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Trump and Free Speech in the UK

By Tyler Bauer

President Trump is currently visiting the United Kingdom, and our counterparts in the UK aren’t too happy about it. President Trump’s visit to our closest ally was originally slated to be a full state visit, meaning he would be greeted with all the pomp and circumstance the United Kingdom has to offer. However, nearly half of all Brits opposed the idea of President Trump receiving a state visit, so his visit was postponed (until now) and changed from a state visit into more of a working vacation.

Still not satisfied, Brits who disapprove of President Trump will be flying a “Donald Trump baby blimp” to protest his presence in the UK. Although the linked article doesn’t explain the blimp, it is intended to mock President Trump for being emotional and for picking fights with those who disagree with him politically.

The Donald Trump baby blimp is being hailed as a shining example of the UK’s commitment to free speech. To be fair, this blimp is a great example of the UK protecting freedom of speech. Those who oppose President Trump should be able to protest peacefully, as they plan to with the blimp. However, the UK is by no means committed to protecting freedom of speech. If anything, the UK has become more of an Orwellian state where its citizens can be – and are – punished for speaking freely.

Mark Meechan, better known as “Count Dankula,” learned about the UK’s intolerance of free speech the hard way. Meechan taught his girlfriend’s dog how to do the Nazi salute as a joke. Sure, this joke was in bad taste and is likely offensive to some people, but Meechan was jailed for committing a hate crime. All for making a joke that didn’t hurt anybody. This prompted British comedian Ricky Gervais to tweet the following:

Before Count Dankula’s conviction, two Brits were jailed for “religiously-aggravated harassment” after they criticized Islam and a group of Muslim men who were convicted of rape. Their comments were no doubt insensitive, but freedom of speech is supposed to cover insensitive subjects. To my knowledge, they were not inciting violence towards Muslims. Rather, they were highlighting the role of race and religion in the rape case. I think I speak for everyone when I say that intolerance and bigotry are bad, but punishing people for speaking about controversial things is a violation of one’s basic human rights.

Even when a little boy, Alfie Evans, was dying in a British hospital because the government would not let him leave, the Merseyside Police were monitoring social media posts and threatening to take action. That same week, a British man was jailed for eight months for flipping off multiple traffic cameras. Does this sound like a free country to you?

Prime Minister Theresa May has even advocated for new laws to protect politicians and elected officials from “abuse” on social media. I agree that we should not be abusing others online. Death threats and other threats of bodily harm are no laughing matter, but the vagueness of the term “abuse” is problematic. Who gets to decide what “abuse” is? The government. Theoretically, criticizing a politician’s political platform could be deemed “abuse.” Prime Minister May has called the bullying of politicians a “threat to democracy,” but I think the greater threat to democracy is the UK’s willingness to punish its citizens for speaking freely.

I am well aware that making jokes about Nazi Germany and criticizing Islam is in poor taste. However, freedom of speech is supposed to cover things that are in poor taste. We don’t have this right so we can talk about the weather – we have it so we can talk about whatever we please, wherever we please. Sadly, the British government doesn’t seem to think so anymore.

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