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The House of Lords on Speech "With Which One May Not Be Sympathetic":

The House of Lords decision I discuss below rejected a free speech claim brought by an animal rights group, but in the process reasoned this way (paragraph break added):

In the present case also the proposed advertisement is wholly inoffensive, and one may be sympathetic to the appellant's aims or some of them. But the issue must be tested with reference to objects with which one may not be sympathetic.

Hypothetical examples spring readily to mind: adverts by well-endowed multi-national companies seeking to thwart or delay action on climate change; adverts by wealthy groups seeking to ban abortion; or, if not among member states of the Council of Europe, adverts by so-called patriotic groups supporting the right of the citizen to bear arms. Parliament was entitled to regard the risk of such adverts as a real danger, none the less so because legislation has up to now prevented its occurrence.

Now I can sympathize with a judge who is just trying to point out that the free speech claim could be raised as to controversial speech as well as less controversial speech — or even trying to point out to liberal readers that the law would apply to conservative speech as well as liberal speech. But is it just me, or is there a pretty distinct tone of personal disapproval with regard to the examples?

The right to bear arms, in the example, wouldn't just be raised by someone; it would be raised by "so-called patriotic groups." "So-called" in this context sounds pretty pejorative, no? The multi-national companies wouldn't just be expressing their views; they'd be seeking to "thwart or delay action," again seemingly something of a pejorative characterization (though not as clearly so as "so-called," I think). And all this speech would be "a real danger."

Now naturally the judges are entitled to their own views about the merits of those who would support the right of the citizens to bear arms. But this just highlights my point, I think: The approach the court upholds, while ostensibly aimed at equality and "level[ing]" "the playing field of debate," simply entrenches elite opinion. Elite judges are worried about "so-called patriotic groups" and attempts to "thwart or delay action." I expect that opinion among the broadcasting elites includes the same or similar prejudices. Groups with outsider views can only get into the broadcaster programs with the broadcasting elite's permission; and when they try to pay money instead, the political and judicial elites keep them from doing that, all in the name of leveling.

And one more thing, why just in countries outside the Council of Europe? Wouldn't citizens of the Council of Europe — even "so-called patriotic groups" of such citizens — be entitled to argue for the right to bear arms, at least if the law allowed them to spending money for such "danger[ous]" activity?

UPDATE: Commenter Virginia reminded me of a passage that also struck me, but that I then forgot to stress in this post:

Nor is [a level playing field of debate] achieved if well-endowed interests which are not political parties are able to use the power of the purse to give enhanced prominence to views which may be true or false, attractive to progressive minds or unattractive, beneficial or injurious.
What's this with "progressive minds"? Is there some good justification for the judges to treat "attractive to progressive minds" as parallel to "true" or "beneficial," which is to say to assume that a "progressive mind" is good and a mind that's skeptical about progress is bad? Or is "progressive mind" in Britain a term that's unrelated to politics, and equally applicable to left-wing minds and right-wing ones? (I recognize the latter might well be possible; please let me know if it is indeed so.)

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. The House of Lords on Speech "With Which One May Not Be Sympathetic":
  2. From Equality-Based Restrictions on Campaign Advertising to Equality-Based Restrictions on Other Kinds of Speech?
wfjag:
"Freedom of speech" always sounds like a good idea -- until you're forced to listen to someone you disagree with.
4.17.2008 5:44pm
Virginia:
This sentence is telling as well:

Nor is it achieved if well-endowed interests which are not political parties are able to use the power of the purse to give enhanced prominence to views which may be true or false, attractive to progressive minds or unattractive, beneficial or injurious.

Whether views might be attractive or unattractive to conservative minds is not of much importance.
4.17.2008 5:51pm
30yearProf:
Ah, those Brits, they continually remind us of why those Massachusetts farmers stood across the Green at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775.
4.17.2008 5:52pm
Adam J:
not that I agree with the opinion in any way, but many pro gun folks have a curious habit of equating gun ownership with patriotism, yet these two creatures have absolutely nothing in common.
4.17.2008 5:57pm
wooga:
Adam,
Given that the right to bear arms is tied to the security of a free state, I would say that gun ownership is intrinsically patriotic.

That's not even getting into the whole thing that banning gun ownership requires an individual to depend on the state for protection, thereby making love of the state one of necessity rather than patriotism.
4.17.2008 6:16pm
Vernunft (mail) (www):
But then dissent is patriotic too. Do gun owners claim patriotism more than others?
4.17.2008 6:28pm
loki13 (mail):
Oh, wow.

Those crazy Europeans. With different values than us. How dare they.

Here's a thought. Is it possible (just... possible) to acknowledge that maybe (just... maybe) they have a different system of beliefs and values than we have, and they are entitled to that, just as we are to our system.

Personally, I am a 1st Am. zealot, and prefer our system. But I can understand that other societies might hold countervailing values.

So long as they are democracies, and do so with the consent of the governed, I see nothing wrong with that.
4.17.2008 6:51pm
Blah Blah Blah:
Well loki13, the whole point of fundamental civil liberties is to prevent democracies from doing certain things to some of the governed no matter how strongly the governed, as a whole, supports them.
4.17.2008 7:02pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):

So long as they are democracies, and do so with the consent of the governed, I see nothing wrong with that.


vs.


Here's a thought. Is it possible (just... possible) to acknowledge that maybe (just... maybe) they have a different system of beliefs and values than we have, and they are entitled to that, just as we are to our system.


they are entitled to that, with your requirements...
4.17.2008 7:06pm
one of many:
Hmm, the House of Lords is worried about "so-called patriotic groups" arguing for the right to bear arms and upset about the possibility of certain interest groups trying to influence Parliamentary action. Did anyone else have to check the calender to be sure it was the 1680s?
4.17.2008 7:07pm
one of many:
erg wasn't not was.
4.17.2008 7:08pm
wooga:

But then dissent is patriotic too. Do gun owners claim patriotism more than others?


Dissent to what? Obviously some dissent is patriotic - but what's your point?
My post was in response to the claim that gun ownership and patriotism "have absolutely nothing in common." So I showed something they had in common. Your post has as much relevance as if I said "Apple pie is patriotic. Are gun owners challenging the patriotism of apple pie?"
4.17.2008 7:58pm
C. Norris (mail):
"attractive to progressive minds"

Is a prescription for tragedy. The releasing of the mentally ill into "communities" and the building of "Mental Health Centers" was attractive to the "progressive minds" of 1963. The mental institutions were essentially emptied by 1965 and not replaced with mental health centers. Those who were dangerous to themselves and others merely became the homeless. This sort of "progress" was the beginning of the "Sixties" and the beginning of this nations drug abuse epidemic. Some progress.
4.17.2008 9:08pm
KeithK (mail):

Here's a thought. Is it possible (just... possible) to acknowledge that maybe (just... maybe) they have a different system of beliefs and values than we have, and they are entitled to that, just as we are to our system.


Yes, they are entitled to have different beliefs. But to some of us, Freedom of Speech is one of the unalienable rights granted us by our Creator. It's not something granted by our government or our Constitution. Given that it is entirely reasonable to criticize another government for restricting this unalienable right.
4.17.2008 10:32pm
Waldo (mail):

Here's a thought. Is it possible (just... possible) to acknowledge that maybe (just... maybe) they have a different system of beliefs and values than we have, and they are entitled to that, just as we are to our system.

Yes, Europeans are entitled to a different system of beliefs and values than we have. But if we are to remain entitled to our system, we must avoid those agreements that would override our democratic processes and resist efforts to incorporate international norms into our own precedents.
4.17.2008 11:06pm
Bama 1L:
"So-called patriotic groups" is a common enough circumlocution for the nationalist right. I think Baroness Hale's meaning must flow from that, rather than from "the right of the citizen to bear arms." The "so-called patriotic groups" are clearly bad guys, and not merely because they might support gun rights.

But what does it mean? Is she saying that, if political advertising were allowed, neo-Nazis would get their hateful messages on television in the pretext of addressing a political issue like gun rights, thereby avoiding hate-speech laws that would prevent them running anti-immigration spots? But then why does she move the forum outside the Council of Europe? I mean, outside the Council of Europe, such advertising need not be hypothetical.

Also, is "one" the imagined reader who supports animal rights and has to be reminded that allowing advertisements with which "one" agrees means allowing those with which "one" does not? Or is "one" Baroness Hale?

It is just not very good writing.
4.17.2008 11:45pm
Prufrock765 (mail):
"gun ownership is intrinsically patriotic"

Is being a criminal defense lawyer also intrinsically patriotic?
Is being a newspaper delivery boy?

the wing-nuttiness of some of the comments on this blog whenever the issue of guns gets brought up is astonishing.
4.18.2008 11:00am
The Unbeliever:
Your post has as much relevance as if I said "Apple pie is patriotic. Are gun owners challenging the patriotism of apple pie?"

I see your pie, and I raise you an apple pie with a gun baked into it. Move over bald eagle, there's a new symbol in town!
4.18.2008 12:19pm
A Zarkov (mail):
This reads like something out of the old Soviet playbook.
4.18.2008 1:32pm
Bill B (mail):

Those crazy Europeans. With different values than us. How dare they.

Here's a thought. Is it possible (just... possible) to acknowledge that maybe (just... maybe) they have a different system of beliefs and values than we have, and they are entitled to that, just as we are to our system.


Yes, they're entitled to their own system -- and we're entitled to call them idiots for submitting to it. I have no duty to respect their beliefs, just not try to force mine on them -- or to buy advertisements in their country pushing my point of view either.
4.18.2008 1:44pm
MadHatChemist:
This is, one of the many, cancers killing Europe. Ironically, the power of the state to limite free speech is protected by the European's AND the UN's declarations of "rights."
4.18.2008 1:55pm
martinned (mail) (www):
L.S.,

@MadHatChemist: Which declaration are you talking about, exactly?
4.18.2008 1:58pm