UK Home Secretary defends freedom of expression

March 5, 2023 • 9:15 am

If you’re a free-speech advocate or a blasphemy-law opponent, yesterday’s Times of London piece, written by UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman, will make your day. It’s a passionate defense of free speech, an affirmation that blasphemy is free speech, and an assertion that, when it comes to criticism, no religion is more protected by law than others. Braverman was apparently inspired by the kerfuffle last week when Muslims in West Yorkshire became enraged after a Qur’an was smudged, and perhaps by the recent spate of people called in for a “chat” with the cops after posting stuff things on social media that offended someone.

Braverman’s piece is called, “We do not have blasphemy laws in Great Britain“. To read it click on the screenshot below, or, if it’s paywalled you can read it here (h/t Coel).

Yes, she’s a Tory, but the piece could have been written by any secular humanist, and she makes no bones about her views.

I’ve love to quote the whole thing, but that’s not “fair usage”, so let me give a snippet. She begins by referring to the Qur’an incident mentioned above, and then goes on:

We do not have blasphemy laws in Great Britain, and must not be complicit in the attempts to impose them on this country. There is no right not to be offended. There is no legal obligation to be reverent towards any religion. The lodestar of our democracy is freedom of speech. Nobody can demand respect for their belief system, even if it is a religion. People are legally entitled to reject — and to leave — any religion. There is no apostasy law in this country. The act of accusing someone of apostasy or blasphemy is effectively inciting violence upon that person.

, , ,Everyone who lives here has to accept this country’s pluralism and freedom of speech and belief. One person’s freedom to, for example, convert from Islam to Christianity is the same freedom that allows a Muslim to say that Jesus was a prophet but not God Incarnate.

This freedom is absolute. It doesn’t vary case by case. It can’t be disapplied at a local level. And no one living in this country can legitimately claim that this doesn’t apply to them because they belong to a different tradition.

All of this is typically understood. If I told a socialist they should politely endorse my sincerely held conservative beliefs, he or she would laugh in my face — and rightly so. Roman Catholics readily understand that people are going to criticise the Pope or mock the concept of transubstantiation.’

Yet things are going in the wrong direction. We see that in the monstrous way that JK Rowling and others have been treated for daring to challenge radical gender ideology. And there is a particular issue with attitudes towards Islam.

The overwhelming majority of Muslims are tolerant, peaceful and embrace our values. But some Muslims and non-Muslims alike — as well as Islamist extremists — believe that Islam should enjoy a special status, protected from disrespect.

There is a long, ignoble history of that, which goes back at least as far as the furore over The Satanic Verses. It is rooted in a view — actually a bigoted one — that Muslims are uniquely incapable of controlling themselves if they feel provoked. And it has excused agitators using fear to force people to bend to their demands.

And she promises that the intimidation by the police of those who utter legal but “offensive hate speech” will cease:

I am not happy with the way non-crime hate incidents are recorded and I will soon be announcing new guidance for police.

Timidity does not make us safer; it weakens us. A fear of being seen as “Islamophobic” led to the grooming gangs scandal. It led the Prevent counterterrorism programme to fail to recognise the scale of the threat of Islamist extremism, to deny the individual culpability of extremists, and actively to co-operate with extremist groups. It fails to protect people from the mob.

Enough. It is high time for leaders — real leaders, not self-appointed hot-heads — to stand up for our free society. It is this country’s sacred promise to everyone who lives here, whatever their background. Every organisation that answers to me as home secretary will be in no doubt of where I stand.

While the piece deals largely with blasphemy (religious “hate speech”), her statement that “there is no right not to be offended” and that she’s unhappy with the treatment of “non-crime hate incidents” by the authorities gives me hope that the UK will stop intimidating people whose speech may offend some but is 100% legal.

“Enough” is correct!

28 thoughts on “UK Home Secretary defends freedom of expression

  1. I disagree with Suella Braverman on many things, but she is absolutely correct on this one.

    There’s another good piece in The Sunday Times by Hadley Freeman about her hopes that we are seeing an end to publishers kowtowing to “progressive” junior staff:

    1. I am reminded of the cadence Churchill used in “We shall fight in the hills,..”

      A catenation of clear, easy to understand but seemingly independent ideas, leading into a greater synthesis…

  2. The “Enough” paragraph is very strong indeed. A clarion call. I hope that her commentary is widely read in The U.S.

    1. Doug, you can read the whole article here:

      Anytime you are interested in a newspaper or magazine article behind a paywall, check whether somebody archived a copy here:

      Just paste the article’s web address into the second search box entitled “I want to search the archive for saved snapshots,” hit enter, and then see what comes up.

  3. Braverman would be a more convincing defender of free speech if she was not busily working hard to limit the legal rights of UK citizens to protest through her Public Order Bill.

    1. OK, spare us the suspense. What cherished freedom does the Public Order Bill curtail? I could look it up but as a foreigner I might not form the correct interpretation unguided.

      1. It aims to curtail protests against government policy. The current government doesn’t much like criticism.

  4. What will be the situation in Scotland, with Humza Yousaf (no friend of freedom of expression) likely soon to be the new leader of the odious SNP?

    1. The situation in Scotland with reference to Humza Yousaf hs been festering for years within the SNP and the Scottish Legislature. There is no will within the SNP to control this odious politician and if he succeeds as First Minister ultimately it will send the nationalists into the abyss.

  5. Well, I’m delighted that Braverman has come out so strongly on this issue, but I’m left even more confused about her own beliefs. It is well known that she is a member of the Triratna Buddhist Order, which has a rather dubious history (see eg But she has also been associated with the Orthodox Conservatives,(, a right-wing group that wants to wind the clock back on all sorts of social issues, and is itself linked to the US ADF (Alliance Defending Freedom), in turn associated with Amy Coney Barrett.

    So I’m not yet going to put all the flags out for Suella Braverman. Let’s see how she follows this article up in practice.

  6. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Yes, I applaud Braverman’s defence of free speech in relation to the Koran-scuffing kerfuffle, but her record is characterised by repressing the freedom to protest against government policies and by dog-whistle racism against asylum-seekers from Africa and the Middle East. Basically, throwing red meat to Daily Mail readers, much like her predecessor, the odious Priti Patel.

    1. Just remember, when you answer any question I ask, I don’t hear “racist “ or “racism” as transmitting any useful information. It’s whatever the speaker wants it to mean. My ears hear it as equivalent to “stupid”, or “asshole”, an unanswerable insult that says more about the speaker’s partisan allegiance than about the person or policy being criticized. Opposition to migrants emerging from the surf who don’t qualify for political asylum under international obligations does not become bad just because the migrants come from Africa. They could have made their claims in the first non-persecutory country they got to, but chose to brave the Channel instead. You can have open borders or you can have a welfare state run by trade unions. You can’t have both.

      Anyway, that is beside the point of the Public Order Bill so I will do my own research, as they say.

        1. Well no, it wasn’t that easy; and no, us Brits generally don’t think the bill is tyranny. However, it’s certainly illiberal and worrying in many respects.

          It’s a good idea to remember that this bunch of Tories in charge of our govt is notoriously, and demonstrably, dishonest and untrustworthy. So, do you really think that a synopsis of the public order bill, written by the government that’s introducing it, is a fair and honest reflection of its salient features?

          Imagine if I were to read the Trump administration’s official summary of why pulling the Paris Climate Accord was the right thing to do. Then imagine that summary was written or approved by Scott Pruitt, a man who denies that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming.

          Do you think it’s possible that you might invite me to broaden my sources?

          1. I’ll leave you to work out your own politics, and the Americans theirs. I only asked what the Public Order Bill involved and all I got was dark partisan jeremiads about the government introducing it. The text of the bill will do from where I sit, thanks.

  7. Is Britain’s Home Secretary appointed or voted to office? Thanks UK readers for Braverman’s background though I agree she is spot on here.

    1. Members of the Cabinet, including the Home Secretary, are appointed by the Prime Minister from members of Parliament, though there are occasionally short-term exceptions.

    2. She is appointed by the Prime Minister, who is the leader of the party that has won a House of Commons majority in a General Election. All Ministers must be Members of Parliament. By convention, most are elected MPs, especially senior Ministers, although there are some exceptions (eg Thatcher appointed Lord Carrington, a hereditary peer and Member of the House of Lords) as Foreign Secretary. Braverman has been MP for Fareham in Hampshire since 2015.

  8. Like several other commenters I loathe Suella Braverman. She’s one of the most extreme right wing bigoted politicians in power that we’ve seen since the Thatcher days. I grudgingly concede that on this issue she is absolutely right, but I suspect history will see this as a hypocritical and self serving article.

  9. A bit too much bile in this thread for my taste. I’m going to look at the cat pictures now.

  10. Braverman: “The act of accusing someone of apostasy or blasphemy is effectively inciting violence upon that person.”

    Is this where limits on free expression kick in in the UK? Or are such accusations protected speech?

    1. Interesting question. It is audience-specific I think.. If you accused me of apostasy because I no longer attend church or believe in God, I would not take it as incitement because no one in the United Church of Canada is going to do aught but say, “Tsk, tsk.” They are mostly too old and frail to hurt me even if they wanted to and of course they wouldn’t. But if you accused me of blasphemy against The Prophet there is indeed a good chance, as shown by experience, that someone might try to kill me without himself ever uttering a threat ahead of the act. Why scare me off?

      So in these strange modern times we live in, an accusation of blasphemy could result in anything from a guffaw to a serious concern that I might be beheaded in the street.

      If I lived in the UK and anyone accused me of blasphemy I absolutely would report it to the police, ref. their boss the Home Secretary, and let them investigate to determine if laying criminal charge against my accuser was warranted.

  11. From what I have seen of Suella Breverman over the last few years, I’m not a fan of hers. In fact, I recall that several times I have heard her policies or opinions and shaken my head in disbelief and disgust. It’s fair to say that I usually disagree with almost everything she says.

    Many of us on this site will find her unpleasant or disagreeable, but that doesn’t mean we should reject everything else she says. We are far too ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater these days, and far too eager to do so based on our existing and strongly held beliefs.

    I don’t usually agree with Braverman, but so what? What she has written here is spot on, it’s absolutely perfect in my eyes. I live in West Yorkshire and have followed this news item for the last few days. I absolutely abhor the way that the self appointed Muslim community has behaved. It’s reprehensible. However, what is more reprehensible is the spineless behaviour of the police and of any other public institution which has been involved.

    Rather than pandering to groups who cry ‘BLASPHEMY!’, the police should be reminding those groups that we live in a liberal democracy. That means we should be free to say what we like about religion, or anything else for that matter, without fear of retribution.

    I’m delighted that Braverman has written this piece and I sincerely hope that it reminds the police (and other agencies) of the communities they should be serving. The very notion of a non-crime hate incident is absurd and authoritarian. It’s also oppressive in a very real way; it makes normal people frightened to express views that they are perfectly entitled to hold.

    Not only do UK police caution people for expressing perfectly reasonable positions, they fail to deal with the real and egregious threats emanating from communities that they dare not challenge. It’s despicable that this has been allowed to go on for so long, and I’m delighted that for once, this status quo is being challenged at a high level.

    One thing that worries me is that, in my view, the Tories have screwed the UK big time. The self-inflicted economic sanctions of Brexit, Liz Truss, neglect of the NHS, our international reputation etc., they have done untold damage. I’ll never forgive them for this, never, and I can’t imagine ever voting for them. However, the Labour Party as it currently stands would NEVER write an article like this. They simply wouldn’t dare.

    Our two-party first past the post system leaves many Brits between a rock and a hard place.

  12. Braverman would have made an effective PM, and both Boris and Rishi defanged her by placing her in the spot where she’s responsible for fixing the illegal immigrants crossing from France. That way they appear sensitive by placing a brown person in charge of it, but also know she can’t succeed without French co-operation and will thus will acquire the albatross of failure. Pretty much the same ploy as Biden used on Harris.
    But now the Tories have blown it, and given the next election to Labour. Will Braverman still be in politics after one or two Labour administrations? Probably not, and that’s a shame.

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