in 1798 (shortly after ratification of the 1st amendment) when they passed the Alien&Sedition acts, and 130 years later when they passed the sedition acts under which Schenck and Frohwerk were convicted during WWI–whose convictions were affirmed by the US SupCt.

    A “real crime” is one that has a victim, someone who is harmed against their will or has had their rights violated. Someone writing a letter taking exception to gay rights advocacy (or anti-gay advocacy, or a religious position, or a political one, etc, etc, ad nauseum) is not a real crime, it’s a fake crime. It is criminalizing what should not be criminalized. And I couldn’t possibly care any less whether someone agrees with that or not. The truth of my position is not dependent on who agrees with me.

    Just to remind you from the linked-to article, it was not the police who considered that the wording of the letter was inappropriate, it appears that it was the council (or at least the council’s spokeswoman) that considered that the wording of the letter was inappropriate.

    And it doesn’t bother you that this is all it takes to trigger a police investigation? Raj, stop and think about this for a moment. Change the facts only very slightly. Let’s say a law is passed that says that anyone who makes statements against another person’s religion is committing a “hate crime”. Someone reads something you write on my blog criticizing Pat Robertson, or Jerry Falwell, or religious fundamentalism in general, and calls the police to report an “inappropriate” statement being made. The police send a couple of detectives around to your place to question you about it. They ask you about your past anti-religious activities, things you may have written in the past in other places, dredging up posts from the IndeGay forum and question you on just how far you’re willing to take this anti-religious sentiment you have. They leave with the ominous warning that you’re walking close to the line of a “hate crime” and that any further reports of this sort of thing will be taken more seriously. Now, if someone told you, “Hey, what’s the big deal, they didn’t charge you with anything”, do you suppose you’d be so casual about the whole thing as you are now when it happens to someone else? I highly doubt it.

    Actually, it depends on what was specifically written, what was specifically said, and the context. The last is one reason why I found your defense a couple of months ago of Repent America’s right to disturb the peace at the gay festival in Philadelphia off the wall.

    The situation with Repent America is a much closer situation than this is. One could argue that they were disrupting a legal assembly and trying to exercise a heckler’s veto. But the videotape in fact showed the opposite, it showed a small group preaching on a public sidewalk well away from the main stage, a display that could only be seen or heard by those immediately around them. And it also showed a much larger and much louder group of counter-protestors with huge signs and whistles and loudspeakers attempting to drown them out and shout them down. So if anything, the heckler’s veto argument cut the other way.

    Criticizing establishments of religion or the ruling political party would be no problem. Criticism that is part of a conspiracy to incite attacks against members of establishments of religion or supporters of the ruling political party is a problem. There is a difference.

    But the burden of proof should always be on the government, shouldn’t it? If there was any evidence whatsoever in that letter that would indicate a conspiracy, shouldn’t that be required in order to mount an investigation? Surely the police have the full text of the letter. If they didn’t file any charges, then there must not have been anything in that letter to indicate that there was probable cause to believe there was any such conspiracy. And bear in mind that the police have said that they do this whenever they get a report of anyone saying anything anti-gay.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.