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Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Freedom ...

Freedom is something we all aspire to and it is a word much used in political circles, but can we ever have "total freedom?" As Josephus has pointed out in comments to a number of posts, the simple answer is "no." It simply isn't practical to allow everyone in society to exercise total freedom in everything. So we have rules and laws.

As a good friend and Barrister has often pointed out to me, the law is an extremely blunt instrument and often, especially in the English Legal system, what Parliament wrote and may have thought they meant, can turn out to mean something entirely different in court. In part I think this is where there is a problem with trying to legislate for "rights" and "freedoms." Ironically the people who drafted Magna Carta in 1326 got it just about right. They gave us freedom from harassment by the sovereign or their officers unless there was evidence of a crime, and they gave us the right to hold and express our own views, even when those were contrary to the sovereign. Of course, originally, these only extended to the landed barony - not to the peasants and serfs, but, by the 1600s even the peasantry enjoyed some protection.

The Bill of Settlement in 1688 gave us all further rights and set the pattern for the modern concepts of freedom from oppression, harassment and compulsion. However, since the 1990s, we seem to have reversed a lot of this. Now whenever anyone attempts to exercise their reasonable (and constrained) rights, someone else seems to be standing by to rush into court to claim that the exercise of those rights, impinges on theirs.

The more recent laws on various "rights" for a wide range of minority groups are now being used to prevent the majority from exercising their right to say no to many different things they may find offensive or unjust. Slim Jim, in a comment on a recent post asked whether the government that passed the Human Rights Act envisaged its being used in this way. The answer is probably not. Like a lot of the over-hastily rammed through legislation of the last 15 or so years, it is badly drafted and poorly thought through. Now we live with the unintended consequences. The Act is being used to allow murderers, terrorists, rapists and other wanted criminals to hide in the UK on the grounds that extraditing them to their countries of origin might result in an unfair trial, torture or having to face a death penalty. Clearly an infringement of their "human right" to carry on killing, raping, stealing or whatever ...

These and the "Equalities" legislation (You wouldn't believe how much of it there is!) are also being used to forward the campaigns by the National Secular Society (Membership 7,000 - coincidentally the same number as are members of the National Sausage Society) to outlaw prayers in public bodies and the teaching of religion in schools. These laws are also used to attack anyone whose faith may hold a different view of sexuality, marriage or child rearing. Coupled with this we have a plethora of laws defining (or attempting to) child abuse, child parenting and children's 'rights' all of which are used to compel parents to conform to what some academic is currently promoting as the "only" way in which children can be raised. And there is an army of social workers out there ready to enforce it - but only it sometimes seems on the softer targets, the really bad parents go unhindered because they are prepared to meet interference with violence.

Again, I'm sure the intentions of Parliament were good, but they didn't think through the consequences of a judgement deciding something they hadn't intended was permissible or ban-able under the relevant Act.

As Josephus said, nowhere in the world is there complete freedom of speech or action. It is undesirable and impractical, but what we seem to have arrived at in what Slim Jim calls a "Post Democratic" age, is a society in which minority groups can and do use the courts and the current legislation to compel the majority to conform to their wants and desires. That is probably as undesirable as a world in which everyone is at perfect liberty to exercise their rights at any time in any place and without any restraint.

The pendulum has swung from an age in which intolerance was acceptable, to an age where a new intolerance has been fostered and nurtured. The intolerance of anyone who dares to disagree. Perhaps its time to step back and consider carefully the kind of society being created by the new intolerance ...

1 comment:

  1. I can give three examples of legislation that tried to either enable or to limit certain social behaviours, one is only a 'tale' as far as I am concerned as I have no experience of it never having been to the US. The others will be familiar to the Slim one as he will have heard me use them for teaching.

    Firstly, the Sunday Trading hours act of the 1990s was not necessary in Scotland. The Shops Act of 1950 did not apply to Scotland; there was no need to prohibit trading on the Sabbath simply because no respectable Scots man or woman would patronise the shops apart from the Sunday papers, (Ah, the Sunday Post...) no more would any Scots shop keeper (a great number of whom were actually Italian!)dare to open their shop as public ridicule would have ensued. So, when in the 1980s, supermarkets wished to remain open in Scotland, there was no barrier to their trading. Society had changed and the lack of law was advatageous. In England, however one set of ludicrous and poorly drafted regulations (the classic quote was that one could purchase Playboy or Penthouse on a Sunday but not buy a Holy Bible.) was replaced with another, the immediate cost of which was to almost put out of business many garden centres who may make up to 70% of their annual income over the Easter weekend and who were forced to close as they had a 'sales area' of acres and therefor qualified as a 'large shop'.

    The next 2 examples are not for those of delicate psyche as they deal with human sexuality, something that has possibly been the subject of more legislation through history than any other.

    The so called "Wolfenden Act" the Sexual Offences Act 1967 decriminalised certain private acts between consenting males over the age of 21. The same acts between husband and wife remained illegal. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 sought to liberalise through amendment these same acts as under any normal circumstances they were victimless crimes at worst and a gross imposition on personal liberty at best. This removed the word 'male' and reduced the age of such consent from 21 to 18. Unfortunately, In the UK, men and women could marry at 16, so these acts remained a crime between certain married couples. Thankfully, in 2000, this was rectified by reducing the age of consent for male and female engaging in anal intercourse to 16 thus removing at last the stupidities caused by poor drafting.

    The final 'tale' relates to some of the "Bible Belt" states of the US where I am assured that live stage shows include performances by young and presumably attractive ladies that are graphic in the extreme. The girls however, although otherwise unconstrained in any aspect of their performance must wear 'tassels' on their nipples; an ordnance of 1870 required this to prevent public order issues in burlesque saloons.

    The law one must remember is not a donkey, a mule or a hinny, it is an ass.

    We must also remember that wherever one stands on established religion, currently, UK law is regarded as the Will of God, passed by the permission of Parliament and the hand of the Monarch. Neither an entirely holy trinity nor an entirely unholy one, but certainly one capable of getting it horribly wrong.