England has a bit of a history with prosecuting unpopular forms of free speech as criminal under its “Public Order Act” (a name that should send chills down the spines of civil libertarians and free speech advocates everywhere). Here’s the latest example, where three Muslim men have been found guilty of “stirring up hatred” for handing out pamphlets quoting Quranic verses in favor of the death penalty for homosexuality:
Ihjaz Ali, Kabir Ahmed and Razwan Javed handed out the pamphlet, called The Death Penalty?, which showed an image of a mannequin hanging from a noose and quoted Islamic texts that said capital punishment was the only way to rid society of homosexuality.
They were convicted at Derby Crown Court of distributing threatening written material intending to stir up hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation.
It is the first prosecution of its kind since legislation came into force in March 2010.
Mehboob Hussain and Umar Javed, who were also charged with the same offence, were found not guilty by the jury.
The men admitted distributing the flyers but denied they were "threatening" or designed to cause trouble for homosexuals.
Bobbie Cheema, prosecuting, said that "many people" had complained to police about receiving the leaflets, which were distributed in the run-up to a gay pride event in the city in July 2010.
The rest of the article is quotes from gay people expressing their shock-horror that people would dare distribute hateful material in public. While I sympathize to a point and certainly won’t deny that the pamphlet distributors are hateful zealots, I am forced to restate the (supposedly) obvious fact that merely being a bigot, of any caliber, does not qualify as a criminal act, nor does sharing assorted bigoted opinions out in the open.
As for the accusations of threats, I have to disagree, though I’ll admit it’s more on a technicality. The men were merely handing out pamphlets with quotes from Islamic texts, which is no different than all those who quote the Bible’s Leviticus 20:13 (“If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.”). The fact remains that merely quoting some hateful or violent passage, regardless of whether you agree with it, is not in itself incitement to violence, nor death threats. It’s just symptomatic of being a benighted moral amoeba stuck in the clutches of a deplorable faith. And that should not be grounds for prosecution.
What these bigots need is to be shouted down with public condemnation, not silenced by a court (or worse, depending on what sentences they’ll receive). As I continue to say: Free speech applies to everyone, regardless of how unsavory some people might be. The proper reaction to horrible opinions is to fight back with education and understanding, not outright censorship. As long as that latter route is preferred over the unrestrained exchange of ideas, both good and bad, then any society that espouses it cannot be deemed “free”.
(via Joe. My. God.)