Britain’s Free-Speech Problem

We should be careful before we play fast and loose with our constitution.

By Suneal Bedi & William C. Marra
National Review Online

Imagine if New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady were accused of hurling a racist remark at an opponent during an NFL game. Public condemnation would be swift, but it would be unthinkable — not to mention unconstitutional — for prosecutors to bring criminal charges against the Patriots’ signal-caller.

Not so in Britain, where John Terry — the captain of both the English national soccer team and Chelsea, one of the nation’s most powerful clubs — faces trial on February 1 for allegedly racially slurring an opponent during a recent soccer match…

…If the accusations of racism are true, then the England captain should be swiftly and thoroughly censured. But his punishment should come from soccer’s governing authorities and the court of public opinion, not the criminal courts. Prosecuting Terry or anyone else for hateful speech is misguided and counterproductive.

Terry’s criminal prosecution highlights the gulf between American and British understandings of free speech, and the disconcerting extent to which the land of John Milton and John Stuart Mill is comfortable limiting its citizens’ freedom of expression. Although this is apparently the first time a British soccer player has been prosecuted for racially insensitive remarks made on the pitch, the principle is well established that Britons may be subject to criminal sanctions for taboo speech…

The complete article is at the National Review Online.

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