ED112702b: Danger: Free Speech at Work
If images of people being persecuted for "thought crimes" strike
you as the stuff of science fiction -- or, at worst, something that
happened when communism was at its height and jackboots were
storming Europe -- get ready for a wake-up call.
It comes from Britain. There, in a pre-dawn November raid, a task
force from London's Metro Police Department raided 150 homes and
arrested 60 people in a crackdown on hate crimes. According to the
British Broadcasting Corp., many of them were arrested on
"suspicion of making racist threats and of homophobic
Cressida Dick, head of the department's Diversity Directorate,
insisted this was no publicity stunt. "People should not have to go
through life being subjected to abuse because of who they are or
what they believe in."
Indeed. But you don't have to be a cheerleader for "abuse" -- or
believe the people rounded up by the London police are wonderful
human beings -- to be repulsed by a campaign designed to punish
people more for what they think or say than what they do.
Ask British columnist Robin Page. London's Daily Telegraph reports
that he was recently arrested "on suspicion of stirring up racial
hatred in a speech to supporters of fox hunting," a tradition which
has become a cultural lightning rod in Britain. Page was released,
but we can only hope that authorities there keep a close eye on
this dangerous marauder.
Unfortunately, Britain isn't the only place where thought police
are on the prowl. Sweden's parliament has passed a constitutional
amendment banning speech critical of homosexuality. Offenders can
wind up with lengthy prison terms. This is being done, of course,
in the name of "diversity" -- although, alas, that lofty ideal
apparently doesn't extend to the marketplace of ideas.
Closer to our own shores, there's Canada, a country where
"censorship is almost a national sport," writes U.S. News &
World Report's John Leo. Authorities in Saskatchewan last year
fined a newspaper $1,500 for publishing an ad that quoted Bible
verses on homosexuality. "Presumably, if the authors of the Bible
had been available for trial, Saskatchewan would have dealt sternly
with them, too," Leo writes.
Here in America, we've been spared police raids, harsh speech laws
and the sight of journalists being clapped in handcuffs for daring
to mouth politically incorrect thoughts. But that doesn't mean
would-be censors aren't active within our borders, too. Take the
California-based Muslim Legal Defense & Education Fund, which
is suing Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz for
proposing a new Israeli counter-terrorism measure in an op-ed
published by the Jerusalem Post.
Dershowitz suggested Israel declare that the next time it's
attacked by terrorists, it will give the residents of any
Palestinian town known to have harbored terrorists 24 hours to
clear out before the place is leveled. The Muslim group's argument?
Since the Geneva Convention says "no protected person may be
punished for an offense he or she has not committed," Dershowitz is
urging Israel to commit war crimes.
No matter what you think of Dershowitz's proposal -- and people of
good will can disagree on this issue -- he has an inalienable right
to speak his mind, no matter how much his ideas may upset some
people. As a conservative, I often disagree with Dershowitz. But I
would never want to see him silenced. Indeed, I cherish the liberty
that allows us all -- liberals and conservatives -- to compete for
the hearts and minds of the American people.
Modern-day censors will protest that they're just protecting people
from "abuse." But history shows where their campaigns eventually
lead if left unchecked -- straight into the gulag. It's the abuse
of free speech we can't tolerate.
J. Feulner, Ph.D.
, is president of The Heritage
Foundation (www.heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy