Free Speech

Jonathon Davies, Going Postal

Photo by Newtown Graffiti on Flickr

Fundamental to free speech is the right to criticise. It may seem a small thing but it is vitally important. Try living without it. To be able to say, “No, I don’t agree with that,” or “This is wrong because” is not only an important civil right but also crucial to human progress. If you cannot identify the problem then you certainly cannot find a solution. If you cannot find a solution then the problems you face will persist. It is also crucial to a free society where human rights are protected. To illustrate this let us examine a few historical examples.


Christianity is one of the main foundations upon which western civilisation is built. In the past Christians were persecuted. Jesus himself was crucified. He was drawing large crowds. He pointed out the flaws in the arguments of the Pharisees. He threw the money lenders out of the temple. The Romans controlled the temple and what was said there. Hence they felt he needed to be silenced. Later Christians were persecuted across the Roman Empire. Things that went wrong such as natural disasters were blamed on a lack of piety towards the traditional gods and having Christians in their midst. The most famous example being Nero blaming the great fire of Rome on the Christians. More followed under the Emperor Diocletian who commanded Christians in the Eastern empire to sacrifice to the Roman gods or face execution. Thousands were killed, and a certain Saint George was martyred for refusing to give up his faith.

But Christianity survived these attacks and eventually the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Toleration giving Christians legal status in the empire. Constantine himself was a Christian, but it was not made the official religion until later under Theodosius. Christianity went on to flourish and become one of the major world religions. The teachings of Jesus, the moral code, guidance and philosophy provided the bedrock for some of the greatest civilisations and countries on Earth. Imagine if those Christians had not been allowed to speak and had been silenced or killed completely. Imagine if they had not gained the right to say, “No, that’s wrong. I believe in something else.” What then? Today it is once again fashionable to bash Christians. From no Christian films on at Easter, the lack of a Google doodle, churches closing, to the BBC doing anything but Christianity if at all possible, online ridicule of anyone proclaiming Christian values, to attacks by cultural Marxists, Christianity is under assault. Just look at the vilification of Jacob Rees-Mogg and other politicians for espousing Christian principles. Diversity is in, Christianity is out.

Now before the atheists among you start shrieking, Christianity has also done its fair share of repressing free speech and new ideas. Martin Luther was unhappy with the Catholic church and nailed his protest to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral, hence the name Protestants. He was of course excommunicated, which was pretty much the worst punishment the church could give. It meant he couldn’t take communion or go to confession. Hence in Catholic belief this would have implications for the fate of your eternal soul. Martin Luther persisted and refused to recant. Many others took up his cause and his beliefs. Some rulers declared themselves and their realms Protestant, both for belief and to control the church. Most notably Henry VIII who broke with Rome in his very own version of Brexit. He was excommunicated, and faced rebellions at home such as the Pilgrimage of Grace. His daughter Elizabeth I faced invasion from Spain in 1588. Yet the reformation continued across the UK and Europe. The printing press brought ideas to a wider audience for the first time. The Bible was translated in to English and many other languages. Some of the corrupt practices of the Catholic church were challenged and it had to up its game and improve. The Reformation resulted in things like higher literacy rates and stronger states. This despite the best efforts of the Spanish Inquisition (which no one expects) and Catholic inquisition (which everyone does) to maintain orthodoxy. If Martin Luther had lost or given up the right to criticise and disagree then these things may well have not come to pass.

Once again it appears that history is repeating itself. Those who favour Brexit are treated as heretics. Morrissey is the latest celebrity to get the “Literally Hitler” treatment. Some are socially excommunicated. Establishment figures line up to pillory leave voters as racist, stupid, uneducated, poor, uninformed, believed lies on a bus, didn’t know what they voted for, etc, etc the list goes on. Our own reformation against a corrupt and decadent EU is under threat. Progress is being held back once again. The legacy media headed by the BBC (just check any Question Time panel) and Sky (despite Brexit) seem to pump out anti-Brexit coverage day in and day out. The powerful and the wealthy look to steal and destroy the EU referendum result, with highly funded campaigns to overturn the largest vote in UK history and the highest turnout percentage for a quarter of a century. Thousands of remain voters across the land are throwing screaming fits because others disagreed with them and said, “No, I think the EU is wrong.” It is no little irony that they complain about freedom of speech. What they mean is that no one is listening. That is something quite different. Meanwhile, like those Christians of old Brexit is blamed for all that goes wrong in society. And if it wasn’t Brexit then it was the Russians. Leave voters are facing their own inquisitions from friends and family or at work. Many stay silent especially in areas such as London.


Science. That wonderful search for the truth. Surely here there is no opinion that cannot go unchallenged, no suppression of free speech? Well, no. Much is made of Christianity and religion suppressing ideas. For example Michael Servetus, and (the misreporting of what) happened to Galileo (he was actually in favour until he managed to personally antagonise the Jesuits and then later a sitting Pope) and Alan Turing. But at times science has had the same failings as religion. For example, the work of the famous Roman doctor Galen. Galen was famous for building on Hippocrates‘ rational theory of the four humours and advancing anatomy. He famously dissected pigs in Alexandria. Roman law prevented the dissection of dead bodies (religion again). While he did a great deal of good, he also got things wrong. This is important as his writings went unchallenged for well over 1,000 years and was the foundation of medicine in the middle ages in Europe. His work was treated with a reverence almost like that of the Bible. It’s in the book so it must be true. There could be no criticism of Galen. This was a major factor holding back the progress of medicine for a millennium. It shows the damage that can be done by putting all your faith in one book and never questioning it or re-evaluating it. It wasn’t until the renaissance period that doctors and scientists of the the likes of Vesalius starting to criticise Galen and perform hands on human dissection.

“But this can’t happen today?!” I hear you cry. Just try disagreeing with climate change or environmental science. “The science is settled” is the phrase most often heard. Just like with Galen. You cannot challenge either the idea that the Earth is warming up, or if it is then the reasons for it. This can cause serious problems.  Scientists claimed that Diesel cars were less polluting than petrol cars. No one challenged it. Recently we found out the opposite is true and diesel vehicles are being taken out of circulation with a diesel scrappage scheme. This has damaged both the environment and the car industry. There has been serious talk of making “climate change denial” illegal (yes really). Billions in taxpayer money is being ploughed in to green energy schemes and subsidies, and often the cost of energy to the consumer is quite a bit higher, putting pressure on household incomes. Meanwhile China, India, etc burn through more carbon than the UK ever did. Again this is barely questioned. Volcanoes erupt and spew out more carbon than has been created by people in human history. The Sun is the biggest determining factor of Earth’s temperature. Never mentioned. Try it and you are labelled an “alt-right” conspiracy nut. I mean, they make up all kinds of crazy stuff. Like the FBI spying on Trump…

Fascism, Nazism and Communism

In Italy this branch of the activity was mainly ruled by the Ministero della Cultura Popolare (Ministry of popular culture), commonly abbreviated as Min. Cul.Pop. This administration had competence on all the contents that could appear in newspapers, radio, literature, theatre, cinema, and generally any other form of communication or art. In literature, editorial industries had their own controlling servants steadily on site, but sometimes it could happen that some texts reached the libraries and in this case an efficient organization was able to capture all the copies in a very short time.-InfoGalactic

In Nazi Germany there was a campaign conducted by the German Student Union (the “DSt”) to ceremonially burn books in Nazi Germany and Austria in the 1930s. The books targeted for burning were those viewed as being subversive or as representing ideologies opposed to Nazism. These included books written by Jewish, pacifist, religious,classical liberal, anarchist, socialist, and communist authors, among others. The first books burned were those of Karl Marx and Karl Kautsky. On April 8, 1933, the Main Office for Press and Propaganda of the German Student Union proclaimed a nationwide “Action against the Un-German Spirit”, which was to climax in a literary purge or “cleansing” (“Säuberung”) by fire. Local chapters were to supply the press with releases and commissioned articles, sponsor well-known Nazi figures to speak at public gatherings, and negotiate for radio broadcast time.-Wikipedia

Under the Soviet Union works of print such as the press, advertisements, product labels, and books were censored by Glavlit, an agency established on June 6th, 1922, to safeguard top secret information from foreign entities. From 1932 until 1952, the promulgation of socialist realism was the target of Glavlit in bowdlerizing works of print, while Anti-Westernization and nationalism were common tropes for that goal. To limit peasant revolts over the Holodomor, themes involving shortages of food were expunged. In the 1932 book “Russia Washed in Blood,” a Bolshevik’s harrowing account of Moscow’s devastation from the October Revolution contained the description, “frozen rotten potatoes, dogs eaten by people, children dying out, hunger,” but was promptly deleted. Also, excisions in the 1941 novel “Cement” were made by eliminating Gleb’s spirited exclamation to English sailors: “Although we’re poverty-stricken and are eating people on account of hunger, all the same we have Lenin.”-Wikipedia

The Soviet government implemented mass destruction of pre-revolutionary and foreign books and journals from libraries. Only “special collections” (spetskhran), accessible by special permit granted by the KGB, contained old and politically incorrect material. Towards the end of Soviet rule, perestroika led to loosened restrictions on information and publishing. Soviet books and journals also disappeared from libraries according to changes in Soviet history. Often Soviet citizens preferred to destroy politically incorrect publications and photos, because those connected to them frequently suffered persecution.-InfoGalactic

Authoritarian regimes in the past removed the right to criticise and the right to free speech. This was a prelude to some of the worst human rights abuses and in some cases genocide that the world has seen. It wasn’t for nothing that the press was censored and only one political party allowed. If the press is controlled then crimes can be covered up. In some cases those critical of the regime were jailed, killed or simply disappeared. Removal of people who spoke out and restricting their means of mass communication was an important way of stopping opposition from forming and organising. Huge resources were spent on controlling and silencing opposition.

As many of you know there are a number of groups now policing speech both online and in the media. They are non-governmental and it is not always clear who is funding them and why. Some seek to gag the media and tell them what they can and cannot print. They do this by targeting their advertisers to try and cut off revenue streams. They also seek to stop publication or sale of books they disagree with. Others seek to shut down any kind of dissent against the prevailing narrative and “correct” speech. One of these groups lost funding from the government when claims emerged they had been exaggerating hate crime reports and statistics, and police and civil servants apparently raised questions over its methods. Yet another had many of it’s founder members banned from platforms like Twitter, ironically for violating rules on hateful conduct. Also with no little irony some of the same groups are being asked to help form a definition of “Islamophobia” by an All Party Parliamentary Group from the UK government. I kid you not. Again it appears some seek to shut down free speech and criminalise criticism.

Across universities we have seen the rise of so-called “safe spaces,” areas where their opinions will not be challenged. Surely one of the main points of university education is too be exposed to new information and different views? At the same time visiting speakers are being banned in case they offend someone or criticise the prevailing narrative. Either that or they are being “no-platformed” with mass walk outs and protests. Insidious groups like Antifa have taken to disrupting speakers they consider to be “fascists” or “Nazis.” These are people like the internet personality Sargon of Akkad (featured in the video below) who if anything is centre left, to Jacob Rees-Mogg and Jordan Peterson who is hated by the neo-Nazis yet is nevertheless labelled alt-Right. The irony here is it was the Facsists under Mussolini who dressed in black and attacked rival political meetings.

Terms like racism, fascist and Nazi are being used to control free speech and silence criticism. For example the definition of Nazi is ever growing and ever changing to encompass more and more people, and thereby justify attacks on people by labelling any differing opinions as Nazi and thereby delegitimising them. This comes with its own dangers. It becomes like the story of the boy who cried wolf. The first time someone shouts “Nazi!” everyone responds. Got to fight those Nazis, right? Only there aren’t any. The next few times it happens, less people respond each time. People wonder why some of their friends are now called Nazis, as their views weren’t Nazi before. Eventually real Nazis show up. “Nazis!” comes the cry. “No, for real this time!” This time no one responds because they always shout Nazis. Invoking the Nazis comes with huge connotations and rightly triggers emotions. Unfortunately it is now used to gain attention and drown out the issue under discussion. By labelling everything far right, Nazi or Fascist you rob the words of their meaning in an effort to stifle criticism. Eventually people will just stop listening.

Staying on the subject of authoritarian governments and states, ours doesn’t seem to be doing too well on free speech either. YouTube personality Count Dankula has been found guilty of a hate crime in what is sure to be a land mark ruling. As I’m sure most people are aware precedent plays a significant role in defining our law. What has happened previously will be taken in to consideration when making future judgements. He made a silly joke, but it was a joke nonetheless. The judge in the case said it was grossly offensive and he was convicted. Some fellow comedians rallied to his defence. Many were silent. Are they scared of what will happen to them? Or just not bothered because they disagreed?

This is the key issue of free speech. It is easy to defend popular opinions or speech that you agree with. If you truly value free speech you must also be willing to speech you disagree with. This is much harder and an acid test of the state of free speech in the UK. Currently we are found wanting. Instead of arguing your case and explaining why an opposing idea is bad, wrong or dangerous we seek instead to simply shut down and ban that speech. This raises a number of issues. If you can’t beat your opponents in an argument using reason, facts and logic, are you sure you are correct? By banning speech you alienate the people who hold those opinions. You risk pushing them further to the extremes. I mentioned the Nazis earlier. If you push people outside of the mainstream, where do you think they will go? Who do you think they might turn to? There is also the Streisand effect. By telling people not to do something and saying it is illegal more people actually go and seek it out to see what all the fuss is about.

Recently the journalists Martin Sellner and Brittany Pettibone were banned from the UK. Martin was going to deliver a speech which criticised immigration at Speakers Corner. Both were detained at the border and received lifetime bans from the UK. Journalist Lauren Southern was detained at Calais and also received a life ban. She claims this is because she gave out leaflets claiming the deity from a certain religion was gay. I wonder what message this gives to the LGBT community in the UK? She was also questioned about her Christianity during her interview. Is Christianity now considered a threat to the UK? We seem to be treading on very dangerous ground here. Someone might want to tell the Queen, who is Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

It now seems there is a push for diversity in everything except thought. Constantly we are told diversity is our strength. What does that even mean? What extra strength does it confer? If we were told maybe more people would support diversity. Yet the phrase is repeated like an Orwellian mantra time and again. The right to criticism is once more under threat. Questioning government immigration policy is becoming off limits. To suggest it may play a part on the housing crisis by pushing up demand and therefore prices is to be met with claims of racism and bigotry. Record demand on the NHS is simply blamed on cuts. Why the NHS cuts make more people than ever before use the NHS is never explained. The rise in violent crime in London has hit the headlines recently. The Mayor allocated £1.7 million for an online hate crime hub. The Met Police allocated 900 officers to police the internet. It is no surprise to me that knife and gun crime shot up. Police appear to be too busy chasing illusory “hate crimes” online when in real life people are being murdered on the streets in broad daylight. Just like the authoritarian regimes of the past large resources are being focused on delivering and policing an ideological message.

Time and again we are warned about the threat from the “far right.” It wasn’t the far right that killed 35 people in 2017. It isn’t the far right with 23,000 people on an MI5 watch list. It isn’t the far right with hundreds of fighters that may return from Syria and Libya. It isn’t the far right that has seen the leader of the opposition and his party mired in anti-Semitism claims. The numbers on the far right are growing we are told. That is no surprise when you label all dissenting opinion as far right, and expand the definition of hate crimes to anything that is perceived to be one. In reality there are a handful of far right loons. At the moment. The way to stop the far right is to sensibly control immigration, stop the terror attacks and not to cover up things like Rotherham and Telford in a similar way to the Soviets covering up uncomfortable facts. Not to ban people like Tommy Robinson talking about them and voicing criticism. Do that and you pull the rug out from under the far right. If you constantly censor critical opinions then the far right, the real far right, will whisper in the ears of the people, “See, I told you they would cover it up. look, I told you they would ban talking about it.” They will gain a foothold.

But I fear our government, police, authorities and establishment will not listen. They are more concerned with appearing virtuous, pushing a diversity agenda and most of all being in control. Just as those Lutheran printing presses brought new information and opinions to the masses, so today we have social media that is creating its own information revolution. The masses are able to talk to each other directly and send pictures, videos, livestreams and information whilst bypassing the legacy broadcasters and the political pets in the media. This seems to terrify them. Recently the head of the Met Police claimed social media was responsible for the rise in violent gang crime. Not the people stabbing each other. Talk about shooting the messenger. Just like the reformation period the medium is blamed. Printing presses were banned from private ownership in some countries. I wonder how long until the new medium of social media is also subject to further regulations? Politicians and the powers that be will be ever more desperate to control the narrative. Many already call openly for certain groups or individuals to be removed or banned from platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

Often these companies take action themselves. Big tech has its own issues with the majority of companies being left leaning to say the least and have pro social justice agendas. More and more we seem to be descending in to the world of George Orwell’s 1984. Big Brother is constantly watching us through our online interactions, our tech, the police, our government and self-styled hate speech crusaders. So is there hope? In my opinion yes. The genie is out of the bottle and it won’t go back in. New social media platforms and apps are being launched all the time, for example Gab. Free speech activists are becoming more and more active online. They are also holding regular events at Speakers Corner and elsewhere. Even when banned their message is taken up and amplified by others. Many blogs are springing up to report the news as they see it without an MSM filter, giving a range of opinions. More and more people are questioning what they see and hear from the media. Instant uploads allow video and information to be transmitted quickly before it can be suppressed. An example is the violence by police in Catalonia which went viral worldwide and drew international condemnation. The Spanish police will not want to repeat that again any time soon. Incidents like these are why it is so important to preserve our right to free speech and criticism. If you do not wish to live under tyranny, whichever political persuasion you favour, you need the right to criticise and give your opinion. I also think the more authorities crack down the stronger the movement will become as people become fed up with even moderate opinion being censored. The struggle will be long and difficult. Hard work and dedication will be needed. But I believe it will be worth it. You can silence some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t silence all of the people all of the time.

© Jonathon Davies 2018

Day For Freedom is 3 p.m. on Sunday May 6th at Whitehall, London. If you want to go then GP stalwart Martin Mezger is going and organising a GP meet up via the Forum.

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(Made using some material from Wikipedia and Infogalactic and photograph from Flickr under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)

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