British Comedian Rowan Atkinson, 'Mr. Bean'

When Insults Are Illegal:

British comedian Rowan Atkinson warns about ‘The Outrage Industry’ and the ‘Creeping Culture of Censoriousness’

(Posted by Bryana Johnson on October 29th, 2012)

A few years back, a young Oxford University student who was out celebrating the conclusion of some exams, came out of a bar and made a childish comment to a policeman. This comment landed him in jail. The comment? “Excuse me, do you realize your horse is gay?”  Rather than ignoring him, the policeman demanded he pay a fine of £80. When he refused, he was arrested under Section 5 of the 1986 UK Public Order Act. Thames Valley Police said: “He made homophobic comments that were deemed offensive to people passing by.”  

" The whole thing is absolutely absurd," said Mr. Brown. "There were about six police officers and a whole load of patrol cars.”

A jury eventually overturned the ruling, but not before calling significant public attention to Section 5, the infamous clause in the Public Order Act which states that,

A person is guilty of an offence if he:

        (a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or

        (b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,

    within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.

British comedian Rowan Atkinson, in a short speech last week at the Reform Section 5 Campaign’s Parliamentary Reception, called it, “That thing where you can arrest anybody for saying anything that might be construed by anyone else as insulting.”

Other victims of Section 5 include a Christian preacher who told a passer-by that homosexuality was immoral, a 16-year-old holding a poster that read, “Scientology is a Dangerous Cult,” two hotel managers who engaged a customer in conversation about Mohammed and Islamic dress for women, and a preacher who told police privately, upon being questioned, that he thought homosexuality was a sin. Atheist John Richards, who placed a sign in his window which stated, “religions are fairy stories for adults,” was told by police that he could be arrested under Section 5. Animal rights protestors who displayed toy seals dyed with red food coloring were threatened with arrest and seizure and told by police that the toys were distressing to members of the public. Following a complaint from a customer, police reportedly told Christian café owner Jamie Murray to stop playing DVDs that showed texts from the New Testament in his establishment.

It’s interesting to note that in most of the cases mentioned above, the supposed offenders were eventually acquitted, although sometimes at significant cost to themselves and to British taxpayers who had to fund the ridiculous court costs accrued by the imprudent actions of public servants who were given free reign by an absurd law. In his speech earlier this month, Rowan Atkinson touched on the inherent absurdity of attempts to ban insulting language, saying,

“The clear problem with the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such. Criticism is easily construed as insult by some parties. Ridicule, easily construed as insult. Sarcasm, unfavorable comparison, merely stating an alternative point of view to the orthodoxy, -- can be interpreted as insult. And since so many things can be interpreted as insulting, it is hardly surprising that so many things have been.”

To ban insults is to outlaw a form of speech that is central to most disagreements and controversies – even those which are wholly cordial. Anytime there is a verbalized clash of ideas, there is a likelihood that one party will poke fun at another. In many cases, there is also the possibility that one party will completely lose his or her head and spout off something really offensive. There is always the probability that the two sides in a public debate will publicly declare their opponents to be wrong. This is not a travesty that calls for government intervention but an unavoidable by-product of free speech rights – and of human nature.

Atkinson wisely suggests that a culture which cannot handle insults needs to be exposed to them more regularly. “ For me,” he says, “the best way to increase society’s resistance to insulting or offensive speech, is to allow a lot more of it. We need to build our immunity to taking offense, so that we can deal with the issues that perfectly justified criticism can raise. The strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, but more speech.”

This brings us to the central problem with laws banning insults, which is that the task of deciding what type of language is insulting is left to the government. A ban on insulting language is not like a ban on swearing or a ban on using curse words in public places. It is a ban which can encompass even justified criticism. Indeed, it has the Kafkaesque quality of being a ban on nothing in particular and therefore on potentially anything.

They [police officers] don’t seem to need a real victim,” Atkinson warns. “They need only to make the judgment that somebody could have been offended if they had heard or read what has been said.”

It is these open-ended bans and this undefined repression which makes the modern era’s war on intolerance so deadly to liberty and so poisonous to law. A nation which is governed by the proverbial “rule of law” is a nation in which citizens are able to easily ascertain what is and is not allowed. The rule of law is characterized by lucid legal language and common sense judgments which are intelligible to the majority of the citizens. It is only in despotic nations that citizens must live in constant fear of breaking some law which they have never heard of and which makes no sense to them at all.

We live in a country where insults are illegal,” laments the Reform Section 5 Campaign’s official video. If you’re an American citizen, you still live in a country where insults are legal. Unfortunately, if the trends in Western Europe and Canada are any indication of the future, you are going to have to fight with all of your might to keep it that way.

(This article first posted at The College Conservative)

Week in Review: the erosion of family rights and the seeping statism of our time

(Posted by Bryana Johnson on October 13th, 2012)

It’s been a rough week for parental rights, unborn children, the family unit and religious freedom. It’s been a rough week for generations that aren’t here yet, for the posterity that will inherit this planet from us. Unfortunately, it often takes massive defeats to convince some people that the battles we are engaged in are real and that, in the words of Daniel Webster, “God grants liberty only to those who love it and are always ready to guard and defend it.”

This vigilant defense clearly hasn’t been occurring on a wide enough scale in Germany, where a homeschooling family just lost custody of their four children when a district court ruled that “homeschooling damages children and is an abuse of parental authority.” According to the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), Judge Malkmus ruled that:

“the general public has an interest in counteracting the development of parallel societies and that religious or ethnic minorities must be ‘integrated’ through schools. The judge also stated that the academic competency of the children was irrelevant because it is the state’s responsibility to insure that children are socialized in state-approved public or private schools.”

Homeschooling has been illegal in Germany since Adolf Hitler outlawed it in 1938.

Why are parents all over the world choosing to homeschool their children? While many do it for academic reasons, feeling they can offer their children a better education than the public schools in their areas, a growing number of families are pulling their children out of state education systems for religious reasons and concerns that the values and virtues they cherish are not being presented to the children they love and are responsible for rearing. The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is one administration that has proved particularly antagonistic towards parents since introducing their K-12 Curriculum Challenging Homophobia and Heterosexism last year.

This extremely controversial program, which teaches students that “you can’t choose to be gay or straight but you can choose to ‘come out,’ “ has outraged many Canadian families. Parents are not allowed to opt their children out of the classes on religious grounds, and teachers are not allowed to decline to teach them based on their religious beliefs.

Last week, it was revealed that a new TDSB poster, which has been introduced as part of the district’s “Safe and Positive Spaces” campaign, not only portrays homosexuality as normal but also appears to depict polygamous relationships as acceptable. The poster, entitled Love Has No Gender, shows small stick figures of men and women inside colorful hearts. While some hearts contain heterosexual couples, others contain same-sex couples and still others that contain groups of three, with one man and two women, or one woman and two men.

“I think the gut reaction of most parents is going to be, ‘Whoa, wait a minute, what are these being used for?’ ”
said Doretta Wilson, executive director of the Society for Quality Education. This is where parents who may be as tolerant as they come might say, ‘I think maybe we’ve now crossed a line.’ ”

TDSB spokesman Ryan Bird said the board does not support polygamy, and that “the reason for depicting two women and one man was meant to show that a person can be attracted to more than one gender.”

Another poster that the campaign has released for display in Toronto District Schools shows an array of cross-dressing children and proclaims, “there are no rules for being a boy or a girl.” A third poster boasts a colorful school of fish with the words, “we’re here, we’re queer, we’re in your school!”

Is the furor over the ‘polygamy poster’ just a case of over-excited, reactionary homophobes who are looking for any possible excuse to bash gays? Mayor Fancois Lebel of Paris’ 8th Arrondisement doesn’t think so. He spoke out last week in a surprising article written for his municipality’s official newsletter,  arguing that legalization of homosexual ‘marriage’ would open the door to social acceptance of other taboos. Mr. Lebel asked:

“If the immemorial taboo of heterosexual marriage is overcome, who and what will then stop other taboos, much less ancient, much less universal, from being abolished in turn? For example: tomorrow, how will one oppose polygamy in France, a principle that is only taboo in Western civilization? Why will the legal age of the spouses be maintained? And why prohibit marriages within families, pedophilia, incest, which are still common practice in the world? The door is now open to a spectacle, deadly for civilization, of legal marriage for the whole world, no matter with whom or what!”

It would seem that the majority of Mr. Lebel’s countrymen either don’t share his concerns, or else don’t consider themselves ‘pedophiliaphobic.’ They are joined in this conviction, or lack of conviction, by most of the international spokesmen for our own nation and the spokesmen for most of the Western European nations also, as evidenced by the results of a vote held by the UN Council on Human Rights earlier this week. The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute shared on Friday:

“Delegations from European Countries and the United States suffered a setback last week when the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution affirming a positive link between traditional values and human rights. The European and U.S. delegations view traditional values as threats to women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual persons. This is the third resolution on traditional values to pass since 2009. Russia successfully pressed the resolution forward despite attempts by other UN member states to stifle their initiative. (emphasis mine)

The resolution states that, “a better understanding and appreciation of traditional values shared by all humanity and embodied in universal human rights instruments contribute to promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms worldwide,” and also recognized the positive role of the family in promoting human rights.

It was adopted with 25 in favor, 15 against, and 7 abstentions.

Somehow it’s frightening to learn that our own nation’s delegation to a human rights council was disappointed by Russia’s attempts to recognize the traditional family. However, we shouldn’t find it surprising, because when it comes to upholding ancient social institutions like marriage and family, Russia is fast outstripping the US, not to mention Canada and Western Europe. Last week the Russian Supreme Court upheld St. Petersburg’s 2011 ‘gay propaganda ban,’ which outlaws, “the propaganda of homosexuality and pedophilia among minors.” It sounds like some religious Toronto District parents might be compelled to flee to Russia in the near future!

In an alarming and highly significant move, a Missouri federal district judge has dismissed a case against the controversial HHS mandate, which would require business owners to pay for employees’ contraception and abortion-inducing drugs without any religious exemptions. Judge Carol Jackson ruled that the mandate does not violate Catholics’ faith, because they remain “free to exercise their religion, by not using contraceptives.” Judge Jackson wrote,

“This Court rejects the proposition that requiring indirect financial support of a practice, from which plaintiff himself abstains according to his religious principles, constitutes a substantial burden on plaintiff’s religious exercise.”

This ruling is more than absurd. It is horrifying. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, it is sinful and tyrannical. It means that the task of separating right from wrong, of determining what are the requirements of a creed, is left to the arbitrary will of a judge. Using Judge Jackson’s reasoning, taxpayer funding for abortions is not a violation of any religious faith. Neither would be taxpayer funding of pornography or prostitution or sex change surgeries or any other operation prohibited by the teachings of any church or creed. But the progressive vision has jumped even further back into the mire of totalitarianism than this.

Navanethem Pillay, UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, has issued a call for governments to criminalize organized opposition to abortion by non-governmental groups. The document says states are obliged to use “maximum available resources” to “protect against interference with sexual and reproductive health rights by third parties by enforcing appropriate laws, policies, regulations and guidelines.”

It further states that:

“States are responsible for exercising due diligence, or acting with a certain standard of care, to ensure that non-governmental actors, including private service providers, insurance and pharmaceutical companies, and manufacturers of health-related goods and equipment, as well as community and family members, comply with certain standards.” (emphasis mine)

The document maintains a vague and unspecific aura, but is obviously intended not only to pressure pro-life activists but also to pressure governments to pressure pro-life activists. It’s going to be a rough, uphill climb.

Hopefully the losses of the past two weeks won’t be in vain but will serve to excite some serious resistance to the seeping statism of our time. Do the truth a favor and pass these stories on to another potential freedom fighter.

(First posted at The College Conservative)

“IT IS the mark of our whole modern history that the masses are kept quiet with a fight. They are kept quiet by the fight because it is a sham-fight; thus most of us know by this time that the Party System has been popular only in the sense that a football match is popular.”

     -- Gilbert Keith Chesterton --


Obama waives sanctions on four of six nations that use child soldiers in their armed forces, including Libya and South Sudan

(Posted by Bryana Johnson on October 5th, 2012)

“When a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed — that’s slavery. It is barbaric, and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world. Now, as a nation, we’ve long rejected such cruelty.”

President Obama uttered these stirring words at the annual Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York last week. He was making reference to the appalling practice of recruiting young children to serve in military action, a practice that has long been prevalent in various African and Middle Eastern countries. From the infamous Joseph Kony of the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army to the Libyan youths recruited by both sides in the recent rebellion in Libya, to middle-school aged boys conscripted into the Free Syrian Army, the plight of child soldiers has gained widespread attention over the past few years, with humanitarian organizations working hard to keep the issue in the public eye.

In 2008, Senators Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan., introduced the Child Soldier Prevention Act, (CSPA) a bill to restrict the US government’s military support of nations that fail to stop recruiting child soldiers into their armed forces. This bill passed both houses of Congress unanimously and was signed into law by former President Bush, making it a federal crime to recruit or use soldiers under the age of 15. The law also gave the US authority to “prosecute, deport or deny entry to individuals who have knowingly recruited children as soldiers.” Needless to say, international human rights organizations applauded the bill enthusiastically.

On Sunday afternoon, President Obama signed a Presidential memorandum waiving the sanctions that the CSPA imposes on the nations of Libya, Yemen and South Sudan, and partially waiving the sanctions imposed on the Congo, thus authorizing the US to sell weapons to four nations that would not be eligible to receive military aid from the US under the CSPA. Four of only six nations on the State Department's list of foreign governments that recruit and use child soldiers. That’s two-thirds.

President Obama states in the memo,

I hereby determine that it is in the national interest of the United States to waive the application of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA with respect to Libya, South Sudan, and Yemen; and further determine that it is in the national interest of the United States to waive in part the application of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the CSPA with respect to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to allow for continued provision of International Military Education and Training funds and nonlethal Excess Defense Articles, and the issuance of licenses for direct commercial sales of U.S. origin defense articles; and I hereby waive such provisions accordingly.

Jesse Eaves, a senior policy advisor for child protection at World Vision, expressed disappointment over this action by the President, saying,  “At a time when Congress is locked in one of the most difficult budget battles I’ve ever seen, it is shameful that a portion of federal funding continues to help support governments who are abusing children. At its core, this is a missed opportunity to show leadership on this issue and protect thousands of vulnerable children around the world. Frankly, we expected more from our nation’s leaders.”

Given his statement earlier this week hotly condemning child soldiery and branding it “slavery,” it does seem odd to find the President taking this action which seems to betray his own ideals.  Unfortunately unbeknownst to many, this is in fact the third straight year that President Obama has granted waivers to countries using child soldiers. When Obama granted the waivers in 2010, his administration explained that they were a one-time deal, but when he again granted them in 2011, humanitarian organizations were incensed. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry tried to pass new legislation requiring Obama to notify Congress before issuing the waivers again, and called the decision an "assault on human dignity.”

Every now and then, some absurdity enacted behind closed doors in Washington is uncovered which should leave the people of the US with the uncanny feeling that all is not as it appears to be on the surface of things. Some actions are simply too inexplicable – or point to horrible and frightening explanations. Some decisions on the part of our leaders and lawmakers make it all too obvious that what they are saying is not what they are doing and that what they are doing cannot be explained by what they are saying.

We like to think of America as a nation dedicated to ideals. Liberty, justice, freedom. Unfortunately, the bitter truth is that the majority of our nation’s leaders allow pragmatism to eclipse their ideals on most occasions when the two come into conflict. Principles are only good until they get in the way of allowing the US to take action. If Libya is working to overthrow Gadhafi and our leaders don’t like Gadhafi, they are going to back his attackers regardless of whether they employ child soldiers or not.

Rand Paul’s lonely foreign aid filibuster on the Senate Floor last week showed us that most of our supposedly conservative senators cannot necessarily be expected to vote for foreign aid restrictions to Islamic countries that disrespect our ambassadors and our flag. President Obama’s disturbing memo of Sunday shows us that US weapons sales for controversial rebellions in Islamic countries are more important than curbing our own national bankruptcy and more important than putting an end to the nightmare of child soldiery. And that is an assault on human dignity.


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