A quick reminder of what freedom of speech means

Ross Greer, Graham Linehan, Tommy Robinson — all must have the liberty to speak.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Free Speech

A quick reminder of what freedom of speech means.

It means Ross Greer, the Green member of the Scottish parliament for West Scotland, has the right to call Winston Churchill anything he likes. A white supremacist, a mass murderer, a shithead, anything. It means Mr Greer should suffer no censorship or hardship simply because he holds and expresses these views. He should not be restricted from speaking in public and he should not lose his job. We should hope that student officials don’t add him to any kind of blacklist forbidding him from speaking on campus, as they have done with people on the hard right. Greer must be free to rage against Churchill.

It means people on Twitter have the right to like ‘transphobic’ poems, to share ‘transphobic’ poems, and to write ‘transphobic’ poems. Nobody should be censured for expressing scepticism about the trans ideology. They shouldn’t lose their jobs, they shouldn’t be harassed, and they shouldn’t be assaulted just because they think a man can never become a woman or because they take the piss out of trans women’s Adam’s apples. They absolutely should not be questioned by the police, as happened to one tweeter last week after he committed the speechcrime of liking a trans-sceptical poem. Freedom of speech means the police should never, ever involve themselves in matters of expression.

It means Graham Linehan has the right to refer to trans women as ‘he’. It means so-called TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) have the right to ‘deadname’ trans people — that is, use the old male names of people who have since become trans women. No ‘TERF’ should ever be questioned by the police on suspicion of ‘hate crime’ simply for mocking the trans ideology, as has happened in recent months. It means trans people have the right to fling the insult of TERF at anyone they like. It means trans people have the right to protest at ‘TERF’ events, though they should not seek to shut such events down.

Freedom of speech means Tommy Robinson has the right to gather his supporters in public and tell them there are too many Muslims in Britain. And it means radical Islamists have the right to visit campuses and argue that gay sex is disgusting and kafirs are sinful. It means racists have the right to publish their bunkum. It means anti-racists have the right to protest. It means drill artists have the right to perform music without being given suspended prison sentences, as outrageously happened last week. It means those tragic men’s rights activists should have the right to come to Britain and tell angry 25-year-old virgins how to pull women. It means cranky Pakistani Islamists should have the right to come here and spout nonsense about women’s position in society. It means Lauren Southern should have the right to come here to talk about how much she hates Islam. It means the UK should have no speech-based or ideas-based restriction on who may come here, though of course the UK can choose to keep out criminals and people involved in violent activities.

It means pro-Israel students have the right to organise public debates without being threatened and hollered into silence. It means pro-Palestinian activists have the right to organise public demonstrations at which they brand Israel the ‘New Nazis’ and refer to the Gaza Strip as ‘the new Warsaw Ghetto’ and utter other offensive historical illiteracies. Freedom of speech means the freedom to be offensive and historically illiterate.

This is what freedom of speech is. If you have defended the freedom of only some of the people mentioned above, then you are doing it wrong. You are not defending freedom of speech at all. Freedom of speech means the biggest Churchill fans defending Ross Greer’s right to insult Churchill, trans activists fighting for TERFs’ right to offend, and Corbynistas standing up for Tommy Robinson’s right to address students on campus. When those things happen, we’ll know that free speech is in rude health once more.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

Join Brendan O’Neill, Nadine Strossen and Paul Coleman at ‘Should we be free to hate?’, a Spiked US panel discussion in NYC on 29 January. Get your free tickets here.

Should we be free to hate?

Should we be free to hate?

Spiked Event

Tuesday, January 29, 2019 – 6.30pm-8pm
New York Law School,
New York, NY

Brendan O'Neill, Nadine Strossen and Paul Coleman

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Free Speech


Want to join the conversation?

Only spiked supporters and patrons, who donate regularly to us, can comment on our articles.

Join today