The Corner

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Three snapshots of western liberty:

1) A few weeks ago, I wrote about a Canadian police department’s diversity enforcer attempt to shut down a Pamela Geller speech by getting her bounced from a Toronto synagogue. In Britain, the shut-up-he-explained crowd cut to the chase: They went to the (supposedly Conservative) Home Secretary, the ghastly Theresa May, and got Miss Geller and Robert Spencer banned from the entire country on the grounds that their presence in the United Kingdom would not be “conducive to the public good“.

By contrast, the presence of, say, Anjem Choudary, philosophical mentor of the Woolwich head hackers and a man who calls for the murder of the Prime Minister, is so “conducive to the public good” that British taxpayers subsidize him generously and provide a half-million-dollar home for him to live on. Mrs May’s Home Office has just admitted to the UK Muhhamed al-Arefe who advocates wife-beating. Perhaps Mr May will try out Imam al-Arefe’s expert advice on the beneficial effects of “light beating” on Theresa this weekend – or is spousal abuse only “conducive to the public good” of Muslim women?

The reflexive illiberalism of Britain’s so-called liberals – the urge to ban the debate rather than win it – is now so deeply ingrained they will soon be hungry for new victories. Nearly four centuries after Milton’s Areopagitica, freedom of speech is dead in England. In denying her charges access to dissenting ideas, Mrs May is inviting them to find alternative means of expression. No good will come from this.

2) On the other hand, the Canadian Senate voted today to join the House of Commons and repeal Section 13 – the “hate speech” provisions of the country’s “human rights” law:

OTTAWA – An Alberta MP has succeeded in his bid to repeal a section of the Canadian Human Rights Act long seen by free-speech advocates as a tool to squelch dissenting opinions.

Conservative MP Brian Storseth saw the Senate give third and final reading late Wednesday to his Bill C-304 which repeals Section 13 of the Human Rights Act, an act that had been used to, among other things, attack the writings of Sun News Network’s Ezra Levant and Maclean’s columnist Mark Steyn…

Last summer, Storseth’s bill cleared the House of Commons in a free vote and, now that it’s through the Senate, it will get Royal Assent and Section 13 should soon disappear. 

I believe it received Royal Assent a couple of hours ago. So victories against the state’s encroachments on free speech are protracted and difficult, but still just about possible. I am honored to have played a small role in a modest victory for liberty in Canada, and I hope my friends in London ashamed by what their government has done will take heart.

3) What connects the above to today’s decisions in Washington is the slapdash contempt of Anthony Kennedy’s opinion. Whatever the merits of gay marriage, it ought to revolt anyone with a decent respect for self-government that this incompetent jurist could find no other way to frame the issue than to besmirch the motives of those who oppose him. As Justice Scalia wrote:

To defend traditional marriage is not to condemn, demean, or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements, any more than to defend the Constitution of the United States is to condemn, demean, or humiliate other constitutions. To hurl such accusations so casually demeans this institution. In the majority’s judgment, any resistance to its holding is beyond the pale of reasoned disagreement… It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race.

What I always objected to in Canada about Section 13 was its casual contempt for the citizenry, the same contempt on display today in Washington and London. Like Theresa May, Justice Kennedy would rather impute motive than engage argument. The need to delegitimize those who disagree does indeed “demean this institution”, and is profoundly disturbing.

Mark Steyn is an international bestselling author, a Top 41 recording artist, and a leading Canadian human-rights activist.

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