Free speech under pressure or action against inflammatory comments?

Ought we to be a mite concerned about protecting free speech from officious prosecutions, even when the comments are “obnoxious”, in the opinion of a district judge?  I hold no brief for Ruth Patterson’s “alleged” comments on Facebook which it’s customary not to repeat once someone is charged and for which she has apologised. This Derry case is a sign of changed times. Amazing to learn that a “youth” has been fined in Derry for making “ derogatory remarks” in Fahan St about the murdered policeman Ronan Kerr and Margaret Thatcher. He was unlucky enough to be overheard by a policeman.  I wonder how?  The Waterloo St pubs are nearby but that may not be relevant. What’s amazing is that a cop was actually present in Fahan St., a street sweeping down  to the heart of the Bogside and the Bloody Sunday memorial.  And fined for speaking ill of the late Iron Lady in that location?  Changed times indeed. Many people will of course be pleased to see  evidence that the PSNI are so busy upholding law and order.

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  • Rory Carr

    The Derry fellow was charged with disorderly behaviour for makig his remarks within earshot of others who might have been offended leading to a breach of the peace which seems reasonable enough if it were not for the fact that he was not then arrested immediately, but then that may be excused by the likiehood of an immediate arrest itself resulting in a more serious bout of disorderly behaviour and an even greater greater breach of the peace.

    As to “Roof”, I haven’t yet made up my mind. The remarks attributed to her are certainly serious but then she does appear to be incredibly lacking in how to behave in public, something which, while expected to be a serious disadvantage for a political activist, somehow is a plus for unionist politicians. Only in Norn Irn (well maybe in Alabama and Mississipi…)

  • FDM

    The “for which she has apologised” is a big fat red herring.

    Speaking hypothetically if I were to beat someone and apologise does that mean that I am square with the house?

    Of course not. My regret and apologies would be taken into consideration by the presiding judge/magistrate(s) of the court after my guilty plea and conviction.

    So let justice prevail.

  • A court will decide.
    But basically the biggest threat to Free Speech for us all is people who abuse it.

  • Harry Flashman

    Rory’s post is relevant, the young fella was charged with disorderly behaviour not for the offensiveness of his comments. One could sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in a disorderly manner and if so it would be appropriate for the police to take action regardless of the actual words expressed.

    However there is no doubt that the police in the UK have been adopting a rather precious attitude to people expressing their opinions, especially when it comes to religion, homosexuality or race.

    If an Islamist chooses to burn a poppy that he has paid for and post the video online that is entirely his business, equally a Christian pastor who honestly and calmly explains his position on homosexuality is perfectly entitled to do so, and as for arresting a man for describing a police horse as “gay”, that is absurd.

    Free speech is a very hard-won right, we cannot sacrifice it simply because others disagree with the words spoken.

  • Kevsterino

    I support free speech, even for bigots, racists, fascists, nazis etc.

    I’d much rather have their specious ideas out in the open, where people can be trusted to judge for themselves the value of what they are saying.

  • Kevsterino

    Rory, if you ever make a trip to Alabama or Mississippi, I think you’ll be surprised at the value placed there on public decorum.

    In the deep south, bad manners can get you killed.

  • claudius

    This is a tricky one. For example, if someone stood outside my house and called my missus a c**t every time they saw her should I respect their right to free speech or should I give them a kicking?

  • Kevsterino

    In America, Claudius, give them a kicking. Those are ‘fighting words’.

  • claudius

    Kev. I think you may be correct

  • Rory Carr

    I accept totally your claims on deep southern decorum, Kevestrino, I was rather intending to compare how unionist politicians in Northern Ireland often pander to the lowest common denominator in offensiveness against the nationalist community with a similar behaviour of some southern U.S. politicians in pre-civil rights days towards black Americans.

    I understand though that such behaviour is no longer acceptable, even in Mississippi and hope (somewhat folornly) that our unionist backwoodsmen might some day too learn how to behave..

    I would however prefer that such people arrive at a considered rejection of such appalling behaviour than that they are simply constrained by law from saying that which their hearts are yearning to say. But if that’s what it takes…

  • Clanky

    There is a huge difference between saying something which upsets the professionally offended and saying something which was intended to cause outrage. As with everything else the fine line which divides the two is half a mile wide and very blurry.

    While I thought that Roof’s remarks were crass and offensive, I do believe the she has the right to voice the opinion on a completely ficticious scenario, no matter how offensive that opinion might be to others.

    Had she deliberately set out to cause offence with her remarks (for example airing them on a Nationalist forum rather than on her own Facebook page) then perhaps prosecution would be appropriate.

    Had she urged or encouraged people to actually act then that is a different matter and in that case she should be prosecuted, not for making offensive remarks, but for incitement to violence.

    As for the guy who stands outside your house and calls your wife a c**t ever time he sees her that sort of direct abuse is very different from making a public remark to which peiople take offence.

    What amazes me is that people are treating the question of whether or not Roof should have been prosecuted (and it will be the same for the next clamour from whichever side it comes) as a moral one rather than the petty political point scoring from the pathetic little pricks at Stromount.

    We hear so much about narratives recently and so many pathetic little pricks on both sides of the fence are doing there best to appear to be hard done by and morally outraged by the terrible offensive behaviour of themuns.

    Gagging idiots like Roof and her Ilk only serves to hide their true nature from people, surely Roofs comments are better out in the open where people can see her for the obnoxious biggot she is rather than the rest of them who keep their private thoughts in a jar and put on their best Tony Blair smiles and smarmy half truths for the public.

  • Harry Flashman

    “For example, if someone stood outside my house and called my missus a c**t every time they saw her should I respect their right to free speech”

    That’s a red herring.

    There are any number of legal remedies to this issue because it has nothing to do with the free expression of ideas. The man could be charged with harassment, breach of the peace, disorderly behaviour none of which is related to censoring ideas but which relate to the man’s offensive behaviour, which would be the same if he was outside your house serenading your wife with Italian operetta arias.

    He could also be sued for defamation in the courts.

    It is a sad reflection on today’s society that the left is the most ardent in its desire to suppress free speech (as indeed the left is most to the fore in suppressing most basic rights, except for some bizarre reason sexual freedom).

    Frequently it is those institutions who should be doing the most to fight for free speech; schools, universities, the mainstream media etc who are the most craven when it comes to the denial of free speech.