This Memorial Day, we had a pungent reminder of what we have and why we must cherish our freedom of speech and press, guaranteed by our First Amendment, as our cousins in Britain experienced its loss. On Friday, May 25, human rights activist Tommy Robinson was arrested.
Robinson has been bringing attention to the cover-up of one of the worst scandals in British history: the organized seduction, addicting, rape, and trafficking of young English girls by so-called "grooming" gangs, primarily Muslim. The abuse was not confined to prostituting these children (under age 16); they included instances of horrific physical abuse as well. In some cases these girls were doused with gasoline while their tormentors danced around them with cigarette-lighters, threatening to immolate them; in others, a girl's tongue would be nailed to a table.
These girls have been devastated. When fathers or brothers attempted to rescue them, the police arrested the family member instead, calling the abuse "consensual." This is what Robinson has been revealing: institutionalized child abuse in his own country on a massive scale, with the cooperation of government. A working-class man, Robinson's accent belies the seriousness and propriety of his position. He opposes sharia, he stands up for returning British soldiers and for free speech, and he abhors abuse of women and children. He doesn't quote philosophers, but he speaks from the heart and from a considerable intellect. This has made interviews with him "off-limits," and last March, three journalists (Canadian Lauren Souther, Austrian Martin Sellner, and American Brittany Pettibone) were deported under "terrorist" laws. You can see Pettibone's interview, done in Vienna, here.
He has brought public awareness, and finally these people are being taken to court to answer charges. A trial was taking place in Leeds, and Friday the jury had delivered a verdict. This was a major news story, and Robinson was livestreaming, standing in front of the courthouse. With Robinson and crew of three, present on a mostly deserted street, as if on cue, seven police officers descended, a police van pulled up, and Robinson was hustled off, without warrant, without cause. When he objected and asked why, the answer given was "breach of the peace."
This was absurd on its face – there was no audience, and no disturbance occurred. It looked like a local six o'clock news report. As he was pushed into the van, he asked his cameraman to get his solicitor.
With breathtaking speed – about four hours – Robinson was whisked from the street to a prison cell. This meant that everything had been prearranged. There was no due process such as was on display in the courtroom in Leeds for the people accused of torturing young girls and trafficking them. When Robinson's lawyer called to find out where he was being held, she was told by authorities he was being freed. She would not be needed. A follow-up call confirmed this.
Meanwhile, without counsel present, a public defender assigned, a Potemkin process was "observed," and Robinson disappeared. It was hours before it was leaked where he was.
This is seen as a death sentence for Robinson. He will be among convicted terrorists with a bounty on his head – he exposed rape gangs, after all. The judge imposed a news blackout on everything surrounding the case, so even outlets which had reported it were forced to take down the story. Only outside England was it reported. On Wednesday, May 30, after five days of official silence, the gag order was lifted. Has anyone, by the way, heard the rape gang verdict?
We take our rights for granted in America. These rights, we believe, are God-given and protected by our Constitution. If they were given by God, human blood was spilled and human lives spent to secure them. We honored these lives last weekend with flags, speeches, graveside visits, and family picnics.
But are we honoring them in everyday practice? This is the question today. Our freedom to speak is under assault. "Political correctness" is eating out its substance. College students, according to polls, believe we should have no freedom to say anything considered "hurtful" to certain classes of people. While there is no harm in insulting Christians, pro-life advocates, Jews, white males, conservatives, or gun-owners, it is forbidden to use the "wrong" personal pronoun for someone whose sexual orientation is "fluid" or to criticize Black Lives Matter, sharia, Islam, illegal aliens, or welfare abuse. It is dangerous now to engage in casual conversation, for anything you say might end your career or otherwise cost you.
News and social media are in on this – our news reporting has been slanted for decades. PayPal is deciding who can be funded through its network on the basis of what a member has said. People demand that Twitter terminate people's accounts based on what they said. Facebook silences accounts, and its CEO colludes with Angela Merkel to stop criticism of her and her government. YouTube takes down videos that don't fit its idea of "acceptable" speech. Professors who express the "wrong" opinions lose their jobs and their careers, while others who make outrageous statements are secure because they hold the "right" opinions. Worse, city councils are passing "hate speech" resolutions.
This needs to stop. We must tolerate everyone's opinion but never abuse of this freedom.
Without free speech, we will have no other freedom. The right to communicate news and opinion, to tell stories, is essential to our liberty. Free speech is absolute. There are no degrees of free speech, no "acceptable" free speech. The court of public opinion, logic, the marketplace of ideas, will sort this out. Opinions we find "unacceptable" should still be heard. We can decide to accept them or not. Without an unfettered press, we cannot make objective decisions, which is the essence of self-government. Maybe free speech is not important to the people of China, Cuba, North Korea, or Afghanistan, but it is vital to people who vote in meaningful elections. All opinions should be heard in the public square. When we see how Britain, abuses its own citizens' expression of thought, we see how close we might be to the same darkness.
Will we decline to attend a rally, write a letter to the editor, voice an opinion for fear of the knock on the door in the middle of the night? Robinson has experienced this many times – jackboots, machine guns, threats to family by police supported with his taxes. He is exposed to bloodthirsty terrorists doing 40-year sentences with nothing to fear from carrying out a fatwah against an unarmed man who has called them out in public.
We could eventually find ourselves in Tommy Robinson's situation if trends in thinking continue, especially among our youth, who have never learned about our rights and why they are necessary to our freedom. Every time we shut down someone's YouTube channel or censor their letters, or fire a professor or terminate someone's social media accounts we come that much closer to the darkness. Most of us oppose certain ideas, but we ought never to silence them. Confront them, debate them, call them out, expose a lie, but do not silence opinion, no matter how distasteful or how we may object to it.
It is often said that the speech that needs First Amendment protection is that which we find "unacceptable." But as more and more speech is being labeled "unacceptable," the more reason there is to ensure its protection. Free speech is the backbone of any free society or nation. No "hurt feelings" or ire at someone's comment or opinion is grounds for destroying that vital freedom.
There are two directions we may take. One is littered with the sometimes offensive or inconvenient opinions with which we disagree. The other put a man in prison for expressing one. America must never take the latter.