Criminalizing Speech in the UK?

In my post over the weekend about the arrest of Paul Weston over in the UK for reading Churchill’s infamous passage about Islam from The River War, I wondered whether Weston might have been arrested for violating some kind of hateful “hate speech” law or perhaps on the narrower charge of violating the UK equivalent of a “time, place, and manner” restriction.  It ominously appears it was the former, as Mark Steyn reports:

He was, in short order, arrested by half-a-dozen police officers, shoved in the back of a van and taken away to be charged under a “Section 27 Dispersal Notice”. I had charitably assumed this was a more severe equivalent of the parade licensing that American municipalities use to discourage public participation by disfavored groups – ie, Mr Weston was arrested because he did not have his paperwork in order. I dislike such laws, but in America their use testifies at least to a certain squeamishness about directly punishing someone for the content of his speech.

Not so in Britain. The coppers dropped the Section 27 Dispersal business, and instead charged Mr Weston with a “Racially Aggravated Crime” – in other words, he’s being charged explicitly for the content of that Churchill passage, and the penalty could be two years in jail. This is remarkable, and not just because Islam is not a race, as its ever more numerous pasty Anglo-Saxon “reverts” will gladly tell you. For one thing, the police have effectively just criminalized Liberty GB’s political platform. There are words for regimes that use state power to criminalize their opponents and they’re not “mother of parliaments” or “land of hope and glory”.

Weston tells his side of the story, making it clear British law enforcement has decided to make itself a censor (12 minutes long):

Mark Steyn goes on to wonder:

More to the point, if Mr Weston is found guilty of a “racially aggravated crime” for reading Churchill’s words, then why is the publisher of the book not also guilty and liable to two years in jail? Why is Churchill himself not guilty? Should he not be dug up from the churchyard in Bladon and re-interred in the cell next to Mr Weston?

Well, no. That’s a bit dramatic. Civilized societies prefer to lose their liberties incrementally. It seems more likely that Sir Winston’s River War will simply disappear from print, but so discreetly you won’t even notice it’s gone.

Actually, almost all editions of The River War currently in print are abridged by Churchill’s own doing way back in 1900 (a long story I’ll tell some other time), and they don’t include the passage Weston quoted.  The good news is that the Churchill family assented to re-publishing the original unabridged edition, and eventually St. Augustine’s Press will bring it out.  (You should pre-order it.)  We’ll see if the edition is banned in Britain.

Daniel Hannan has more over at The Telegraph.

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