John Stuart Mill Reaches 500 RPM

"Turning over in his grave" somehow didn't seem strong enough: Teenager faces prosecution for calling Scientology 'cult'

A teenager is facing prosecution for using the word "cult" to describe the Church of Scientology.

The unnamed 15-year-old was served the summons by City of London police when he took part in a peaceful demonstration opposite the London headquarters of the controversial religion.

Officers confiscated a placard with the word "cult" on it from the youth, who is under 18, and a case file has been sent to the Crown Prosecution Service.

A date has not yet been set for him to appear in court.

The decision to issue the summons has angered human rights activists and support groups for the victims of cults.

The incident happened during a protest against the Church of Scientology on May 10. Demonstrators from the anti-Scientology group, Anonymous, who were outside the church's £23m headquarters near St Paul's cathedral, were banned by police from describing Scientology as a cult by police because it was "abusive and insulting".

Writing on an anti-Scientology website, the teenager facing court said: "I brought a sign to the May 10th protest that said: 'Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult.'

"'Within five minutes of arriving I was told by a member of the police that I was not allowed to use that word, and that the final decision would be made by the inspector."

A policewoman later read him section five of the Public Order Act and "strongly advised" him to remove the sign. The section prohibits signs which have representations or words which are threatening, abusive or insulting.

The teenager refused to back down, quoting a 1984 high court ruling from Mr Justice Latey, in which he described the Church of Scientology as a "cult" which was "corrupt, sinister and dangerous".

After the exchange, a policewoman handed him a court summons and removed his sign.

So when exactly was the flame of human liberty extinguished in Britain? It seems ludicrous that I feel the need to quote John Stuart Mill in this day and age, but it seems we as a civilization have forgotten the important truths he categorized and catalogued:

This, then, is the appropriate region of human liberty. It comprises, first, the inward domain of consciousness; demanding liberty of conscience, in the most comprehensive sense; liberty of thought and feeling; absolute freedom of opinion and sentiment on all subjects, practical or speculative, scientific, moral, or theological. The liberty of expressing and publishing opinions may seem to fall under a different principle, since it belongs to that part of the conduct of an individual which concerns other people; but, being almost of as much importance as the liberty of thought itself, and resting in great part on the same reasons, is practically inseparable from it. Secondly, the principle requires liberty of tastes and pursuits; of framing the plan of our life to suit our own character; of doing as we like, subject to such consequences as may follow; without impediment from our fellow-creatures, so long as what we do does not harm them even though they should think our conduct foolish, perverse, or wrong. Thirdly, from this liberty of each individual, follows the liberty, within the same limits, of combination among individuals; freedom to unite, for any purpose not involving harm to others: the persons combining being supposed to be of full age, and not forced or deceived.

No society in which these liberties are not, on the whole, respected, is free, whatever may be its form of government; and none is completely free in which they do not exist absolute and unqualified. The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental or spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.

That today in Great Britain peaceful political protest is being criminalized speaks to how far society can creep away from human rights. It's as if they believe what Britain really needs is a kinder and gentler KGB, Gestapo or Stasi, enforcing "proper" political belief because allowing people to think for themselves is "dangerous to the state."

When Mill says, "No society in which these liberties are not, on the whole, respected, is free, whatever may be its form of government; and none is completely free in which they do not exist absolute and unqualified," he actually means it. Mill could only look at Great Britain today and declare is not a free country.

Is the country that gave the world Locke, Sidney, Bentham, Adam Smith, Wollstonecraft, Burke and Mill really alright with that?

Gleaned from DBKP.

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13 Responses to John Stuart Mill Reaches 500 RPM

  1. mark says:

    Why would this surprise anyone? If the government of the UK allows its citizens to freely protest Scientology it will also have to permit protests against Islam, something that it is not prepared to do.

  2. Sam says:

    I get the feeling that Canada is following in the same direction, if Mark Steyn’s troubles are any indication.

  3. martian says:

    Actually, Great Britain has always had more limitations on free speech than we enjoy here in the US. They have never been as free as we are to express themselves either verbally or in writing. Thus, they have never been as "free" as are we. We tend to think of Britain as the place where individual freedom was born in the modern world and it is – to a point. However, let us not forget that we are today an independent nation because we could no longer live with the limitations to our freedom that were being forced on us by our parent country – Great Britain.

  4. Mockinbird says:

    Amen, Martian.

  5. james strathallan says:

    1) No, we in the UK are not at all ‘alright with that’. There will be serious protests, lobbying and harassing of MPs about this. It will be very interesting to see what the outcome is.

    The police force that has made this move is City of London Police. This is a very small force in one of the oddest districts in London: it is the financial centre and there are only a few thousand electors – but trillions of dollars managed from the area. They are likely to be out on a limb on this one.

    2) Be careful when using ‘never’ to compare US and UK liberty. For a good chuck of time post independence some Americans owned others.

    I agree that the first amendment is stronger than anything we have, but we never had a Joe McCarthy, or anyone like him.

    And do you remember the talk show host a few weeks after 9/11 who was fired after a public firestorm for saying that whatever they were (maniacs, murderers etc) the 9/11 suicide terrorists weren’t cowards – which was a word being used all the time. I think that American society has a tendency to self censorship greater than here.

    In the 1770′s – as opposed to the 1660′s – it was really about money and taxation rather than freedom wasn’t it?

    3) You should add Hume to your lists of British thinkers who were friends of Liberty.

  6. Rich Horton says:

    Untitled document Martian…well…I'd say yes and no.  There was a definite sense that the colonies were being denied the "rights of Englishmen" and they also chaffed at the deviation from established colonial rule.  The truth is the way Britain is being run now is, in many ways, a repudiation of the rights established by the Glorious Revolution of 1688.   Of course all you have to do is read the blog of FIRE to see we allow just as bad infringements of free speech on U.S. college campuses.

  7. Mwalimu Daudi says:

    I agree that the first amendment is stronger than anything we have, but we never had a Joe McCarthy, or anyone like him.
     
    Do the names "Gorgeous" George Galloway and "Red" Ken Livingstone ring a bell? Please don’t tell me you think they were not worse than McCarthy.
     
    Be careful when using ‘never’ to compare US and UK liberty. For a good chuck of time post independence some Americans owned others.
     
    Well… for a good "chuck" of time England was involved in colonial enterprises in South Africa and India. And for another "chuck" of time England turned a blind eye towards the African slave trade. http://www.sonofthesouth.net/slavery/history-slavery.htm
     
    In the 1770’s – as opposed to the 1660’s – it was really about money and taxation rather than freedom wasn’t it?
     
    Curses! We have been found out! The Bill of Rights was really a secret moneymaking scheme.

  8. And do you remember the talk show host a few weeks after 9/11 who was fired after a public firestorm for saying that whatever they were (maniacs, murderers etc) the 9/11 suicide terrorists weren’t cowards – which was a word being used all the time. I think that American society has a tendency to self censorship greater than here.
    The government telling you to shut up is very different from a private employer deciding that you are a liability to his profit-making potential. I don’t have a problem with some actor or musician losing work because he expressed political opinions that offend people — his employers are in the business to make money and if sales will drop because of some celebrity inanity, then the employer is right to get rid of him. I do, however, have a problem with being thrown in jail for something I’ve said.

  9. james strathallan says:

    class-factotum:

    That is a valid and important distinction. Nevertheless sometimes extra-legal taboos in society can be just as strong a restraint on freedom of expression as actual state intervention.

    The US constitution has a good record of ultimately self correcting when parts of the system overreach themselves.

    I very much hope that the British system will also self correct in this case. The restrictions against protests brought in by the Blair government, justified in the name of anti-terrorism, are an abuse and will be reversed – hopefully by a new Conservative government in no more than 2 years.

    As far as the specific case of the anti-Scientology protester is concerned, this case has been widely reported in the UK and I am sure that pressure will be brought to bear on City of London Police to justify themselves. [Remember: this is not the Metropolitan Police, which covers London, but rather a small and odd force that covers just the City]

  10. martian says:

    strathallan, my intent in my original comment was not meant to insult Britain in any way. It was a simple observation that England does have somewhat more restrictive laws than we do. However, that said, I’m glad I made the original comment as it engendered what turned out to be a lively discussion.
     
    I would like to respond to the folowing comment:
    "Be careful when using ‘never’ to compare US and UK liberty. For a good chuck of time post independence some Americans owned others."

    You make a point of saying "post independence" there. However, I would point out that for a good chunk of time pre-independence, when we were all still British citizens, slavery not only existed but was condoned by the British governement, slaves were transported in British ships, sold by British merchants (admittedly among others from other nations) and existed in many other British colonies outside of what later became the United States. A good many British citizens were slave owners, as well. I am sick and tired of people both inside and outside of the US pointing fingers and saying "You owned slaves." like we were the only ones who ever did so. I have news for you, virtually every society in history owned slaves and some still do. There is no people in the world whose ancestors weren’t slaves owners at one time or another nor is there any people in the world whose ancestors weren’t held a slaves by some other people at some point in their history. Slavery is a fact of history. We may all agree (except those who are still slavers) today that the practice was repugnant but virtually all of our ancestors praticed the instituion.
     

  11. james strathallan says:

    Martian,

    Of course I acknowledge Britain’s history in the slave trade, and indeed many other colonial abuses.

    You originally stated that:

    ‘They have never been as free as we are to express themselves either verbally or in writing. Thus, they have never been as “free” as are we.’

    My point in raising the slave issue was not to make a moral comparison between the US and UK with regard to slavery, but to point out that the implications of the US constitution took quite a long time to become universally applied, to say the least. Thus ‘they have never be as free as we are’ rather depends on who ‘we’ are.

    Whether at all times post 1776 US citizens have been freer to express themselves than UK ones is a historical question.

    At present US citizens do enjoy greater freedom of speech, as evidenced by this ridiculous Scientology protest case. (Which I believe will not be prosecuted, although I hope it is so that the police and prosecutor can be humiliated)

    Perhaps a more serious current British restriction of freedom of speech is the state of our libel laws. It is too easy for the rich and litigious to silence critics. For example (and to take us back to Scientology) the recent Andrew Morton biography of Tom Cruise is not permitted by the publisher to be sold in the UK because they are so frightened of being sued. Even Amazon in the US won’t ship this to UK. Fortunately it is easy enough to get on ebay or abebooks but still……

  12. Bob Agard says:

    Another excellent post, to which I have linked.

  13. martian says:

    The point I was making was that, no matter how evenly or universally applied, constitutionally and legally US citizens have always had more legal rights, whether the law was fairly applied or not, to free spech and freedom of expression than British citizens have. Granted, it took us a while to grow into our own laws and really exercise those rights, but the rights have existed since the constitution was created.

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