Dawkins on freedom of speech and the Joyce video

August 24, 2023 • 12:45 pm

This may again be old news, but after I called attention to Richard Dawkins’s video with Helen Joyce this morning, I found out two things from Twitter (it does have its uses). First, people complained to YouTube about that video on the grounds that it contained “violent speech”. (If you watched it, you’ll see how stupid that complaint is.) Second, that prompted Dawkins to write an article on freedom of speech, and the distortion of language, for London’s Evening Standard. You can see that article by clicking on the screenshot below the tweet.

Dawkins first describes several instances of censorship or deplatforming he encountered, including the American Humanist’s Association retracting his 1996 Humanist of the Year Award for this “discuss” tweet (note his explanation):

The difference between transgenderism and transracialism is a perfectly good and intriguing philosophical question to discuss, but merely raising it cost Dawkins his award. This reflects very badly on the American Humanist Association, and not on Dawkins.

But what’s relevant today is that the video with Helen Joyce was reported to YouTube as an example of “hate speech”.  And there was a punishment levied, though the video wasn’t banned:

On July 26, I interviewed Helen Joyce about her book Trans. The interview is being very well received on YouTube. As it should be, for Joyce is extremely well-informed in her subject and she spoke cogently, soberly, reasonably.

But one of YouTube’s in-house judges heard only hate. And tried to censor the interview.

Short of an outright ban, YouTube has a variety of punishments at its disposal. In this case we got a minor slap on the wrist, a restriction on our video’s licence to advertise. But the real point is, yet again, the ludicrous hypersensitivity of the complainant. Those warped ears heard not reasonable argument deserving a reply, but “hateful and derogatory content”, and “hate or harassment towards individuals or groups”.

Obviously I can’t disprove that here. The interview runs to more than 10,000 words. But judge for yourself, it’s still up on YouTube. I earnestly challenge Evening Standard readers to search diligently for literally anything that a reasonable speaker of the English language could fairly call hateful. Enter it, labelled “Challenge”, in the comments section under the video, and I promise to respond.

I just said “a reasonable speaker of the English language”, and maybe here lies the key: language. If we want a fruitful argument, we’d better speak the same language. In today’s overheated sparring over sex and gender, both sides may appear to be speaking English, but is it the same English? Does “hate” mean to you what “hate” means to everyone else?

The complaints to YouTube, if you’ve seen the video, are clearly from the hyperoffended, and should be ignored. There is nothing “hateful or derogatory” in the entire video.  But that leads Richard into a discussion of the debasement of language, in particular the words “hate” and “violence”. We all know how these words have been defanged by the woke or Easily Offended, with “hate” now meaning “any speech I do not like” and “violent” meaning pretty much the same thing. This blurs the distinction between real hatred and discussion that offends someone, as well as between genuine physical violence and, again, something that hurts someone’s feelings.

This blurring is deliberate. It’s hyperbolic, meant to confuse people and make discussion almost impossible because some ideological discusssion (i.e., that which criticizes wokeness) is seen as hateful and violent. It’s telling that these substitute words are used by the woke, not the antiwoke, and are meant to control discourse by shutting up the latter.  Dawkins, of course, has something interesting to say about this:

As a textbook example of incitement to real violence, you could hardly do better than “Sarah Jane” Baker’s speech at London Pride this year, where she told the cheering crowd: “If you see a TERF, punch them in the fucking face”. Or Sky News (January 23) has a picture of two SNP politicians grinning in front of a large, colourful sign depicting a guillotine and the slogan “DECAPITATE TERFS”. They claimed they didn’t know the sign was there, and I sympathise. You shouldn’t be blamed for the company you keep. No doubt I shall be labelled “right-wing” for writing this article — and that’s the most unkindest cut of all.

The Guardian (February 14, 2020) reported that police officers turned up at Harry Miller’s workplace to warn him about his allegedly “transphobic” tweets, such as the obviously satirical, “I was assigned Mammal at Birth, but my orientation is Fish. Don’t mis-species me.” One of them told Miller that he had not committed a crime, but his tweeting “was being recorded as a hate incident”. [JAC: The UK police really need to learn the meaning of “freedom of speech”.]

Well, if Miller’s light-hearted satire is a hate incident, why not go after Monty Python, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, Rowan Atkinson, Private Eye’s royal romances of Sylvie Krin, the early novels of Evelyn Waugh, Lady Addle Remembers, Tom Lehrer, even the benign PG Wodehouse? Satire is satire. That’s what satirists do, they get good-natured laughs and perform a valuable service to society.

“Assigned Mammal at Birth” satirises the trans-speak evasion of the biological fact that our sex is determined at conception by an X or a Y sperm. What I didn’t know, and learned from Joyce in our interview, is that small children are being taught, using a series of colourful little books and videos, that their “assigned” sex is just a doctor’s best guess, looking at them when they were born.

And so it goes. There’s more in the article, but read it for yourself. I’ll give you just the ending, after Dawkins has noted that we don’t live in an Orwellian society, one with a Gestapo or Stasi:

But shouldn’t we just indulge the harmless whims of an oppressed minority? Maybe, were it not for a strain of aggressive bossiness which insists, not so very harmlessly and not sounding very oppressed, that the rest of us must humour those whims and join in. This compulsion even has the force of law in some states. And alas, we often zip our lips in abject self-censorship because we aren’t as brave as JK Rowling, and don’t fancy becoming a target of Twittermob vitriol. No, we don’t fear Big Brother or the Stasi. We fear each other.

Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ hate speech

April 26, 2023 • 9:00 am

Today’s Jesus and Mo strip, called “hybrid”, once again raises the extreme craziness of the sacrifice-and-resurrect-Jesus story—a story I’ve never understood. Yes, I know theologians can twist it into something that sort of makes sense—they get paid to do that—but I don’t really get why God has to turn part of himself into a specimen of H. sapiens who then has to undergo torture and killing, and then resurrection, as the only way to save humanity.

But wait! There’s more! This gory scenario doesn’t guarantee that YOU get saved: you have to accept Jesus as your Personal Lord and Savior to get past St. Peter. So there’s a combination of an act, and then a requirement not for your acceptance of the act itself, but of Jesus as your savior. If someone can put all this into words that would make sense to, say, a ten year old, I’d appreciate it.

At any rate, the cartoon’s motto is “They’ll be sorry when they close down the Cock & Bull,” and, given Britain’s draconian behavior toward “hate speech,” they might!

A satirical video about offensive speech in Scotland

March 1, 2023 • 1:00 pm

Reader Jez sent me this video taking the mickey out of Scotland’s “hate speech” strictures, encapsulated in Scotland’s “Hate Crime and Public Order Act of 2021″, part 3. I doubt that anyone would get arrested for saying anything like thi, but one never knows in the UK any more. I know that the Scottish Free Speech Union, as well as others, are concerned about how this Act might be use to suppress free speech.

Anyway, I found this pretty funny:

Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ Islamophobia

December 14, 2022 • 9:15 am

Today’s Jesus and Mo strip, called “scores,” came with this note:

From this dreadful article in The Guardian.

The Guardian article, by Suriyah Bi, links to her work compiling an “Index of Islamophobia,” in which one can give numerical scores to the types and severity of anti-Muslim actions, which includes not just physical violence or harassment (rightly regarded as legally intolerable bigotry), but also verbal and pictorial mockery of Muslims and Islam that would be legal in America. The index is intended as a guide for how judges would punish transgressors. An excerpt:

How might it work? Let’s look at some flagrant examples of Islamophobia, including Boris Johnson’s infamous comments on burqa-wearing Muslim women as “letterboxes”, the distribution of violence-inducing “Punish a Muslim Day” letters, a headscarf being torn from a Muslim woman, and being called Shamima Begum in the workplace.

With reference to Johnson’s comments, his then position as foreign secretary contributed to a score of 10 in the recklessness category. A score of 10 was also applied in the impact category, as the comments reportedly orchestrated a 375% rise in Islamophobic attacks against Muslim women in the UK. Intensity and intention were scored at a seven and eight respectively, resulting in a total index score of 35. As a legal case before a judge, the high index score would place squarely at the heart of the prosecution process the human impact of Johnson’s comments, compelling an appropriate sentence.

If we consider being called Shamima Begum in the workplace – an experience several Muslim women have shared with me – a score of seven was applied across the four sub-categories. An index score of 28 would enable a judge to situate the incident on the scale of severity, thus handing down a lesser but appropriate sentence to, for example, the Johnson case.

Note that even the “letterbox” statement, which is tasteless, is considered legally punishable.  It goes on:

My proposed form therefore allows for victims and police professionals to identify the laws that have been breached for any and all cases of Islamophobia. A completed index and pathways to prosecution form would help judges to contextualise the incidents from the experience of the victim.

But there is more that must be done if the courts are to be equipped to bear down on Islamophobia. The Equality Act 2010 must be updated to criminalise its deliberate deployment in print and media. There should also be a specific offence of Islamophobia in the legal landscape. The Crown Prosecution Service must urgently define “hostility” in order to bring incidents of Islamophobia (and other religious hate crimes) to justice. Reviews are also needed to update the Public Order Act 1986 and the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

I’m not sure what the Equality Act of 2010 states specifically, but I don’t think it covers hate crimes so much as discrimination.  At least Bi has the decency to lump “other religious hate crimes” along with Islamophobia, but, as Jesus points out, Muslims are guilty of Jew-hatred all the time.

Sunday: Hili dialogue

October 16, 2022 • 6:30 am

Welcome to Sunday, October 16, 2022: National World Food Day, celebrating the UN’s creation of United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization on October 16, 1945. It’s also National Liqueur Day, National Dictionary Day, and, best of all, Global Cat Day. To celebrate, here’s a picture of me with my late cat Teddy, discovered, scanned, and sent to me by an old friend:

And to make it global, here I am some years ago in the Mani in Greece, holding up a feral cat at a fish restaurant. I believe i named it Odysseus:

*In the news, climate-change activists threw two cans of tomato soup on a van Gogh painting of sunflowers at London’s National Gallery.  Click to read the story:

Fortunately, there was glass in front of this famous painting (van Gogh did several versions of “Sunflowers”), so only minor damage was done to the frame, while the two miscreants glued their hands to the wall. They were both arrested.

At just after 11 a.m. on Friday, two members of Just Stop Oil, a group that seeks to stop oil and gas extraction in Britain, entered room 43 of the National Gallery in London, opened two tins of Heinz cream of tomato soup, and threw them at Vincent van Gogh’s “Sunflowers,” one of the treasures of the museum’s collection. It is one of six surviving images of sunflowers that van Gogh made in 1888 and 1889.

As the gloppy orange liquid dripped down the glazing that was protecting the painting, the pair smeared their hands with glue and stuck themselves to the wall beneath the work. In videos of the incident posted online, gallery visitors can be heard saying “Oh, my gosh!” and calling for security; one of the activists delivers a speech in which they ask visitors whether they “are more concerned about the protection of a painting, or the protection of our planet and people?”

. . .Mel Carrington, a spokeswoman for Just Stop Oil, said in a telephone interview that the group’s intention had been to generate publicity and to create debate around the climate crisis and the actions needed to stop it.

Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” had nothing to do with climate change, she said. It was simply “an iconic painting, by an iconic painter” and an attack on it would generate headlines. But the choice of soup was more symbolic, Carrington said: In Britain, many householders were struggling to pay fuel and food bills because of soaring inflation, and some could not even afford to heat up a can of soup. The government should be helping ordinary people deal with “the cost of living crisis,” rather than enabling fossil fuel extraction, she added.

Is there anybody willing to defend this group, or the two morons who threw the soup? I found only one comment in the NYT defending the action, but I didn’t read all 972 comments. The painting had nothing to do with oil, van Gogh is one of the world’s most beloved artists, and the defacing will do nothing but degrade the “Just Stop Oil” group.

*Once again the Washington Post’s staff writer Aaron Blake lists the top ten Democratic Presidential candidates for 2024, which at this point serves only as an amusing exercise in prognostication. Here they are from 1 to 10, with their position in the last ranking given) in parentheses.

  1. Joe Biden (1). Too old, but if  he runs, he’s got my vote.
  2. Pete Buttigieg (2). My favorite candidate to date.
  3. Kamala Harris (3). God help us if she’s nominated.
  4. Gretchen Whitmer (8). She’s moved up quite a bit in this ranking, and is my favorite woman candidate.
  5. Gavin Newsom (7).  A dissimulator.
  6. Amy Klobuchar (4). Another creditable candidate.
  7. Bernie Sanders (6). WAY too old (he’ll be 83 at election time). I voted for him in the last primary election, but wouldn’t again.
  8. Elizabeth Warren (5). Not for me.
  9. Roy Cooper (9).  I haven’t followed him closely enough to judge.
  10. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  Thank goodness she has no chance of winning. Her character is summed up in her already making excuses for losing:

On the one hand, she said, she wants to believe someone like her could run and win. “But at the same time,” she said, “my experience here has given me a front-row seat to how deeply and unconsciously, as well as consciously, so many people in this country hate women. And they hate women of color.”

But let’s face it: if Uncle Joe wants to run in 2024, the Dems will let him.  However, someone should talk him out of it. He’s done a good job before, but I don’t want the President to die in office.

*In another sign of the boldness of Iranian protestors, demonstrators against the government set Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, site of many a torture, rape, and murder, on fire yesterday.

Since opening five decades ago under the shah, Evin Prison has been a symbol of political repression in Iran. It is the detention center for an untold number of protesters who have demonstrated against the Iranian government since the Sept. 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman in police custody for allegedly not adhering to strict Islamic dress code, authorities said.

Violence erupted Saturday between detained protesters and Evin Prison guards, with a sewing workshop being set on fire, according to Iran’s state media. Smoke could be seen rising from Evin Prison in northern Tehran, and gunshots and explosions could be heard on numerous videos shared on social media.

. . . The blaze and unrest among Evin prisoners demonstrated how the uprising against the Iranian government has become the biggest challenge of President Ebrahim Raisi’s young government. The protests started with Ms. Amini’s death and focused on the country’s mandatory hijab, or headcovering, for women, but they have morphed into something larger, calling for the end of the strict Islamic governance ushered in with the country’s 1979 revolution.

Here’s a tweet with a video of the unrest:

And I predict, with less confidence than usual, that the Islamic government will indeed meet its end, perhaps in just a year or so.

*Disgraced startup fraudster Elizabeth Holmes, creator of Theranos, now has her sentencing hearing for wire fraud scheduled for November 18. She could face years in prison, though the fact that she has a kid may reduce her sentence. She also has a  hearing for a new trial on Monday, though it’s unlikely her bid will succeed. Her sentencing has been delayed twice before:

After a jury convicted Holmes in January on four counts of defrauding investors out of more than $144 million, Holmes’ sentencing has been delayed twice. Originally, she was to be sentenced Sept. 26, then the date was pushed to Oct. 17. On Wednesday, Judge Edward Davila in U.S. District Court in San Jose set the new date, with the hearing to start at 10 a.m. in the courtroom where her four-month trial took place.

Holmes, 38, founded the blood-testing startup in 2003.  The company closed in 2018 after a 2015 newspaper exposé led to federal investigations. Holmes in 2018 was banned for 10 years from serving as an officer or director of a public company and agreed to pay a $500,000 fine in a deal with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The jury acquitted her on charges of defrauding patients.

I don’t think she’ll get another trial this time, but she’s canny, and I’m wondering if she’ll somehow manage to flee the country before she goes to jail.

*Finally, a MAN BITES DOG STORY!  From the “oddities” section of the Associated Press, we get this:

Police in Germany said Friday they detained a man for resisting arrest and biting a service dog.

Officers were called to a dispute between two 29-year-old men and a 35-year-old woman in the western town of Ginsheim-Gustavsburg shortly after midnight.

The trio acted in an “extremely aggressive and uncooperative” fashion, police said in a statement. Officers were only able to overpower one of the men by using “massive physical force,” it said.

“In the course of resisting arrest the 29-year-old man also bit a police dog,” the statement said, adding that the canine did not sustain any injuries.

Meanwhile, the 35-year-old woman injured a police officer with a punch to the face.

All three were detained and spent the rest of the night in jail to sober up.

Lock ’em up! No biting of animals!

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Szaron’s looking enviously at Hili’s dinner

Szaron: Is there anything left in your bowl?
Hili: You will learn when I go away.

In Polish:

Szaron: Czy tam jeszcze coś zostało w twojej miseczce?
Hili: Dowiesz się jak stąd odejdę.


From Nicole:

From Merilee: a present for a cat on its birthday:

God judges Himself!:

From Masih. If the Iranian regime is overthrown, cellphone cameras will have played a big role. Look at this brutality!

A tweet from reader Ken, who notes, “This one made me laugh. (Haven’t the poor Hurricane Ian survivors suffered enough without having to be exposed to Ron DeSantis in this outfit?)”

From Simon: A lovely photo of Autumn in Chicago (Simon says the guy has lots of good Chicago photos):

From the Auschwitz Memorial:

Tweets from Matthew. The second one is wonderful:

Here’s the original:

This, on the other hand, is not so wonderful:

A fantastic photo from the Webb Space Telescope, and taken 5,000 light years away (that’s 29,000,000,000,000,000 miles!):

Words as violence: Dave Chappelle and freedom of speech

August 19, 2022 • 11:30 am

The Free Voice, the website of the United States Free Speech Union, takes up the issue of “words as violence”, instantiated by two issues: the claim of some Muslims that anti-Islamic speech is more dangerous than speech criticizing other faiths, and the cancellation of a Dave Chappelle comedy show in Minneapolis because some transgender activists claim that Chappelle is a “transphobe” and that his act is harmful to transsexual people. Both the religious and transsexual activists see criticisms as “violence”, demanding special immunity from both criticism and mockery. Click to read.

I’ve seen only snippets of Dave Chappelle’s act that got him in trouble, and it seemed to me to be the Lenny Bruce brand of humor: saying what makes people simultaneously laugh and be discomfited—all with the aim of getting them to examine their views. While I didn’t find it nearly as funny as some of his other bits, it is free speech, people would have filled Chappelle’s audience, and it’s wrong to allow the bullies to cancel his show on free-speech grounds.

As for Islam, I regard it as the most dangerous current religion, though Catholicism used to be at the top. Right now only four words need be said, “Charlie Hebdo” and “Salman Rushdie”.  All religions should be criticized and, when necessary, mocked, and none are exempt, including Islam, which especially deserves opprobrium for its violence and oppression. (Note: I’m not saying that all Muslims are violent and oppressive.)

Author Jon Zobenica cites a paper from the journal Critical Inquiry arguing that Islam is uniquely harmed by criticism, mainly because, in contrast to Christianity (but not Orthodox Judaism!), Islam is a way of life, not merely a set of beliefs. My response is “so what”? If something offends you, don’t listen, and above all don’t try to cancel it. Or protest if you will, as vociferously as you can, but don’t claim that you’re being harmed by verbiage that’s “violent.”

This goes for Chappelle as well. Zobenica tries to defend him by a tactic I don’t find particularly palatable: showing that the rate of murder of transssexual people is much lower than people think—about 24 per year. His point seems to be that transsexuals aren’t really being “harmed” in disproportionate numbers:

The CDC and TMMP date ranges don’t exactly align, of course, and the numbers do increase (as homicides did overall, significantly, for 2020), but the percentages are a sliver of those established by Pew, indicating—reassuringly, one would think—that trans people are at the very least not disproportionately the victims of the most violent of violent crimes in America. Indeed, something like the opposite seems to be the case.

But this addresses an argument that differs from the free-speech argument: the claim that transsexual people are especially vulnerable victims of violence. While the data don’t seem to support that (and the issue of high murder of sex workers needs to be addressed), this says nothing about whether criticizing transsexual activism or making it part of a comedy routine is wrong, much less causing that “violence.” Routines like Chappelle’s almost certainly don’t provoke violence. While every death is to be mourned, and, in my view, transsexual people should be treated with respect and, with very few exceptions, given the same privileges and rights as anyone else, that view says nothing about one’s right to criticize them or make them into subjects for comedy. This might be tasteless, as people claim Chappelle’s routine is (I’d need to see it first), but to say that he—or Islam—are to be censored because they promote violence is putting the blame on the wrong people. Zobenica explains how American courts judge whether words are “violence”:

But what if there really has been someone of bigoted leanings who, after seeing a Chappelle special, was motivated to commit a hate crime against a trans person? Or what if there really has been a trans person who, after seeing a Chappelle special, felt so violated by the comic’s sentiments that he/she/they was driven to self-harm? And what if, in both cases, this could be established? Would Chappelle be responsible?

No, he would not. Just as abridging speech is a double wrong (committed not just against the speaker but also against all who have the right to decide for themselves whether they want to hear and listen to that speaker), speech itself entails a double responsibility—that of the listener as well as the speaker. Actions taken on the part of a listener are not the direct responsibility of the speaker unless that speaker has engaged in speech that is “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action,” per the Supreme Court’s June 1969 decision in Brandenburg v. Ohio (yes, the Klan case).

That same summer of 1969, Nina Simone took to a stage in Harlem and chanted to a lively and receptive audience the following words: “Are you ready black people? Are you really ready? Ready to do what is necessary? To do what is necessary to do? . . . Are you ready to kill, if necessary? Is your mind ready? Is your body ready? . . . Are you ready to smash white things? To burn buildings? Are you ready?”

One doubts there’s anything quite so explicit and exhortatory in Dave Chappelle’s oeuvre, but even if someone in the audience left that concert and saw fit to smash white things, even to kill, Simone—per the Brandenburg standard—is guilty of nothing more than performing political art (and being one of the most singular talents and distinctive voices in twentieth-century American music). Simone does sound awfully close to advocating violence, but the standard upheld in Brandenburg is that advocacy is not the same as action, and that this distinction must be kept strictly in mind, lest the urge to aggressively suppress get the better of us.

The Charlie Hebdo affair and the attacks on Salman Rushdie and others who have criticized Islam worry me. If you think of words of criticism—words that are permissible under the First Amendment—as “violence”, then you’ll be more likely to use violence against those who utter them. I don’t think Dave Chappelle or J.K. Rowling are endangered, but as the “hate speech as violence” meme spreads, who knows? Indeed, that’s what this article warns against:

As we have argued elsewhere, the danger of incessantly and recklessly equating words with violence must be far more carefully scrutinized than has become the custom. The more we’re encouraged to think of words as violence, the more some among us will likely come to think of violence as a proportional response to words. . .

This kind of rhetorical inflation has to be stopped. When someone brings up the “words as violence” trope, remind them of the decision in Brandenburg v. Ohio.

Discussion: Elon Musk, Twitter, and free speech

April 28, 2022 • 11:30 am

I am really isolated from the news on this trip: we get no newspapers and I have no time to either read the papers online or listen to news on television. But I gather that Elon Musk has now acquired Twitter.

I also gather that he wants to turn it into a “free speech” platform, and, as he tweeted below, his intention is to allow “free speech” that is simply speech permitted by the First Amendment as adjudicated by the courts (i.e., no personal harassment, false advertising, child pornography, speech that incites imminent lawless action such as violence, and so on).

I see no immediate problem with this, even though Twitter, as a private company, need not abide by the First Amendment. In my view, the closer institutions like Twitter get to construing “free speech” as the courts have construed the First Amendment, the better. The same goes for universities.

Yet there are cries I see online that if Musk acquires Twitter, he will allow “hate speech” (see one example of these objections here.) God forbid, he might allow Donald Trump to tweet again! Thus people are saying that “moderation” will be needed. If that’s the case, who will be the moderator, and who will be moderated? What will be “hate speech” that should be banned, and what will be controversial speech that will not be banned?

I ask readers to discuss this issue. Is Musk’s First-Amendment policy, which will of course lead to “hate speech” (i.e., any speech some people find offensive) an execrable policy, or is it what Twitter needs? Should some people like Trump (who’s already banned from Twitter) be allowed back? Is it bad to have a Twitter policy that allows First-Amendment-permitted speech? As Hitchens asked, who would you trust to decide which speech to allow?

I’ll be reading the discussion, and am seeking edification. I have to say that I’m upset that the opponents of Musk’s “free speech” policy seem to be mostly on the Left, but I may be wrong.

Good news for free speech in the UK: Court of Appeals rules that legal investigation of “hate incidents” cannot be used to chill speech

December 23, 2021 • 1:15 pm

I hadn’t realized that if, in the UK, if you express lawful speech, you can still be put in police records for creating a “hate incident”, described by the first link below (from the BBC) this way:

A hate incident is “any non-crime incident which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice”, according to the College of Policing’s guidance on hate crimes.

(Note that it’s the perception of the “victim”—or anyone else—that makes it an “incident”. Intention itself doesn’t matter, just the perception of intention.)

And a Brit named Harry Miller, a retired policeman, created a “hate incident” by issuing, in 2018 and 2019, a number of tweets that were considered “transphobic”, including one that questioned whether transgender women were “real women”.  Another tweet said “I was assigned mammal at birth, but my orientation is fish. Don’t mis-species me.” That was reported as another transphobic hate tweet.

So someone complained, the cops showed up at Miller’s house and questioned him, and although his speech was legal, a record and a report of Miller’s behavior was made by the police.

Click the screenshot to read more:

Miller wasn’t going to take this lying down:

Humberside Police visited Harry Miller in January 2020 after a complaint over alleged transphobic tweets he made.

It was recorded on a national database as a non-crime hate incident.

But the Court of Appeal ruled on Monday the guidance was wrongly used and it had a “chilling effect” on Mr Miller’s freedom of speech.

Speaking outside court, Mr Miller, from Lincolnshire, said being offensive was “one of the cornerstones of freedom”.

“Being offensive is not, cannot and should not be an offence,” he said.

“Only when speech turns to malicious communication or targeted harassment against an individual should it be a problem.”

That, in effect, is what the First Amendment in the U.S. stipulates. While Twitter can take down Miller’s tweets as “violating community standards,” the government, in the form of the police, cannot prosecute you, nor can it give you a permanent record for doing nothing illegal.

Miller first challenged Humberside Police’s actions at the High Court, which ruled in February 2020 that the force’s response was unlawful and a “disproportionate interference” with Mr Miller’s right to freedom of expression; but also ruled that the guidance itself was legal, served “legitimate purposes” and was “not disproportionate.” That’s when Miller took his case to the higher Court of Appeals.

And the Court of Appeals just ruled for Miller (Britain’s Free Speech Union helped with the appeal):

The Court of Appeal said national rules set by the College of Policing had placed too much emphasis on the perception of transphobic hostility, despite no evidence recorded by police.

Dame Victoria Sharp, one of England’s most senior judges, said: “The net for ‘non-crime hate speech’ is an exceptionally wide one which is designed to capture speech which is perceived to be motivated by hostility… regardless of whether there is evidence that the speech is motivated by such hostility.

“The volume of non-crime hate speech is enormous and the police do not have the resources or the capacity to investigate all the complaints that are made.

“There is nothing in the guidance about excluding irrational complaints, including those where there is no evidence of hostility and little, if anything, to address the chilling effect which this may have on the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression.”

The court heard the guidance had been revised with updates including “a strong warning against police taking a disproportionate response to reports of a non-crime hate incident”.

However, Dame Victoria added: “In my opinion [the revisions] do not go very far or not nearly far enough to address the chilling effect of perception-based recording more generally.”

An analysis of what all this means was made by Dominic Casciani, the Home and Legal Correspondent for the BBC:

Today’s ruling backs Harry Miller’s legal right to speak his mind and potentially cause offence – a freedom that he says is fundamental in the battle of ideas in a democratic society.

His victory is a headache for the College of Policing, which now has to come up with new “safeguards” to ensure that any future recording of non-crime hate incidents does not disproportionately interfere with the legal right to speak one’s mind.

That means rethinking guidance that dates back to the fallout from the 1993 racist murder of Stephen Lawrence.

Mr Miller says it was obvious back then what the police should have been recording: genuinely hateful gestures that were a prelude to awful crimes. He urges them today to remember that lesson and to focus on rooting out hate speech – rather than taking it upon themselves to police provocative thought and debate.

So the College of Policing has been called off, and has to rethink what it does vis-à-vis “hate speech”.

What this has come down to is a tentative ruling that takes British law on speech closer to the U.S. First Amendment, but it’s not all the way there yet. For example, saying “gas the Jews” is legal in America, but almost certainly not in Britain.  And posting a video on YouTube of a dog making a Nazi salute might violate YouTube’s standards, but it’s not illegal in America. But in the UK it is, for in 2018 Mark Meechan was convicted of a “hate crime” in Scotland for an action that caused physical damage to nobody. It only hurt feelings. As the Washington Post reported:

[Meechan was] guilty of a charge under the Communications Act that he posted a video on social media and YouTube that was “anti-semitic and racist in nature” and was aggravated by religious prejudice.

Meechan was fined £800 pounds, which was seized from his bank account.  I’m sure you remember the Nazi Dog Incident.

I don’t see America as the best country in the world, but it is one of the best for freedom of speech, and is superior to the UK in dealing with “hate speech”. For “hate speech” is a slippery term, and there is no good reason I can see for someone training a dog to make a Nazi salute or emitting tweets that weren’t really transphobic (though truly tranphobic tweets, like, “transsexuals shouldn’t have the same legal rights as cis people”, would also be legal). The issue is whether society incurs damage by allowing such speech, or whether it’s damaged more by chilling such speech. My view aligns with that of Mill and Hitchens, and goes along with the American court’s interpretation of the First Amendment: unless your speech creates immediate, predictable, and imminent harm to people or property, it is legal. Private companies can ban it, but the government cannot.

Miller was clearly being “chilled” by the UK’s hate-speech policy. If the government can decide that speech that hurts nobody, and is merely offensive, is illegal or can give you a mark against your name for perpetuating a “hate incident”, then speech has the potential to be impeded. And, as we know in these fraught days, nearly anything can be seen as hateful or offensive.