A slow-burn bonfire of liberties

MARK STEYN: Here’s what you get when the state hauls nobodies off to jail for quoting the Bible

Suzanne Plunkett/ Reuters

At the time of writing, I have no idea who’s won the British general election. At the time of reading, you probably have. But, whatever the result, I doubt it will make much difference to the fate of the United Kingdom, which is in the fast lane of the not-so-slow-burn bonfire of the liberties consuming much of the Western world.

The official “defining moment” of the campaign was Gordon Brown’s unguarded post-photo-op dismissal of Gillian Duffy as a “bigoted woman.” Mrs. Duffy, a plain-spoken working-class granny and lifelong Labour voter, had made the mistake of asking Mr. Brown, her party leader, a very mild question about immigrants from eastern Europe. He got back in his car and wrote her off, forgetting he was still miked. So she’s a “bigot.” He’s not. That’s why he makes all the decisions for her, and she just makes the best of them. What part of that don’t you understand?

The other “defining moment” got less coverage. Another “pensioner,” 74-year-old Roy Newman, got sick of the various party hacks knocking on his door and put a sign up in his front window: “GET THE LOT OUT.” Ninety minutes later, two police officers arrived at his home to arrest him for “racism.”

Racism? Why, yes. His sign was a piece of white card with red and blue lettering. Red-white-and-blue, geddit? The colours of the Union Jack. If using the same colour scheme as the national flag isn’t coded racism, I don’t know what is. Mr. Newman was prevailed upon to alter some of the letters to yellow, thereby diminishing the racist subtext.

With bigotry and racism running rampant, it was inevitable that homophobia would raise its ugly head. Dale McAlpine, a practising (wait for it) Christian, was handing out leaflets in the town of Workington and chit-chatting with shoppers when he was arrested on a “public order” charge by police officer Sam Adams (no relation), a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community outreach officer. Mr. McAlpine said homosexuality is a sin. “I’m gay,” said Officer Adams. Well, it’s still a sin, said Mr. McAlpine. So Officer Adams arrested him for causing distress to Officer Adams.

In fairness, I should add that Mr. McAlpine was also arrested for causing distress to members of the public more generally, rather than just the aggrieved gay constable. No member of the public actually complained, but, as Officer Adams pointed out, Mr. McAlpine was talking “in a loud voice” that might be “overheard by others.” And we can’t have that, can we? So he was fingerprinted, DNA-sampled and tossed in the cells for seven hours.

The other day, upholding the sacking of a black Christian for declining to provide “sex therapy lessons” to gay couples, Lord Justice Laws ruled that “law for the protection of a position held purely on religious grounds is irrational, divisive, capricious, arbitrary.” Actually it’s the law of Lord Justice Laws that is increasingly “irrational, divisive, capricious, arbitrary.” Or as George Orwell, in Animal Farm, formulated it: all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. In the land of Laws, a gay is more equal than a Christian. A Muslim is more equal than anybody. A black man is more equal than a white man, unless the white man is gay and the black man a Christian. An eco-zealot is more equal than an Anglican. Not long before Lord Justice Laws’ decision on the “irrationality” of legal protection for Christianity, Tim Nicholson, a “Head of Sustainability” fired for questioning his property management group’s environmental policies, sued for wrongful dismissal under “Employment Equality (Religion And Beliefs) Regulations.” He wound up with the best part of one hundred thousand pounds after Mr. Justice Burton ruled that Mr. Nicholson’s faith in anthropogenic global warming was a “philosophical belief” on a par with religion. So the Employment Equality (Religion And Beliefs) Law protects belief in apocalyptic “climate change” but not in Jesus.

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As for Muslims, in December Tohseef Shah sprayed the words “KILL GORDON BROWN,” “OSAMA IS ON HIS WAY” and “ISLAM WILL DOMINATE THE WORLD” on the war memorial at Burton-upon-Trent. But the Crown Prosecution Service decided his words were not “religiously motivated.” Phew! Thank goodness for that, eh? So a week or so back he walked out of court a free man, except for £500 in compensation to the municipal council for cleaning off his non-religiously motivated “ISLAM WILL DOMINATE THE WORLD” graffito.

I am currently slogging my way through a rather stodgy 650-page tome called Extreme Speech And Democracy. On the back is a question from Christopher McCrudden, professor of human rights law at Oxford: “What are the appropriate limits to freedom of expression in societies that wish to be democratic, multicultural, and committed to the human rights of all?”

Whether or not you regard that as a legitimate query, it’s certainly an irrelevant one. Because whatever you decide are the “appropriate” limits, by the time they percolate down to the transgendered liaison officer patrolling Workington shopping centre they’ll be reliably inappropriate. As I always point out in retailing the latest idiocy from Canada’s “human rights” fanatics, none of the above are “right-wing” in any sense that Steyn or Rumsfeld or Cheney would recognize the term. Mrs. Duffy is a lifelong Labour voter; Mr. Newman is one of those pox-on-all-their-houses types; the property company that fired Mr. Nicholson is so wretchedly politically correct it employed him as “Head of Sustainability,” a title of near parodic bogusness. Yet all fell afoul of Lord Justice Laws’ “irrational, divisive, capricious, arbitrary” laws. Because it’s hard not to. Because once you establish the principle that the state has the right to police ideas, sooner or later one of yours will catch their eye. I say “principle,” but that’s not really the word. The spirit is more aptly caught by a new joint initiative by the Canadian “Human Rights” Commission, the Manitoba “Human Rights” Commission and the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba to “promote and enhance the learning experience relative to human and treaty rights for all people living in Canada and around the world.” No idea what that means, but, as the CHRC press release says, this is the first time that these three useless taxpayer-funded sinecures have come together to “further their cause.” Since when do government agencies have ideological “causes”? And what happens if you disagree with their “cause”?

Professor McCrudden’s question on “appropriate” limits is very adroitly formulated: in today’s advanced Western society, there are no absolute rights—for all individual freedoms must be “balanced” against the state’s commitment to “multiculturalism” or “equality” or whatever other modish conceit tickles its fancy. Everybody talks like this now: for Canada’s Chief Censor, Jennifer Lynch, Q.C., freedom of expression is just one menu item in the great Canadian salad bar of rights, so don’t be surprised if we’re occasionally out of stock. Instead, why not try one of our tasty nutritious rights du jour? Like the human right to a transsexual labiaplasty, or (per a recent Quebec ruling) the human right to non-Eurocentric table manners. Real “rights” are restraints upon the state—“negative” rights, as constitutionalists have it; they delineate the limits of the sovereign’s power. But in the modern era “rights” are baubles in the state’s gift, and the sovereign confers them at the expense of individual liberty. Truly, this is an Orwellian assault on the very foundations of freedom.

The statists justify this on the grounds of what Lord Justice Laws calls “public tranquility”—a phrase that rings very hollow in contemporary Britain. In his last years of office, Tony Blair used to fret about “social disintegration.” You can see what he means in the Hogarthian depravity of not just decayed urban centres but leafy villages and prosperous suburbs. His response, of course, was the effete smack of socially progressive authoritarianism: ever more government micro-regulation of public discourse, until we reach the surreal point where the gay outreach officer arrests the Christian for causing distress to the gay outreach officer. In truth, the Big Blairite Brother, like Nanny Lynch in Canada, incentivizes identity-group grievance, frivolous victimhood, and social atomization. Meanwhile, aggressive, confident identities can drive a coach-and-horses through the PC flower beds: the remorseless feasting of Islamic polygamy on the Eurowelfare gravy train is only one example of how feeble “rational” secular statism proves in the face of a minority that has its number.

As for the “balancing act” that Professor McCrudden urges between individual rights and broader responsibilities, only a truly free people have the incentive even to seek it. The more you haul nobodies off to the cells for putting up a poster or quoting the Bible, the more a timid conformist populace will keep its head down, mind its own business, and avoid broader social engagement—or at any rate non-alcohol-fuelled engagement. Big Government is dismantling civic identity, and the slow-burn bonfire of liberties in Europe and North America will eventually consume us all.




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A slow-burn bonfire of liberties

  1. Here in Ontario you can`t say the lords prayer in school while they teach that homosexuality is a “viable lifestyle alternative” also the in`s and out`s of sodomy is spoken about to students as early as grade six. We are truly lost. 

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