Opinion

Free Speech at Risk on Both Sides of the Atlantic

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Posted: Jun 05, 2018 12:01 AM
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Free Speech at Risk on Both Sides of the Atlantic

Years ago, sitting in an English pub on July Fourth, my brother and I were surrounded by friendly Brits who toasted America’s Independence Day. Expressing no bitterness over their former colonies’ rebellion more than 200 years ago, they even jokingly joined in a chorus of “down with the British!”

England is America’s parent nation, even though we had to resort to violence to decide things for ourselves, such as not being forced to billet British troops in our houses or pay taxes without representation.

It was from England that we derived our rule of law, religious heritage and an appreciation of fair play. I did learn to my regret that the English treated the Irish badly for centuries until the Emerald Isle won its independence in 1921. 

However, in the great wars against Nazism, Communism and militant Islam, America and Great Britain have fought side by side in defense of the Free World.

So, it was with alarm that I learned this past week about the case of Tommy Robinson, former leader of the rightist English Defence League. A rabble rouser whose current passion is to call attention to the menace of Pakistani pedophilic “grooming gangs” who roam the streets to find children and young women, Mr. Robinson was “broadcasting” on Facebook outside a gang rape trial in Leeds where he had been warned not to appear. 

I’m still trying to get my head around what happened next. Mr. Robinson was arrested and jailed. Within five hours, he was convicted of contempt of court and sentenced to 13 months. Then he was tossed into prison, presumably among some of the criminals that he had been railing about. That could greatly affect his health. 

The media were ordered not to report on Mr. Robinson’s arrest, trial or sentencing, lest it prejudice the case underway in the court. That might fly in places like Iran, but in merry olde England? Well, it didn’t last. The gag order was lifted after two days of protests.

Sadly, political correctness and massive immigration of people uninterested in adopting British morality is turning Old Blighty into something that Winston Churchill would not recognize. Freedoms long enjoyed by the British are slipping away.

It’s happening in the United States as well, where rampant political correctness is supplanting long-held notions of free speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion.

Three years ago, Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian found Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, guilty of discrimination for refusing for religious reasons to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, fining them $135,000. 

That’s bad enough, but here’s the kicker: Avakian, a Democrat who subsequently lost a race for secretary of state, also imposed a gag order on the couple, telling them to “cease and desist” from “publishing, circulating, issuing or displaying, or causing to be published … any communication to the effect that any of the accommodations … will be refused, withheld from or denied to, or that any discrimination be made against, any person on account of their sexual orientation.”

So, the Kleins could not publicly defend themselves against this outrageous assault on their livelihood. With their own story quashed, they became totems of bigotry and were peppered with hate mail and threats of violence and closed their bakery. In late December 2017, the Oregon Court of Appeals upheld Mr. Avakian’s draconian ruling.

Represented by First Liberty Institute and former White House attorney C. Boyden Gray, the Kleins have appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court. 

On Monday, they got some good news when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in a similar case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

During oral arguments in December, Justice Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote who has sided with homosexual activists in all major cases including Obergefell v. Hodges, which created a “right” to same-sex “marriage,” nonetheless offered hope for a fair decision in Masterpiece when he stated, “Tolerance is essential in a free society. And tolerance is most meaningful when it’s mutual.” He reiterated that sentiment in the opinion.

America’s founders drew on many sources when drafting the nation’s seminal documents, but relied most heavily on the Commentaries of William Blackstone, the great 18thCentury English jurist. 

Blackstone based his conception of just law on the Bible. In his dissent in Obergefell, Justice Clarence Thomas quoted Blackstone’s observation that the Magna Carta protected the “absolute rights of every Englishman,” including that of personal liberty, defined as “the power of loco-motion, of changing situation, or removing one’s person to whatsoever place one’s own inclination may direct; without imprisonment or restraint, unless by due course of law.”

Over in the U.K., some are still protesting the sentencing of Tommy Robinson and the Orwellian gagging of the English media. Many ask why an allegedly Conservative government under Prime Minister Theresa May would be complacent about such an abridgement of “the absolute rights of every Englishman.” 

Maybe officials on both sides of the Atlantic will wake up and smell the tea.