Western Europe often experiments with liberal ideals before the United States. A recently introduced law should concern all proponents of free speech everywhere. In an effort to prevent Islamic Extremists from using broadcast, print, and social media to recruit and spread propaganda, Great Britain is proposing historic new Extremism Disruption Orders (EDO) that may backfire against conservatives and Christians. While disrupting hate speech and recruiting is desirable, using the law to do so may be quite dangerous. Chancellor Brian Osborne voiced concerns that the laws would seek to “eliminate extremism in all its forms”, which could include any thoughts or beliefs perceived to be outside the mainstream. He goes on to question if this set of EDO would “justify hatred” against people for a variety of reasons that may negate necessary public debate.
The Christian Institute was critical of the move. They lobby to prevent government intrusion into religious practice. Simon Calvert, their Deputy Director, called the EDO a catch all law that could be harmful to traditional Christians. Citing homosexuality and religious pluralism, he said: “Anyone who expresses an opinion that isn’t regarded as totally compliant with the Equality Act could find themselves ranked alongside Anjem Choudary, Islamic state or Boko Haram”.
Opponents of the EDO question the language pertaining to “hatred”. It is such a subjective word that spreading or endorsing or inciting “hatred” is left far too open to interpretation to be worth the risk. Judicial activism could emerge and unfair treatment of British subjects under the EDO could cost more freedom than it protects.
So what does this mean in the U.S? With Obama’s penchant for all things European and/or anti-American, this law could be fodder for future legislation here. Any restrictions on free speech, save the oft referenced yelling of “fire” in a crowded theater, are absolutely not worth the unintended consequences. Our allies across the pond are in a fight against radical Islam, as are we. The liberalism with which they have dealt with Sharia in their land, however, has created a fertile ground for freedom limiting laws such as the EDO.
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In a rare alliance between the Christian Institute and the National Secular Society, a spokesman for the latter said: “Without precise legislative definitions, deciding what are ‘harmful activities of extremist individuals who spread hate’ is subjective and therefore open to abuse now or by any future authoritarian government”. When two groups whose ideology is almost always completely at odds agree on a subject, the government needs to listen.
A Conservative spokesman said “We have never sought to restrict peaceful protest or free speech, provided it is within the law”. Since the EDO primarily defines a new set of speech laws and fails to clearly define what is “within the law”, obeying this law may prove difficult. This is reminiscent of our own “we have to pass the law so that we can find out what is in it” debacle that has all but destroyed free market healthcare in the U.S. Just say “no” Great Britain, just say “no”.
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