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November 22, 2014 / 29 Heshvan, 5775
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J.E. Dyer: Ceramic Pig Watch – Offensive Speech in Britain

Shah Jahan Mosque, one of the oldest in the UK

Photo Credit: Roger Haworth/Wikimedia

Note Walker’s chillingly Orwellian understanding of the concept of freedom, which has its roots not in Magna Carta or the Enlightenment but in sharia. When she says that it is “essential that everyone in our community is free to live without harassment,” she means nothing more or less than this: that it is the right of Muslims in Britain to live in a society free of criticism of their religion. And when she says that “anyone who jeopardises that freedom will face prosecution,” she means this: that any British citizen who thinks that he enjoys the right under British law to criticize anything, including Islam, is mistaken; he does not have any such right; and if he acts as if he does, he will be incarcerated.

We don’t know what was on those posters in Darren Conway’s window.  If he printed them off Facebook, they probably weren’t mind-bendingly offensive, but more on the order of juvenilia.  They were on Facebook long enough for him to find them.  In any case, Conway was convicted of a “religiously aggravated public order offence”; he was not convicted of making threats, of incitement, or of soliciting criminal activity.  He was convicted, in other words, of exercising free speech.

It’s worth noting that the jail sentence under national law is in fact the point here.  The posters may well have been offensive to a Muslim, and I would very likely sympathize with a Muslim who was offended, as I would with a Christian offended at repulsive depictions of Jesus or screeds against Christianity.  If I saw virulently anti-religious posters on someone’s window in my neighborhood, I might well check with the city to see if there was anything that could be done about them.  Local ordinances can often be brought to bear in these matters.  I don’t necessarily have a problem with Conway’s posters being taken down, especially in a residential area, if due process of law is followed.  If the landlord simply didn’t want them there (I doubt Mr. Conway owned his flat), that would be good enough to justify their removal.

But that’s not how Conway’s case was handled.  He was sent to jail, for something that should at worst have been a matter of violating a local ordinance, or failing to comply with the terms of his lease.  On the other hand, his infraction may not have involved either of those things.  We may agree that not everything should be displayed in a window, but we also may not have laws prohibiting everything that might be.  This case is clearly about punishing speech.

How long before the United States reaches this stage?  That’s a good question.  The independence of the 50 states gives us a running start in the other direction, as this article by Jerry Gordon at the New English Review indicates.  Most of the piece is about developments in Tennessee, where the director of the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security met with resistance from the legislature when he set up a “Muslim advisory council” that included organizations with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood

But Gordon also recounts the ways in which the federal government – e.g., the Holder Justice Department – has put its finger on the scale and committed itself to overriding the state authorities.  A key example cited by Gordon is the controversial Murfreesboro Islamic Center, whose construction was halted in late May by a county judge, after the petitioner demonstrated that the community had not been given notice of the center’s planning in accordance with the law.  This is a rule of law issue, not an issue of “Islam”; the construction of churches is halted by lawsuits pretty often (see this one in Leesburg, VA, this one in the Hamptons, and this one on Oahu, along with this saga of a synagogue in Los Angeles, and another in New Haven, CT).

As Gordon reports, however:

The USDOJ under Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez in charge of civil rights litigation acted promptly to threaten action in federal court seeking to overturn [county Judge] Corlew’s rulings on the grounds that it constituted religious discrimination.

Rushing to find “religious discrimination,” when the breach cited by a judge is both valid and unrelated to religious discrimination, is the kind of distortion of law we have to be on the watch for.  Tennessee has a right to enforce its due process for building permits, even when it’s Muslims who want to build an Islamic center.  The law should not assume Muslims are being discriminated against when it is applied to them equally.

About the Author: J.E. Dyer is a retired US Naval intelligence officer who served around the world, afloat and ashore, from 1983 to 2004.


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