by EDWARD CLINE:
Joseph Conrad, the writer, was astonished to learn early in the 20th century that Britain, his adopted country, had a “Censor of Plays.” In a 1907 essay* he wrote about the character of an individual who would assume the power and harbor the hubris as the supreme arbiter of what appeared on the British stage. Needless to say, he does not “appreciate” the existence of a censor:
“…I have come to the conclusion in the security of my heart and the peace of my conscience that he must be either an extreme megalomaniac or an utterly unconscious being.
“He must be unconscious. It is one of the qualifications for his magistracy. Other qualifications are equally easy. He must have done nothing, expressed nothing, imagined nothing. He must be obscure, insignificant and mediocre – in thought, act, speech and sympathy. He must know nothing of art, of life – and of himself. For if he did he would not dare to be what he is.”
While the Church had been censoring written and spoken speech for centuries, government censorship of plays in Britain began in earnest with the Stage Licensing Act of 1737, to protect then Prime Minister Robert Walpole from criticism by satire and mockery on the stage, and ended with the Theatres Act of 1968. But other forms of censorship subsequently were enacted in Britain, many conforming to the legislative censorship of the European Union, rendering freedom of speech in Britain contingent on those laws, which amounts to a byzantine maze of “negatives.”
Article Ten of the European Convention reads:
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
Given the woozy state of any definition of freedom of speech today, or even its practice, in virtually any country, Article Ten not so much guarantees freedom of speech, but wraps it in a Rubik’s Cube-like conceptual straightjacket which only a puzzle-master or a consummate politically correct judge would be able to grasp. It is burdened with so many qualifications and exceptions it may as well decree: “We will let you know when you are ‘free’ to say anything. Until then, be quiet, or it’s a fine and the lockup for you.”
For example, a Swedish man has been charged with “intentionally disrupting a religious or spiritual ceremony,” in this instance, the Friday call to prayers outside a Stockholm mosque, by honking his car horn. This is an example of Sweden’s fatal dhimmitude and deference to its growing Muslim population. But, I am betting that no one has ever been charged with the same offense for honking a horn outside a church while its bells were ringing.
Of course, the local Swedish law must conform to the European Convention one, or at least not conflict with it. But, how does one categorize “horn honking” as unprotected speech? Does it encourage “disorder or crime”? Does it violate “the rights of others”? Is it a dereliction of one’s alleged “duty and responsibility”? How does one reconcile the “right” not to hear a honking horn and the “right,” if you are not a Muslim, not to hear some talentless muezzin screeching and wailing for between three to five minutes every Friday afternoon?
Well, you don’t reconcile them, because these are not “rights.” On the one hand, the government frowns on literal horn honking if it bothers Muslims. On the other, it protects the equivalent of malicious horn honking, that is, the loud call to prayers. The call to prayers is “spiritual”; horn honking is not. So says fiat, non-objective jurisprudence.
While the Swedish man denies he deliberately honked his horn to disturb the congregated Muslims – we cannot know the contents of his mind, that is, what he intended - it would not have mattered had he confessed that this was his intention. He is still liable under the city’s municipal code. He disturbed the “peace” of the faithful. Period.
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