Doing battle with daily dragons

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Freedoms With Fences

Right. I really wanted to post a response on this site, but was afraid of extreme flamage, so I thought I’d venture off on my own little tangent in safe territory. (If I get flamed on my own site, there are measures I can use to take revenge upon flamers.) Not that I don’t welcome intelligent conversation and respectful disagreement but I’m not keen on being bombarded with profanity.

This isn't a new story. There’s this guy. And he’s walking down the high street on a Saturday morning, minding his own business, wearing a truly foul piece of clothing advertising the band “Cradle of Filth”. It features, on the front, a graphic picture of a masturbating nun and the slogan, “Jesus is a C***” on the back. Thoroughly charming. An offended woman sees this gentleman and approaches the police, who promptly arrest the guy under new anti-religious hate laws.

As an American, I believe 100% in freedom of speech. It is the best thing our Constitution affords us. (Having the right to vote is pretty cool too.) Britain has no such document guaranteeing this freedom, although, from what I gather, it IS guaranteed. Having said that (and here comes my controversial bit) it seems to me that an individual’s right to free expression ends where someone else’s begins. However, this should be no barrier to free expression if people would use an ounce of the common sense the universe bestowed on us at birth.

Should the guy wearing the filthy t-shirt have been arrested? Of course not. It was a staggering over-reaction by the police that sets a dangerous precedent. (As a matter of fact an actual MEMBER of the band was ALSO arrested for wearing the shirt in a separate incident) But here, nailed to my virtual door at Wittenberg, is my argument:

I have a television set. I watch what I want, when I want. If something offends me, I turn it off. If I thought something was inappropriate for any theoretical children I might have, I wouldn’t let them watch. Should I feel that masturbating nuns are educational or informative for me and my theoretical children, we’ll watch ‘em all day long, but if I think they’re not, I have the option to switch off the telly.

However, it is not within my power to simply switch off some guy in the high street who chooses to wear an image that is inappropriate for public display. The profanity is secondary. The religious reference is secondary. The fact is, we don’t leave copies of “Razzle” lying open in the streets for a reason. (The 1839 Profane Representation Act, specifically)

I can choose to view obscene images or not. I can choose to let my children view obscene images or not. That’s my right. But, having said that, I don’t feel that the guy wearing the t-shirt was committing an arrestable offence. If a student at my high school had turned up to class in the shirt, he’d have been asked to turn it inside out, which is EXACTLY what the officer in this case should have done, rather than making a pointless arrest on some bullshit religious hate charge.

Feel free to agree or disagree, to catch me out, to trip me up. It's your right, 100%.