Freedom of Speech: Thank Goodness We Broke From England

Posted: Jul 04, 2014 4:00 PM

We celebrate a lot on the Fourth of July - American exceptionalism and the founding of our nation, to name two - but we don't often reflect on where we came from. Over in England, there's enough going on to be thankful we're no longer a member of the British Empire.

Brendan O'Neill writes for Reason about how the Brits have turned their backs on freedom of expression and how freedom-of-speech groups don't exactly love freedom of speech:

The current campaign to enforce tighter state regulation of the press in Britain is being spearheaded by individuals who are intimately associated with, or who previously worked for, free-speech groups such as Index on Censorship, PEN International, and Liberty. This is the terrible, untold irony of the current war of words against press freedom in Britain: It is being waged by those who, just three or four years ago, were key players in the supposedly anti-censorship sections of Britain's liberal establishment. The eye-swivelling speed and ease with which these one-time complainers about censorship became cheerleaders for state-backed regulation of the press needs some explaining.

How could yesteryear's agitators for writers' freedom become today's demanders of state regulation of the press? It's because, in truth, such people's commitment to freedom of speech was always pretty partial. It was always fuelled, less by a full-on, balls-out, consistent conviction that everyone, regardless of their "breeding," should have the right to think, say, and write whatever they pleased, than it was by a belief that some writers had very important things to say and that their liberties should be protected. It was a free-speech position always more outraged by the harassment of Nobel Prize-winning authors in places like Eastern Europe than by state intervention into the affairs of the hacks and dimwits here at home. It was driven by a feeling that the purveyors of fine literature and clever ideas deserved freedom of speech, but badly bred, foul-mouthed tabloid hacks? ... Imprison them.

So this 4th of July, be thankful you live in the United States, where despite the need for constant vigilence, we remain one of the most free people in the world.