Today has seen two noteworthy examples of freedom of expression; one a victory, the other demonstrates the cost of free speech.
Adrian Smith, the manager with Trafford Housing Association who was demoted and had a wage cut of 40% for posting a message on his Facebook page saying that homosexual marriage was “an equality too far” has won his action for breach of contract.
The judge, Mr Justice Briggs, remarked that the low level of damages, the anount of his lost wages, was solely becase the type of action brought limited the amount of compensation able to be offered. “A conclusion that his damages are limited to less than £100 leaves the uncomfortable feeling that justice has not been done to him in the circumstances.”
A victory for freedom of expression which we should all celebrate. But freedom of expression comes at a cost. It also means that those with odious views should be free to express them, as long as they neither commit nor incite to actual crime.
Julius Streicher was a particularly odious man, even for a newspaper publisher. Amongst other enterprises he owned and published the violently anti-Semitic Der Sturmer (the Stormer) a lynchpin of the Nazi propaganda machine. He was eventually executed for war crimes.
Der Sturmer regularly carried anti-Semitic cartoons which as well as reflecting the political prejudices of its readers also reflected their intellectual level.
In today’s Guardian we have a cartoon by Steven Bell. Does this reflect the political prejudices and intellectual level of Guardian readers?
Bell is free to draw his odious anti-Semitic cartoons, and the Guardian is free to disseminate them. That is the price we pay for freedom, bigots have freedoms as well. No one is forced to accept such anti-Semitism or subsidise it by purchasing the Guardian.
What will be interesting is to see whether the anti-fascist activists who are so keen to point out the faults of anyone to the left of Chairman Mao will be demonstrating outside the offices of the Guardian. Wasn’t there someone who told a story about a man with a plank in his eye?