Melanie Phillips misses the point of free speech

In the blog column ‘I think therefore I am guilty,’ Melanie Phillips equates the Jan Moir debacle (which everyone else had surely all but forgotten by now) with anti-gay protestors at rallies. But there are a number of glaring differences.

Phillips is absolutely correct when she argues that tackling religious protestors like Harry Hammond (arresting for holding up a placard that read ‘Stop Homosexuality, Stop Lesbianism, Jesus is Lord’) and Christine Howe (who apparently got a visit from the police after complaining to the council about a gay pride march, although she wasn’t charged with any crime – something Phillips’ article does not really make explicit) is probably not the best use of police time. As someone who isn’t heterosexual, I suspect I have a bit less sympathy for their views as the proudly conversative Melanie does. But that’s irrelevant to the preservation of their rights. None of these people about have violated anybody else’s freedoms; they have simply exercised their own. What’s more, it’s extremely important to me that they can: the only way I can be certain my right to free speech is preserved is if theirs is, too.

But I cannot agree with Phillps that a member of the public getting a visit from the police for complaining privately to the council about a street party in aid of a cause they don’t support is the same as a professional journalist who chooses to write for a controversial national newspaper receiving angry letters when she prints things which aren’t true.

There’s no need to reheat the mouldy old drama surrounding Moir’s article, but the salient points are these: firstly, she claimed to know more about Gately’s cause of death than the qualified coroner. Secondly, she prints that the death of someone who happens to be in a civil partnership casts aspersions over every civil partnership (because straight people live forever, presumably). And thirdly, of course, she published all of this in a national paper while his death was still painfully raw for his loved ones.

There is a difference between free speech and libel, which Moir comes very close to in her article, and that is why Moir was “investigated” – not for being homophobic or “tasteless” as Phillips claims.

There is also a difference between free speech, and free speech without consequence. Having a legal right to be homophobic is one thing – but Jan, Melanie and Rod: don’t dish it out if you can’t handle people disagreeing with you in their millions.

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3 thoughts on “Melanie Phillips misses the point of free speech

Add yours

  1. Hmm… Not overly keen on ‘Stop Homosexuality, Stop Lesbianism…” because there’s only one way to do that. I think it’s fair for the police to look into someone who would parade those views and my line on free speech is drawn before statements that are tantamount to calling for murder.

    (I do accept that he might be asking for state intervention to force people to go through those bonkers US style rehab treatments, but that’s hardly better).

  2. Hi TootingTrumpet,

    Thanks very much for that comment.

    I would also have a problem with people explicitly calling for murder. It’s a matter of interpretation whether that’s what the signs meant but it didn’t occur to me that they meant anything like that. as I understand it, that wasn’t the police’s concern either but I might be wrong!

    I am not too keen on the signs. I find them horrible. But I don’t think they amount to direct harm, or libel. Public people and protesters have a right to call them on it but I don’t see how it’s the role of the state.

    Thanks for all your comments on Left Eye Right Eye, I do enjoy reading them.

    Best,

    Lou

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