Free Speech And Hypocrisy


Cristina Odone’s latest piece for The Telegraph really takes the biscuit. Today she uses her platform to  distort the words of an actual principled libertarian and a thinking man, the Education Secretary Michael Gove, who recently made the fairly benign statement that we really shouldn’t be using the word “gay” as an insult anymore. Given, y’know, the fact that it is now the year 2013.

Naturally, Odone sees this as an attack on her and her values.

The original Telegraph article reporting Gove’s words, by Rosa Silverman, states:

“It’s utterly outrageous and medieval to think that to use the word gay as an insult is somehow acceptable,” he told Stonewall’s Education for All conference in London. “If it’s Chris Moyles or anyone, they should be called out.”

Mr Moyles, the DJ who previously hosted BBC Radio 1’s Breakfast Show, was accused of homophobia in 2006 after describing a phone ring tone as gay.

Mr Gove said: “If you’re growing up wrestling with your sexuality…the last thing you need to feel at school is any sense that the difficulties with which you’re wrestling or the path on which you wish to embark are in any way a legitimate subject for humour, ostracising or prejudice.”

He said he belonged to a generation that felt attitudes towards homosexuality “that still persist in part or many parts of our country” should be actively challenged to make society fairer.

So far, so uncontroversial. Or so you might think.

Odone, extrapolating wildly from Gove’s words and playing the victim card with as much drama as she could muster (which is a lot), took this to mean that the word “gay” should be banned, and that anyone who disagreed with homosexuality is guilty of hate crime, thought crime, or is in some other way a bigoted monster who should henceforth be shunned by society.

From where does she derive these fevered imaginations? Nobody knows. Certainly not from Michael Gove himself. To my recollection, Gove never endorsed the idea of imprisonment for people who make “gay” jokes, or advocated re-education camps for those who disapprove of homosexuality. He just said that, since we no longer live in the 19th century, while people are free to remain set in their ways and to say bad things about gay people, others have the right to call them out on it and register their disapproval.

But Cristina Odone has to transform this into a persecution story where she and others like her are somehow being suppressed. So let us tackle Odone’s ludicrous straw-man plea for tolerance of bigotry line by line. From the top:

Michael Gove, the impressive Secretary of State for Education, has just decreed that the term “gay” cannot be used as an insult. It’s “outrageous and medieval” to do so.

No, he didn’t. That is an outright falsehood. Michael Gove said that the word “gay” should not – as opposed to can not – be used as an insult, for the obvious reason that it is hurtful to people who are gay. At no point, however, did he propose infringing on anyone’s right to free speech if they wish to do be obnoxious and do so, however.

And Odone should know this, given Michael Gove’s spirited defence of free speech at the recent Leveson enquiry into the practices and standards of the media. But she continues:

I wonder what he’d have done at the fabulous wedding we attended, last Saturday. A young guest in morning suit used his iPhone to snap a friend in similar attire. He peered at the result: “Oooooooh you look sooooooo gay!” The word, clearly, was interchangeable with “naff” and “chav”: but henceforth, if Mr Gove gets his way, would it land the boy on a sinister register of “hate speakers” – disqualifying him as an applicant for just about any job?

Again, the modus operandi of those fighting the rearguard campaign against gay rights: Take a quote from someone you disagree with. Add ten pounds of outrage, a pinch of wounded pride and a splash of resentment. And hey presto, you are social crusader Cristina Odone. Where and how did you make the jump from Michael Gove’s words to people who use the word “gay” in a juvenile and irresponsible way being presented with criminal charges and convicted?

Oh, I know it happens in today’s dystopian Britain, for all sorts of reasons. The police knocking on your door if you put up a poster saying anything slightly controversial, or arresting people for saying things that might “hurt the feelings of others”. But surely it would be better to campaign for a PROPER right to free speech in Britain across the board, and against the politically correct thought police who censor us for expressing all manner of opinions, rather than focusing specifically on the gay topic? Not if you are the hypocrite Cristina Odone.

Only the day before, as he faced UK immigration officials, Mr Tony Miano had been afraid of precisely that: was his name on a secret register, and would he be stopped from leaving the country? The American street preacher had been arrested outside Centre Court shopping centre in Wimbledon on July 1. He had been reading from St Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, which condemns homosexuality. A passer-by called the police. Three officers arrived and arrested Mr Miano, a retired deputy sheriff from California, for disorderly conduct.

The irony of being marched to the Wimbledon nick after having spent 20 years as a law enforcer was not lost on Mr Miano. He told me over the phone: “The booking process held no surprises.” He had his DNA and fingerprints taken (and was relieved of his wedding ring) and was then locked up in a small cell for seven hours.

In the police station, he was granted his request for a Bible and for a lawyer from Christian Concern, a group that fights cases involving religious freedom. Then the police asked if he’d ever feed a homosexual, or do them a favour.

“I said yes, of course: the Bible taught that I should love my neighbour as myself,” Mr Miano told me. “The policeman asked if I believed homosexuality was a sin and I realised that I was not only being interrogated about what had happened but about what I believed.”

This is unacceptable, but is indicative of a wider problem in Britain – the fact that the police can come and arrest you for saying things that might be hurtful to the feelings of others. No longer do you have to incite violence or utter libelous comments – today, ruffling feathers is enough to put you inside a police cell. If Cristina Odone really cared about this, she would campaign against restrictions on free speech across the whole spectrum – and yet she is peculiarly hung up on the topic of speech about gay people.

Mr Miano could have pointed out that, while preaching at the shopping centre, he had condemned pornography and slushy novels, too; but it was clear to him that the police were only interested in one “thought crime”, just as Mr Gove seems only interested in one kind of insult. You can believe that homeopathy cures ailments but not that homosexuality is a sin.

You can call someone a bigot, but not say something’s “gay”.

If anyone is being hypocritical here, it is Odone, not Gove. If Cristina Odone had watched Gove’s testimony at the Leveson hearings, or paid any attention to him at all, she would know that he is a stalwart defender of free speech across the board. But she didn’t take the time to do her research. A national columnist for the Daily Telegraph couldn’t be bothered to check her facts, but just sat down at her laptop in high dudgeon and penned a polemic about how Gove wants to put her in prison.

Homophobia deserves to be condemned. But muzzling freedom of speech is the wrong way about it. When the Government decided last January to drop Section 5 of the Public Order Act, which criminalised “insulting language”, the move was hailed rightly as a victory for free speech. But if Mr Gove now says that he supports free expression only if it doesn’t offend gays, he undermines the gains made in ditching Section 5.

Michael Gove did no such thing. Odone should ho back and read his comments again if she is in any doubt. Michael Gove said in his Leveson testimony that “free speech, by definition, will offend some of the people some of the time”, and took a lot of flak from the egotistical Leveson for doing so. There is no muzzling of free speech going on. If you honestly cannot discern the difference between encouraging children not to use the word “gay” as a playground insult (but not banning them from doing so), and making disagreement with homosexuality a thought-crime then you really need to have your brain re-wired.

He also sets an alarming precedent. Tolerance will come with caveats, freedom with clauses. Today, Mr Gove and his Government prioritise the gay lobby; tomorrow, it could be the fat lobby to persuade the authorities that discrimination against their members damages pudgy youngsters growing up in a climate of hostility. We’ll inhabit a world where people cannot say “fatty” or “fatso” for fear of ending up on a secret register or in the Wimbledon nick.

There is no precedent, because nothing is being banned. If you want to be the dumbass who thinks that it is cool to insult people by calling them “gay”, then good for you, keep doing it and see how far it gets you in life. Gove was simply saying that it is not a nice thing to do. Where is the FEMA re-education camp that Odone seems to fear so much? If you want to insult people for being fat, or ginger, or gay, or black, then you can keep doing it (within the already over-draconian limits set by the previous government). Gove proposes no enhancements to our already restrictive laws, and in fact he would love nothing more than to roll them back. He just wants people to be nice to each other. Not under threat of criminal penalty. Just because that is how adults should behave.

In the end, Mr Miano was released without charge. He asked if he could keep the Gideon Bible that he’d received in prison. When it turned out to be the only copy, he asked if he could provide a few more. The following day, he dropped off 10 copies of the Good Book at Wimbledon police station.

That’s tolerance for you.

Well done, Cristina Odone, what an ending to your excellent piece of writing. You win The Argument. I am very glad that Mr. Miano was so magnanimous following his ordeal at the hands of the heavy-handed British police state. I am ashamed of my country that such a thing would happen to him, simply for proclaiming his beliefs on the street. But why do you not broaden your argument? Why take a plea for adults to teach their children not to use the word “gay” as an insult, expand it in your mind to include people who respectfully and politely disagree with homosexuality, and then falsely sound the alarm bells that both sets of people are now considered thought criminals?

I suppose my concluding point is this: If Cristina Odone genuinely believes in free speech and civil liberties then she should join with people like Michael Gove, who are passionate defenders of the very rights to freedom of expression that she claims to love, regardless of the subject or people at hand. But when she attacks Michael Gove, and falsely accuses him of attempting to clamp down on free speech when he did no such thing – he simply wanted people to teach children that using the word “gay” as an insult could be hurtful, because it can be – she reveals her true priorities.

And aren’t those priorities rather insidious and ugly? Cristina Odone doesn’t care a fig about free speech per se – but she is willing to forge an alliance between people who morally disapprove of homosexuality and people who use the word “gay” as a childish slur in order to advance her regressive, socially conservative agenda.

What a true, principled moral crusader she is.