Say anything you like as long as it’s inoffensive

Once again, some people in the UK seem to have a shaky grasp on the concept of free speech.

A Tory MP was investigated by police after he said in Parliament that the niqab and the burqa is the ‘religious equivalent of going around with a paper bag over your head with two holes for the eyes.’ He was questioned over the telephone by officers and a file was sent to the Crown Prosecution Service, but he was later told that no action would be taken.’ That’s nice, but how odd that he was questioned at all. It was the Northamptonshire Rights & Equality Council that thought he needed to be shopped.

Anjona Roy, the REC’s chief executive, said she contacted police by email after her organisation received complaints about the MP’s comments. She also said that the incident had been raised at a meeting of the County Hate Incident Forum, whose members include local authority and police representatives, and it had been agreed that a complaint was appropriate. Ms Roy said she took offence at Mr Hollobone’s likening of the head-to-toe Muslim covering known as a burka to a paper bag. “I think the majority of people would find that quite offensive. If you disagree with people wearing burkas, there are other ways of putting it.”

[through gritted teeth] Yes but ‘quite offensive’ is not a police matter. Mere ‘offensiveness’ is not illegal. The fact that the majority of people would (according to one person) find something ‘quite offensive’ is not enough to make that something a matter for the Crown Prosecution Service. If the only free speech is speech about which no one will say ‘I think the majority of people would find that quite offensive’ then there is no free speech at all. Speech that has to pass the test that no officious head of a so-called Rights & Equality Council will call it offensive is about as far from free as speech can get. ‘Quite offensive’ speech is not against the law except in benighted oppressive stupidity-ridden theocracies and tinpot dictatorships.

When people who don’t get that, but in fact think the very opposite – think that speech that they find ‘quite offensive’ should be reported to the police – are the heads of Rights & Equality Councils, then there’s a problem.

17 Responses to “Say anything you like as long as it’s inoffensive”