It goes without saying, of course, that every society must impose sanctions against behaviours and practices that threaten the wellbeing and health of its citizens, delimiting individual freedoms that cause demonstrable harm. But between these two approaches there is a yawning chasm of irreconcilable difference. The latter restrictions are at base benign; the former, which seek only to exert control, are malign.
Examples of totalitarian regimes that spring immediately to mind are places such as the former Soviet Union, Communist China, North Korea… There are others of course, but, by contrast, in the UK we have traditionally upheld and defended the free and frank exchange of ideas, and the right of the individual to live as he or she chooses, provided only that such choice does not cause harm or injury to others. Thus Marx, expelled from Prussia, sought sanctuary in England, where he was left free to develop his communist philosophy, undoubtedly regarded by many as a threat to society and which, as confirmation, was later used to underpin the revolution in Russia.
Even in the UK, however, there have always been prohibitions against some behaviours – based on the moral teachings of the Bible, and geared to maintaining the wellbeing and peace of society. This can be seen, for example, in measures taken to protect the life of the unborn. The practice of abortion was well known, if not approved, in medieval England – commonly used by prostitutes, and by married women seeking to cover evidence of adultery. Perhaps in recognition of this fact, from the 13th century on the Church took a somewhat pragmatic line, holding that abortion was ‘acceptable’ up to the quickening, after which it carried the death penalty. This somewhat anomalous position continued up to the Offences Against the Person Act 1837, which abolished the distinction between pre- and post-quickening abortion, and removed the death penalty, making all abortion an indictable offence punishable by life imprisonment. This was further refined by the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which distinguished between an offence committed by the woman, and that committed by the abortion provider or enabler. Which position continued up till the Abortion Act 1967, when, in an effort to address the harms suffered by women undergoing backstreet abortion, medically supervised termination was legalised in defined circumstances. But the point to be made is that all these measures were an attempt to address obvious problems, and the objective was never to impose a top-down, unpopular, and restrictive view of morality, dictated by a ‘moral’ elite.
Similarly, with the approach to sodomy, commonly regarded as morally wrong, but also – involving as it did non-reproductive sex – seen as posing a threat to the future continuance of society. Reflecting public disapprobation, from 1553 it was classed as a civil offence punishable by death, and remained such until 1828, after which it became classified as a felony punishable by imprisonment (https://www.famous-trials.com/wilde/329-homosexual), only finally being decriminalised in 1967 under the Sexual Offences Act. In the same way, prostitution was seen as morally reprehensible, but during the medieval period – in recognition of its prevalence – it was ‘regulated’ rather than criminalised, sanctions against it only being brought in as the ‘problem’ grew. In 1277, for instance, prostitutes working in brothels were prohibited from living within the city of London, but not otherwise restricted, but under the Disorderly Houses Act 1751 brothel keeping was banned, making the trade in sexual services more difficult. It was not, however, until the Vagrancy Act 1824 that prostitution itself became illegal, punishable by one month’s hard labour – to curb what had increasingly become a public nuisance.
Likewise, laws were passed over time to protect children from sexual exploitation by predatory and unscrupulous adults (e.g. s.11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 raised the age of consent from 13 to 16). And incest, regarded as taboo from the dawn of history and condemned unequivocally by the Church, was only formally criminalised in 1908 with the passing of the Incest Act, which banned intercourse between a man and a woman related by blood, including a grand-daughter, daughter, sister (including half-sister) and mother. But again, the point to note is that all these laws were not viciously imposed by a controlling minority on an unwilling populace. Rather, they were, without exception, an attempt to maintain order and protect victims from exploitation and harm.
In the UK today, however, this approach seems to have changed. With the rebranding of British values over the last couple of decades, brought in under pressure from secular and LGBT activists intent on reframing society, the expression of any dissent or criticism of the new morality is increasingly becoming criminalised, in a clear attempt to silence opposition. In fact, the primary aim of legislation is seemingly no longer to protect the vulnerable, while maintaining the health, safety, and wellbeing of all, but rather to enforce the new Weltanschauung. Safeguarding and welfare, it appears, play second fiddle to ideology. Which, sad to say, mean that Christian views especially are increasingly labelled intolerant and bigoted, and in need of suppression.
In a welcome move, the Government has announced new measures to protect free speech in Britain’s universities (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/universities-will-be-fined-for-no-platforming-speakers-26hj0bfj7). This comes in the wake of increasing numbers of invited speakers and academics being no-platformed by intransigent and intolerant student groups, intent on silencing what they label as bigoted and ‘reactionary’ views.
But while the attempt to uphold and support free speech is to be applauded, VfJUK argues that fines are not enough. Ideologically motivated attempts to silence and suppress the views of those who disagree are a manifestation of totalitarianism. They are an overt attempt to seize power by a minority group and endanger the freedoms on which our society is founded. More, they are a direct attack on the Christian values that have underpinned and given form to our society for over a thousand years.
In line with our heritage, all things should be permitted, including the expression of views with which others disagree, unless and until such time as they cause harm, incite violence, and/or endanger those who cannot protect themselves. The attempt to enforce and normalise rebranded morality – reconfiguring culture – is nothing less than the attempt of a morally bankrupt would-be dictatorship to impose control. It must be resisted – in universities, in schools, in the work place … wherever it rears its ugly head.
Voice for Justice UK
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Oxford OX1 9PY
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