A Blow to Free Speech?

Richard Dawkins’s “There’s probably no God” bus ads got complaints (in Britain) to the Advertising Standards Authority, and it ruled that the ad campaign can continue:

The Advertising Standards Authority said it assessed 326 complaints. Some claimed the wording was offensive to people who followed a religion.

But the body concluded the adverts were unlikely to mislead or cause widespread offence and closed the case.

The £140,000 campaign was launched by the British Humanist Association.

At first glance, this might seem a “victory” for free speech, but look again.

The ruling implies that “widespread offense” would have constituted sufficient cause for banning the message. 

In other words, the ASA’s ruling is not a defense of free speech, but a travesty of it.

Free speech that cannot unsettle—and that, widely—is not free speech.

And there is a name for people who must be protected from offensive speech. That name is “children.” It is ill-befitting adults to have to have the messages arriving to their eyes and ears monitored, by the government, for content.

The Brits produced John Locke, who insisted that the first priority of government was to make space for the free exercise of liberty, and the life of the mind. 

What’s happened to England in the intervening period?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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