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Freedom of Speech – should there ever be prosecutions?

“I Hate Margaret Thatcher”

Okay, so I’m not alone in thinking that and what is great about living in the UK is that I’m free to express that feeling, publicly without being thrown into prison. However, there is a worry that over the last month there have been a number of cases where someone has expressed a view that many others would find intolerable. For example, when two policewomen were murdered back in October, a man name Barry Threw scrawled on a tee-shirt, “One less pig; perfect justice,” and “Killacopforfun.com haha?”

As the law stands, Threw could have walked through his town with, “One less pig; perfect justice,” that’s his opinion, as is the case with mine about Thatcher. By adding, “Killacopforfun.com haha?” he was slammed with a public order offence and given a four month jail sentence. As disgusting and insensitive as Threw’s comments were; I, along with many others, including Peter Tatchell, believed that the four month prison sentence that was served to Threw was excessive. But perhaps the fact that Threw was known to police for his views on them, this added to such a heavy response.

The reality is we don’t (like some other countries) throw people in jail every time some says something controversial, or in some cases misguided or just plain stupid.

In the case of Threw’s comments about the two murderers police women, Insp. Bryn Williams, spokesman for Radcliffe Neighbourhood Policing Team, was reported as saying:  “To mock or joke about the tragic events of that morning is morally reprehensible.” As much as I agree with Williams that Threw’s words were offensive,  the fact is whenever there’s a news story, either tragic or shocking, people around the country will make remarks about it, some thoughtful, some shocking, funny or just disgusting. How many people got bombarded on their social networks with Jimmy Saville jokes, when that story broke? I personally didn’t find them funny, so I deleted them and got on with my day. As much as someone has the right to speak their mind, we also have the right to ignore such comments and in turn take away the power these words have.

More recently, a Christian worker has won his high court case against his employers who demoted him and cut his wage by 40% after he made a comment on Facebook that he believed it wasn’t right for same sex couples to get married in a church. He was perfectly happy for the same minority group to have their relationship recognised in a civil partnership in a registry office.

As patronising as this person’s thoughts are to me, I can fully understand why he won his case. Although he works for Trafford Housing Trust, he made the comment outside of work and spoke his mind, standing up for what he believed in.

Freedom of speech is what makes us British. As with the Christian worker, I have my own beliefs and think that for those who have a Christian faith who believe in Gods power and love, regardless of their sexuality, should have their relationship blessed in the eyes of God. Who’s right and who’s wrong is now up for debate with both sides being given the opportunity to express how they feel. Living in a democratic country such expressions give us all the power to speak up for what we believe in.

Also in the news was the teenager who put an image of a burning poppy on his Facebook account along with the words, “How about that you squadey (sic) c****.” Although meant to be private, one of his ‘friends’ re-posted it to the world and all hell broke loose. Kent police (in my opinion) over reacted by arresting the teenager and charging him with offences related to the Malicious Communications Act 1988.

Nick Pickles, the director of Big Brother Watch responded by saying:

“It is not illegal to offend people and however idiotic or insensitive the picture may have been, it is certainly not worthy of arrest. The case highlights the urgent need to reform a law that poses a serious risk to freedom of speech after several ludicrous prosecutions in recent months.”

I would much rather know the views of what people think than having everything censored and also be able to have a point of view without fear that I may have my words censored or be arrested for having an opinion that didn’t suit the police or government.  The police are in agreement too. At present they are receiving fifty complaints a week regarding comments made on social media website. New guidelines due out at the end of the year will hopefully clarify this situation about what can and cannot be freely said. The main consensus seems to be that you can be make offensive remarks on social media websites, but should these remarks be seen as inflammatory, racist or sexist, then the law will kick into action.

So I stand by my comment on Thatcher and may even go out and buy one of those “Still Hate Thatcher” t-shirts and as for those who disagree with my comments and find it offensive, you have the power, all you need do is disconnect from my news-feed.

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