We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

I hope so

Harry Miller: “This is a warershed moment for liberty”

The police response to an ex-officer’s allegedly transphobic tweets was unlawful, the High Court has ruled.

Harry Miller, from Lincolnshire, was contacted by Humberside Police in January last year after a complaint about his tweets.

He was told he had not committed a crime, but it would be recorded as a non-crime “hate incident”.

The court found the force’s actions were a “disproportionate interference” on his right to freedom of expression.

In a separate story from the one I quote above, the BBC goes on to report that

Mr Justice Julian Knowles said the effect of police turning up at Mr Miller’s place of work “because of his political opinions must not be underestimated”.

He added: “To do so would be to undervalue a cardinal democratic freedom.
“In this country we have never had a Cheka, a Gestapo or a Stasi. We have never lived in an Orwellian society.”

I did not know we still had judges like that.

Edit: This is the text of the judgement: Miller -v- College of Policing, 14 February 2020.

28 comments to I hope so

  • Paul Marks

    Thank you for the post Natalie. A good judgement – well written and just.

    The modern world, under the influence of the Frankfurt School of Marxism (“wokeness” or “political correctness” of the “Social Justice Warriors”) is being taught, in the words of Herbert Marcuse and others, that tolerance is “repressive”, that Freedom of Speech is “Hate Speech” which “exploits” and “oppresses”.

    One must not try and make a deal with the Frankfurt School of Marxism – try for “moderate” P.C. (or whatever), one must REJECT it. And the judge has done this.

  • Paul Marks

    If people object to the term “Frankfurt School of Marxism” I will use the term “Critical Theory” – as it means THE SAME THING.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Good to see the implicit equation of Nazism with Communism (Marxism-Leninism). Even better to see the equation of both of them with Frankfurt Marxism.

    A minor point: i respectfully suggest to Harry Miller that it does not look good when you look down during your speech, even if it is to read from a prepared text.
    Other than that, his posture exuded self-confidence.

  • The police response to an ex-officer’s allegedly transphobic tweets was unlawful, the High Court has ruled.

    I’m glad they did not limit themselves to telling PC Suvvidge that he had been ‘overzealous’.

    I find our ancient High Court vastly preferable to our ten-year-old Supreme Court. I am glad the latter has annoyed Boris recently and very much hope he has a bit of Trump’s capacity to resent such things.

  • Phil B

    Rule No. 1 – never, never, ever talk to the Police without a lawyer present.

    Rule No. 2 – see rule No. 1.

    If they really have enough evidence to prosecute you, you will not talk your way out of it so shut up.

    If they do not have any evidence you can definitely talk your way into trouble. So shut up.

    The Police are NOT your friend, ever.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Shh! Get down! There’s an armed robbery going on! Call the police!”

    “I want a lawyer, first!”

  • John B

    “In this country we have never had a Cheka, a Gestapo or a Stasi. We have never lived in an Orwellian society.”

    Well you do now.

  • Mr Ed

    Thank you for posting this Natalie, you saved me the trouble of wading through it all and putting up my own posting, but I have read through the judgment anyway and what I note is that although the ludicrous and sinister actions of the police in dealing with Mr Miller were unlawful, the underlying policy ‘Hate Crime Operational Guidance’ ‘HCOG’ , which is accepted also governs dealing with non-criminal conduct that is known not to be criminal, is not: Look at paragraphs 221 – 226, which end with the following ‘vindication’ of the policy, and it goes on to paragraph 232 in similar vein.

    226. Overall, I am satisfied that the aims and objectives of HCOG justify the limitation it imposes on freedom of speech. That is because its aims are extremely important for the reasons I have given. As against that, the level of interference to freedom of expression by HCOG is low. The Strasbourg and domestic courts have consistently held that ‘an important factor to be taken into account when assessing the proportionality of an interference with freedom of expression is the nature and severity of the penalties imposed’:

    So it’s OK to interfere with freedom of speech if you don’t impose too harsh a punishment.

    And reading on to forward to paragraph 230 we find:

    The mere recording of non-crime hate incidents arising out of speech barely impacts on the right to freedom of expression. Set against that, there is considerable evidence about both the necessity of HCOG’s measures in relation to non-crime hate incidents and also the benefits which they bring.

    Of course, the learned Judge is applying the law as statute and precedent have set it, but I would venture that none of this would have come from Sir Edward Coke LCJ, he of Dr Bonham’s Case. He has in effect found that the police may make records of what people say or post on social media, even if it is obviously not criminal, in case there might be a crime later. I thought causing wasteful employment of police time was a statutory offence, but there you go.

    The judge rightly took the individual police officer to task at paragraph 256, even though he gave the officer concerned the benefit of the doubt in some parts of his findings:

    PC Gul’s actions in going to the Claimant’s place of work and his misstatement of the facts, his warning to the Claimant, coupled with the subsequent warnings by the police to the Claimant that he would be at risk of criminal prosecution if he continued to tweet (the term ‘escalation’ was never defined or explained) all lead me to conclude that the police did interfere with his Article 10(1) rights even though he was not made subject to any formal sanction. There is also the point that the police created a Crime Report which referred to the Claimant as a ‘suspect’.

    A High Court Judge finds that a police officer made a mis-statement of the facts in the course of his duties: Why is he still in his job?

    And the judge was exceptionally generous here IMHO:

    “274. I am prepared to assume for the purposes of argument that the police’s actions taken as a whole were aimed at two of the purposes specified in Article 10(2), namely for the prevention of crime or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. As I have explained, there was in fact no risk of any offence being committed by the Claimant, but I am prepared to accept that PC Gul’s acted as he did because he thought there was such a risk, and that he believed he was protecting Mrs B’s right not to be offended.

    In case anyone thought that PC Gul and his superiors were wasting time and abusing their offices in the sinister quest to go after Mr Miller, the judge is prepared to assume otherwise, although I note this finding down below:

    there was no rational basis on which PC Gul could have believed that there was any risk of the Claimant committing a criminal offence. There was accordingly no need for him to visit the Claimant’s workplace and then warn him about the danger of being prosecuted if he escalated. Nor was there any need for ACC Young and Acting Inspector Wilson to say the same thing. As I have already said but emphasise again, there was no firm evidence that anyone had read his tweets and been upset, apart from Mrs B. There was no evidence anyone would read any future tweets and be upset by them. As I have pointed out, PC Gul was wrong to say that the tweets had upset ‘many members’ of the transgender community. There was no evidence of that and Mrs B does not say that in her witness statement.

    And having said that he doubted but did not have to decide that the tweets in question were even ‘non-crime hate incidents’, the learned judge gave a pointer to a possible course of conduct for the police:

    The third question is whether a less intrusive measure could have been used without unacceptably compromising the achievement of the objective. If some of the tweets were in fact a non-crime hate incident because of their effect on Mrs B then the police could simply have recorded them pursuant to HCOG and taken no further step. In his statement PC Gul accepts that one option that was open to him was to take no further action. They could also have advised Mrs B not to read any subsequent tweets. Both of those things would have served the objectives in question..

    So the judge is actually endorsing a secret police action, where they quietly record what people say or write, and take no further action.

    It seems that the judge has actually found that we do have a Stasi, but that it should not operate in the way that it has been operating.

    Edit: I started typing this before I saw John B’s point.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Well you do now.”

    We always did. Orwell didn’t make predictions. Nineteen Eighty Four was a book about 1948, when he wrote it.

    The problem is that when you live in such a society, you can’t see it. All the most horrifying aspects are “just the way things are”. You never notice it, never think about it. You can’t, because your culture is constructed to make that ‘normal’. It fades into the background.

    The reason authors set dystopian novels in alien cultures of the distant future or alternate universes is to allow us to see what culture and custom blinds us to. They take the habits and norms of today, and exaggerate and twist them into an analogous structure in some other culture. And the reader says “Gosh! That’s terrible! Those poor people!”

    But then when their own culture changes, as it continually does, they see the structures in the stories reappearing in their own society. It’s like some dark prophecy of the end of the world coming true before their eyes! Scary!

    But it’s just humanity, acting the way it always does. If we had never had such a society, JS Mill would never have had to write ‘On Liberty’, and Milton would never have wrote ‘Areopagitica’, because there would have been no need. Why write such a lengthy tract making the case for free speech if you’ve already got it?

    The UK finally got rid of its blasphemy laws in 2008. The United States still has blasphemy laws on its books in some states. (e.g. Massachusetts General Laws 272-36.) A century back, women lived without the same votes or rights as men. Sixty years back, LGBTers had to live their lives in secret, hiding what they were from the authorities. Sixty years back, the US was only just getting rid of segregation. For minorities, it’s always been an Orwellian society.

    We simply change what’s considered goodthink and what’s considered thoughtcrime. And even that was something Orwell covered – “We have *always* been at war with Eastasia!” Today we say “We have *always* been at war with Transphobia!” and the crowd cheers, and tears down all the old banners. As Orwell said: “The Hate continued exactly as before, except that the target had been changed.”

  • Nullius in Verba

    “So the judge is actually endorsing a secret police action, where they quietly record what people say or write, and take no further action.”

    Yes. So do the police have a right to free speech, too?

  • the police may make records of what people say or post on social media, even if it is obviously not criminal, in case there might be a crime later. (Mr Ed, February 16, 2020 at 1:01 pm)

    Mr Ed, I may (and do) make such records for a time while developing a post. If the police were (like me) not able to arrest you for no more than speech then I might not mind their noting speech.

    Orwell didn’t make predictions. Nineteen Eighty Four was a book about 1948, when he wrote it. (Nullius in Verba, February 16, 2020 at 1:53 pm)

    Nullius, unless you mean not about the UK but about Russia – and ‘1984’ goes well beyond even Stalin’s state in 1948 – that sentence comes across as strictly fruitcake, an impression only enhanced by, for example, your writing, as if it were relevant,

    Sixty years back, LGBTers had to live their lives in secret, hiding what they were from the authorities. (Nullius in Verba (February 16, 2020 at 1:53 pm)

    60 years back and more, anyone in the UK could legally publish gay war romances set in WWII and other gay war romances set in ancient Greece, could write and lecture claiming the sexual views of classical times empowered their civilisation (and would ours), etc., in much the same way, and with the same limitations, as others could write novels about murderers, prostitutes, pick-pockets, etc., but, if writing from personal experience, without providing legal evidence of their own practice.

    In the U.S. today, someone who advocates in civil language for the innate genetic superiority of the white race can expect to encounter much public hostility but IIUC the 1st amendment means they commit no crime. Though sadly they no longer do, the ACLU once simultaneously defended both the legality and the deep unpopularity of people expressing such views. I do not see the US legal system as ‘1984’ as regards free speech merely because that view is very unfashionable and practising racial discrimination is subject to a raft of laws.

    It is right that libertarians want there to be fewer laws in non-speech areas as well as more freedom of speech. However there is no value in confusing the two. This merely deflects us from seeing and feeling the full threat to speech today. Because free speech is a key enabler, its presence or absence is typically more important than regulation of other things, annoying though these may be.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Unless you mean not about the UK but about Russia – and ‘1984’ goes well beyond even Stalin’s state in 1948 – that sentence comes across as strictly fruitcake, an impression only enhanced by, for example, your writing,…”

    *Of course* it comes across as “strictly fruitcake”! Like I said: “The problem is that when you live in such a society, you can’t see it.”

    I thought it was fairly well-known that the stuff about the Ministry of Truth was based on Orwell’s time working at the BBC, room 101 was a conference room there where he had to sit through long and boring meetings.

    “60 years back and more, anyone in the UK could legally publish gay war romances set in WWII”

    What, like Alan Turing’s autobiography? Could have been a bit awkward, that.

    So you’re saying it’s OK if you can say what you like so long as you assert that any heretical bits are fictional and false?

    Anyway, this is the sort of society we used to live in…

    He remembers being put into a windowless room in a psychiatric ward, where he had to listen to an audio tape disparaging his homosexuality “in the foulest language imaginable”.

    The psychiatrist who made the tape then gave him a pile of ‘dirty’ books containing images of nude men and a crate of Guinness to drink.

    “They then injected me with something that made me violently sick for about an hour and they left me there”, he says. The doctors refused to give him a basin and insisted he vomit over himself.

    “For 72 hours I lay in my own excrement and dirt, scared out of my wits,” he says. He begged to be let out of the hospital after the psychiatrist told him the next stage of the treatment involved attaching electrodes to his penis…

    “Fruitcake”, eh?

  • Mr Ed

    Niall

    the police may make records of what people say or post on social media, even if it is obviously not criminal, in case there might be a crime later. (Mr Ed, February 16, 2020 at 1:01 pm)

    Mr Ed, I may (and do) make such records for a time while developing a post. If the police were (like me) not able to arrest you for no more than speech then I might not mind their noting speech.

    The vital distinction being that the police are operating at taxpayers’ expense to (purportedly) uphold the law and prevent and detect crime, and if you are burgled, in some cases they might confine themselves to sending you a leaflet and perhaps suggest that you may wish to seek counselling; investigating actual crime and dealing with those inclined to rob, stab or rape people is, well, clearly not a priority.

    But if the police wish to reassure ‘communities’ that they are vigilantly looking out for them by looking at things that aren’t crimes, by recording ‘speech’ or comments? What if a police officer chose to follow you around all day (outside of your own or others’ private property) in the hope of recording your ‘non-crime hate incident’ comments?

  • Nullius in Verba

    “investigating actual crime and dealing with those inclined to rob, stab or rape people is, well, clearly not a priority”

    Possibly they counted the number of crimes occurring in their area, multiplied that by the cost of sending out a forensics team and bunch of senior detectives for several weeks to track down, gather evidence prepare a legal case, and prosecute a petty burglar, and found the total to exceed their entire budget.

    “What if a police officer chose to follow you around all day (outside of your own or others’ private property) in the hope of recording your ‘non-crime hate incident’ comments?”

    So what if they did? That isn’t illegal.

    But when you’ve got two groups of people in conflict like this, each side will routinely ‘Follow’ the other side on Twitter hoping to record their ‘non-crime hate incident’ comments. It’s a particular feature of the debate nowadays. And is part of free speech. Twitter is public. Twitter the company themselves record everything you say on it, and are capable of using it against you, reporting you to the police. As is everyone else who reads you. That’s their free speech.

    The question is, do the police have the same free speech and freedom of action that all the rest of us do? Or are there things they are ‘not allowed to say’, even in the privacy of their own police station? If the police can’t note down what people say, can the rest of us? If someone collects all our past politically incorrect Twitter and blog comments to use against us later, should that be made illegal?

    There’s a difference between ‘I don’t like it’ and ‘it should be banned’. You might not like the fact that anyone can write down what you say in public and keep a record. But should it be banned?

  • The question is, do the police have the same free speech and freedom of action that all the rest of us do?

    Hell no. Not when they are working, I would certainly hope. We are so far from Pealian policing now that police forces are better through of as an army (triply true in places like the USA where police are very para-military).

  • +1 to Perry de Havilland (London) (February 17, 2020 at 12:00 pm). One might compare state-school teachers: do they have the same free-speech rights as the rest of us? Outside the classroom, very much so, but in any classroom where they have legal power to demand children attend and not walk out on them, a reciprocal obligation should restrain what they teach. (Thus I am endorsing Mr Ed’s comment on my comment above.)

    (Of course, there are classrooms today where, thanks in no small part to the teachers’ unions themselves, teachers’ ability to enforce that legal power over kids is not so overwhelming. 🙂 )

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Hell no. Not when they are working, I would certainly hope.”

    Marvellous! Free speech can be denied to people for Reasons. Now that we’ve established that, we’re just negotiating the price…

    So what’s the justification? Is it because they are employed? (i.e. “when they are working”.) An employment contract may mean somebody voluntarily gives up free speech as required by their contract/employer. This, of course, would potentiallyapply to anyone in employment, and anyone subject to a contract.

    Is it because they are like an army? If so, we just shift the question back one step – why would members of an army not have free speech? (Same goes for teachers.)

    Is it because they have legal power to order people about? (Like a teacher.) If so, do the restrictions on speech only pertain to such orders (i.e. to the application/threat of force), or generally to any opinions they might express to the poeple over who they hold power? (i.e. ‘restrain what they teach’.) Or does it apply even to things they write in their private notes? Does the same apply to anyone with a legal power to compel – such as in a contract? (e.g. since your employer can give you instructions as part of your job, they cannot write what they like about you. And since you can require your employer to pay you, vice versa.) How about illegal power? Should a man with a gun have free speech? How about if he’s just bigger than you? If a big strong man talks to a small weak woman, should he have free speech? What’s the rule here?

    Does the rule apply to any sort of power over other people? For example, a blog administrator has power to set rules on or exclude commenters. Does that constrain his or her own free speech? (By ‘a reciprocal obligation’.) Is there such a thing as Rousseau’s ‘Social Contract’, that obligates all citizens to conform to the collective social rules on what may or may not be said?

    Are we talking about assault – the threat of imminent illegal force? If so, doesn’t that apply to everyone, and not just the police?

    Or is it simply because we don’t like/don’t trust the police. They’re the ‘enemy’; a ‘them’ to our ‘us’? They deserve to have no rights, or we cannot justify giving them any rights out of self-protection against the danger they pose?

    I hope you’ll pardon the questions, but whenever somebody says they have a justification for denying somebody free speech, I think it’s important to establish the boundaries, generalisations, and consequences – because they usually extend far further than just the case under consideration. Normally, I’d say the position is that ‘your liberty to swing your fist ends just where my nose begins’, no exceptions. Words and opinions are free, only actions are constrained. And only when words effectively constitute a use of force (as in assault, or incitement, or contract) are words thereby covered. But I don’t see how that applies in this case, to words expressed in private on a non-public computer database with no coercion involved, so I’m interested to see what new principle we’re applying here.

  • bobby b

    In this case, we don’t deny anyone free speech. We deny them the right to exercise the power of the state to further their own ends – and we deny them the employment as a cop if they insist on so doing.

    Basic “time, place, and manner” restriction on speech that has been accepted ever since theaters started not burning.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “In this case, we don’t deny anyone free speech. We deny them the right to exercise the power of the state to further their own ends”

    Agreed, and that’s what the judge said. I think people want to go further, though.

    “… accepted ever since theaters started not burning”

    Ah, yes. Shouting ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theatre – it makes the restriction on freedom seem plausible. Two problem – one is that sometimes people genuinely believe that the building is on fire. Should they stay silent if that is so? Should they be punished if they do so and turn out to be mistaken? What are the consequences of banning fire alarms and fire drills in theatres, which are essentially devices for shouting ‘Fire!’ very loudly? Is the alarm the real source of danger here, or the stampede? And secondly, a lot of the things people want free speech about amount to shouting out that there is a ‘fire!’ in society. There is some dire danger, some hobgoblin so fearsome, that people need urgently to be warned. Is ‘Climate Change’ a case of shouting ‘Fire!’? How about Socialism? (Or Marxism of the Frankfurt School…) Political correctness? Intolerance? The Deep State? Trump?!! They all could be argued to be shouting ‘Fire!’ in a crowded polity in the expectation of stampeding voters into a populist response. And that, those opposed would argue, is dangerous in the same sort of way it would be in a theatre. And thus, they say, politically populist alarmism should justifiably be restricted.

    The consequences usually extend far further than just the case under consideration.

  • Julie near Chicago

    I have been told that the restriction is generally misquoted, and was made against falsely shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre.

  • So what’s the justification? Is it because they are employed? (Nullius in Verba, February 17, 2020 at 7:51 pm)

    By the state, Nullius. This is not hard.

    In a free market, teachers who, for example, exercise their right of free speech to be silent all through the school day, reading a book or surfing the web instead of teaching, may find few parents signing up kids to their school. But if the state collects taxes to pay the teachers salary, and legally requires children to spend hours in the classroom every weekday, then it is natural their parent voters attempt to use the cluncky mechanism of the state to have such teachers speak and be not silent when in that same classroom, and then to have them speak in a way those parent voters think is teaching, not propagandising.

    (It is also natural that the cluncky mechanism of the state is often more responsive to the teachers’ self-serving desires and fashionable fads than to the wishes of the parents who are compelled to pay for them.)

    I hope you’ll pardon the questions

    Given the sort of rhetorical-flourish-idiocy questions that PC believers in hate speech laws will ask in the rare cases they debate us instead of silence us, there can be value in answering many a question that, from another point of view, might seem too obvious to need asking. The question of what is valuable contribution to cognitive diversity, what is sadly-needful practice for the harsh freedom-hating world beyond the cloisters of samizdata and what is mere time-wasting is one that sometimes occurs to me as I reply – or decide instead to get on with the work I am paid to do – to some comments (disproportionately yours 🙂 – I hope you’ll pardon this bracketed statistic).

  • Nullius in Verba

    “By the state, Nullius. This is not hard.”

    Is it not? It seems quite difficult to get a detailed and precise answer.

    So, a cleaner employed to empty the bins in the local council offices has different speech rights to a cleaner who empties the office bins for a private firm, because the former is employed by the state. Is that what you mean? Or did you mean something else?

    “Given the sort of rhetorical-flourish-idiocy questions that PC believers in hate speech laws will ask in the rare cases they debate us instead of silence us, there can be value in answering many a question that, from another point of view, might seem too obvious to need asking.”

    Questions too obvious to need asking are usually the result of unexamined cultural assumptions, that not everybody shares. For a lot of people, the need to ban hate speech is “too obvious to need asking”. If it’s a part of your mindset, it doesn’t even occur to you to question it, so it doesn’t occur to you that anyone else might need a reason or justification for it, rather than just knowing.

    “It’s obvious!” usually means “I have no explanation. It just is.”

    “The question of what is valuable contribution to cognitive diversity, what is sadly-needful practice for the harsh freedom-hating world beyond the cloisters of samizdata and what is mere time-wasting…”

    It was a serious question. I genuinely don’t understand how any libertarian can argue for restrictions on free speech for reasons other than to prevent unconsented harm. Whether they are employed or not, whether employment is by the state or not, or whether you have any market power to make them say what you want them to say rather than what they want to say, it makes no difference under that principle. Employees of the government can hold and express any opinions they like. The government itself can. It’s only compulsion itself that can rightly be constrained, and words that do not compel, whoever they are expressed by, are not covered.

    I respect the viewpoint and reputation of people around here enough to think that when we disagree, there may be something to your point of view, some unobvious reasoning I’m not seeing. That’s what cognitive diversity is about. But I’m only asking on the basis that you, like me, are interested in understanding the reasons and principles at the foundation of libertarianism. If you’re not, and if you think it’s a waste of time, then please feel free to say so and not answer. I can of course draw my own conclusions from that, as you are free to draw your own conclusions from my questioning. I have no wish to compel answers from the unwilling, even if I could.

    If the teacher makes a note in her notebook (purely as an aide memoire) that Dick has been constantly calling Jane nasty names and making her cry, but says/does nothing about it, that’s surely not for us to compel or forbid. (It’s not like we can stop her thinking it, whether it’s written down or not. And they may be useful later for the enquiry after Jane commits suicide.) If you was Jane’s father, the teacher making such notes likely wouldn’t be a reason for you to want to find her another school. Making notes about the kids’ behaviour is widely regarded as part of the teacher’s job, even in the private sector. Why do people think words without consequence expressed in private should be restricted? Because a teacher is employed by the state?

  • It seems quite difficult to get a detailed and precise answer. (Nullius in Verba, February 18, 2020 at 8:57 pm

    It was James Burnham – not someone I usually quote, save in mockery – who said (apropos Stalin’s Russia in his case) that “noone can be made to see who has decided in advance to keep their eyes shut”.

    Obviously, if you ignore the answers you are given then an answer, let alone a detailed and precise one, will continue to elude you, not least because potential offerers of such answers will become demotivated.

    The task of rewriting my second and third paragraphs in (Niall Kilmartin, February 18, 2020 at 11:33 am) to the parallel case of not speech but teacher note-taking (your last paragraph above) is not hard – so I leave it as an exercise for the reader. As regards cleaners (your first paragraph above), I guess a school policy on cleaners putting political stickers on the bins they clean would provide a basis to apply the argument. If you wish to give the impression of having found a flaw, contradiction or concern in the argument, rather than having ignored it, then I recommend at least one of these exercises to you.

    It’s not like we can stop her thinking it, whether it’s written down or not.

    Well yes, obviously. One reason for minimising restrictions on freedom is that such restrictions have many limits and side-effects. Suppose a Bernie-bro (Bernie-sis) or Momentum teacher, nominally hired to teach spelling, longs instead to spend the hour teaching her class that the gulag was a form of redemptive labour, while noting which pupils should be sent to it as soon as Bernie is in power. Obviously no school policy, e.g. demanding she stick to spelling, would stop her from continuing to think it – or, practically, from adding names to her preventive arrest list at home as she recovers from the forced-restraint of her school day.

    As a real-world example, do you remember the 10-minute climate change video of years back in which the teacher preaches climate change to her class and then presses a red button on her desk to blow up the two nasty resistant denier kids? It got pulled within a day, IIRC, because of the comically-unforeseen public reaction – but how could we possibly prevent an extinction-rebellion-supporting teacher from thinking that it – or some forceful but non-lethal real-world variant of it – is what she should have the power to do to her compelled-to-attend pupils at her pleasure, with no requirement to consult their parents in the matter.

    On the other side of the coin, the many-decades-old ban on corporal punishment in all UK schools, state or otherwise, surely did not prevent some teachers from thinking it was sometimes needed – or, I happen to know, prevent other teachers, even ones nominally gung-ho for all left-wing causes, forgetting themselves in moments of stress. I have sat in a teachers common room while they discussed in detail a colleague who had a ton of administrative trouble after one of his pupils set another’s hair well on fire. His single open-hand blow to force away the arsonist as he rushed to put the fire out saw the teacher at first convicted and banned by the educational establishment but then eventually cleared on appeal.

    Milton Friedman did not, late in life, support compulsory attendance laws – this was a change from his earlier views. I don’t have access to his discussion of why he changed his mind, but note that thinking teachers should have more freedom of speech in the classroom is a not-impossible, though probably far from primary, reason.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Obviously, if you ignore the answers you are given then an answer, let alone a detailed and precise one, will continue to elude you”

    I didn’t ignore the answer – it doesn’t answer the question. It simply gives an example of a situation that you apparently think makes it “obvious”, but doesn’t identify which aspect of the situation you think is the critical distinction, or how (or whether) it is connected to the principle of preventing unconsented harm. The only distinction you seem to draw attention to is what I described as “whether you have any market power to make them say what you want them to say rather than what they want to say”, but since the whole point of freedom of speech is that you don’t have the power to stop other people saying what they want to say, and there are many circumstances where you cannot avoid hearing what other people say, this isn’t a feature specific to government employment. Nor do you say why it’s a problem. Propaganda may be annoying, but again the justifications generally presented for free speech offer no argument for stopping it. It’s not even clear if that was the distinction you was thinking of.

    Likewise with a cleaner putting political stickers on bins – “Support the Cleaner’s Union” or “Recycle More”. You give no reason why that’s any worse in the case of government-employed cleaners than private ones.

    “Obviously no school policy, e.g. demanding she stick to spelling, would stop her from continuing to think it – or, practically, from adding names to her preventive arrest list at home as she recovers from the forced-restraint of her school day.”

    There’s no obvious problem in writing out a preventative arrest list in school, either. Only with carrying out the arrests.

    “As a real-world example, do you remember the 10-minute climate change video of years back in which the teacher preaches climate change to her class and then presses a red button on her desk to blow up the two nasty resistant denier kids?”

    Yes, I do. And I don’t have a problem with her thinking it, or saying it, or writing it down. Or even making a comedic propagandising film about it. The only problem is with doing it.

    “It got pulled within a day, IIRC, because of the comically-unforeseen public reaction”

    Oh, yes – how’s that for free speech?!

    But so what? It was just a film. When we start banning comedy because some people don’t like the joke, or don’t think it’s funny, or are offended, we’re really up the creek.

    “On the other side of the coin, the many-decades-old ban on corporal punishment in all UK schools, state or otherwise, surely did not prevent some teachers from thinking it was sometimes needed”

    And there’s no problem with thinking it, or even saying it. There may be a problem with doing it unless it is done to prevent unconsented harm to others.

    But this is my point. If we silence teachers who argue that hitting pupils may sometimes be necessary, we may miss genuine reasons why the policy needs to change. If we silence teachers who think they ought to be able to detonate climate deniers, we lose the opportunity to argue and change their minds. All the arguments for free speech apply. In fact, since other means of passing the message through market mechanisms are denied, it’s arguably even more important that we can talk openly about controversial subjects when it comes to government employees. Censorship doesn’t stop wrongthink, or prevent it having dangerous consequences – it just drives it underground and hides the problem, makes people resort to achieving their aims by deception, preventing its solution. Using the market to shut people up isn’t generally wise, either – if a teacher at a private school fears to explain the sensible reasons why hitting children may sometimes be necessary for their collective safety because of the danger of parents pulling their kids out and bankrupting the school, that’s not good or safe, either.

    “Milton Friedman did not, late in life, support compulsory attendance laws”

    Me neither.

    “but note that thinking teachers should have more freedom of speech in the classroom is a not-impossible, though probably far from primary, reason.”

    I can’t think of any more important place to have free speech (for both teachers and students) than in the classroom. All the arguments about its necessity for reliable reasoning apply with the greatest force in the learning environment. Personally, I think a lot of problems with the public understanding of science and economics and history and so on can be traced back to the authoritarian use of Argument from Authority in the classroom, rather than open discussion. We don’t have enough free speech! And I don’t see why we need less of it in government-run classrooms.

    Don’t feel the need to answer again if you don’t want to. I’ve come to the provisional conclusion that all of you don’t actually have a clear reason/justification – it’s just reflexive anti-government sentiment. That’s fine. I just wanted to be sure there wasn’t something I was missing.

  • I’m thinking this morning of an undergraduate I met last night at Bucknell. She talked about how she went to her anthropology class on one of the days of the Kavanaugh hearings, and the professor spent the day ranting about what a miserable white privileged sexist SOB Brett Kavanaugh was. The undergrad said to me, “I asked what any of this had to do with anthropology, and the teacher didn’t say anything.” She went on to say that she’s paying for an education, not pointless political ranting from professors.

    Undergraduates are not legally obliged to attend university, unlike schoolchildren who are required to attend school, but, as the girl in the quote complains, they do pay (a considerable sum) for an education. If I ordered a pre-paid meal in a restaurant and was instead served an election poster on a plate, I would complain of being defrauded (whether I liked the candidate or not). If the waiters claimed I was denying their free speech rights, that would not mollify me.

    I assume readers hardly need me to point out that the same ranting occurred in some US state schools, in front of children who were formally forbidden to leave the classroom without permission and formally subject to being reproved or punished if they interrupted the teacher (of course, subject to my last paragraph here 🙂 ).

  • Julie near Chicago

    Bucknell has a rep as a pretty librul institution. I understand its left leg is quite a bit shorter than its right.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “but, as the girl in the quote complains, they do pay (a considerable sum) for an education.”

    And I’ve already mentioned the case of contractual obligations. You can voluntarily consent to limit your speech, in return for a payment or goods and services. I’m not making any argument about not delivering on contracted-for speech/silence. The question here is can you, even without a contractual basis to enforce it, stop somebody’s speech because it offends or worries you? His employer pays the policeman to make notes; it’s required by policy. Do you have a contract with the police authority, to which they have voluntarily consented, allowing you to forbid it?

    “If I ordered a pre-paid meal in a restaurant and was instead served an election poster on a plate, I would complain of being defrauded (whether I liked the candidate or not). If the waiters claimed I was denying their free speech rights, that would not mollify me.”

    And the other way around? If you come into a restaurant and overhear the servers talking about politics in a way you didn’t like (while serving you), would that be the same as servers overhearing customers talking about politics in a way they didn’t like (while paying for their meal)? Should either of you have to just grit your teeth and bear it, or can you stop people saying things you don’t like, even where that speech has no impact on the business you’re there to contract? Can a catering business print nakedly political slogans on their disposable plates and cups? (Like “We Recycle More”.) Can customers come in with political slogans on their bags and clothes? (T-shirts, for example…) Can servers talk to one another about customers, or customers talk about the service they get? Does free speech apply in restaurants and workplaces generally? Or even outside work? If a rugby player Tweets about gay people in a way his employers or some of his fans don’t like, should he be fired? It seems we’ve had this discussion before.

    “However, not everyone is convinced by the arguments in favour of free speech, and it is becoming less and less common for workplaces to see the advantages of allowing free speech. And if people don’t understand the reasons why free speech is important generally, and will make an exception for the workplace, then what is to stop them extending it to public life generally? They clearly don’t think it’s a good idea to let people say what they believe if they see those beliefs as damaging or dangerous to a business. So what do we do if we see them as damaging or dangerous to society?”

    “in front of children who were formally forbidden to leave the classroom without permission and formally subject to being reproved or punished if they interrupted the teacher”

    So is the problem there that that the teacher was allowed to rant, or that the children were not allowed to reply? If we stop *both* sides speaking, is that what we call ‘Free Speech’? Are you calling for children to be allowed to disagree and debate with their teachers, or for both sides to be silenced?

    “If you’re really in favor of free speech, then you’re in favor of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favor of free speech.”

  • Trump, the swastika and the hammer-and-sickle cojoined on one high-school slide about why “migration control” (note absence of em/im-prefix) is “so familiar”. Teacher’s free speech? Or “Educational malfeasance of the highest degree”?

    I’d go with “educational malfeasance” though very very far indeed from “of the highest degree” in general. A little reflection on some well known facts about the nazi and communist regimes would have informed the objecting Maryland Delegate that educational malfeasance can be of far higher degree than teaching the kids to see immigration control as nazi/commie. It would be charitable to assume she meant, “by today’s standards in the US”- but I suspect she’s underestimating even there.

    Of course, a little such reflection would have told the teacher that teaching your political pet hate in the classroom makes a far closer analogy than pretending that Trump’s trying to keep people outside your borders resembles Hitler’s and Stalin’s desire to keep people trapped inside their borders. There is simply no evidence that either of them ever had an immigration problem except as regards the very occasional honest journalist seeking to verify facts – and of course a horde of nazis immigrating into the communist region on June 22nd 1941.

    However the relevant education establishment assures us that

    This lesson was not intended to make a political statement.

    and

    If a student has concerns when discussing a controversial issue, schools have the tools to address the concern and support the student.

    – bureaucratese that any nazi or communist educator could easily have echoed. 🙂

    Of more relevance in any attempt to justify the legitimacy, if not the sense, of the teacher’s slide may be the school’s statement that this content was in an advance-placement, university-aimed course. Ordinarily in a US high school, I presume pupils are (formally at least) not allowed to walk out during class and subject to teacher authority over (whether there is) any discussion. It may be that choosing to take this particular class was voluntary on pupils’ part – though the question of whether the description they were given when choosing it was fraudulent is very likely answerable in the affirmative. But maybe the teacher could say that everyone at that school already knew their politics – and that they did not keep them out of their teaching – and an even better line would be to point out that, “Hey, this class is to prepare them for what university will be like – where do you think I was taught to reason like this?” 🙂

    However one takes that, it remains that this is a state school – one voters are compelled to pay for in an anything-but-merely-formal sense. This quarrel between politicised teachers and some politicians who (formally) administer them as representatives of voters, is another example of the cluncky mechanism I spoke of above.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>