Iain Dale wrote an article today regarding The Right to Offend. It repeated the right-wing myth, also proposed by the liberal hawks of Harry's Place that freedom, if anything, means the right to tell people what they don't want to hear. Interestingly enough, this is a position they share with those "great defenders of free speech", the BNP.
This is nonsense. Freedom of speech means the right to say anything you want without fear of persecution from the government. With that freedom comes responsibility. This means that although you can in theory say anything, some things are better left unsaid. If freedom of speech is not used with discretion, pressure mounts on the government to take it away in certain circumstances; and as soon as a government starts legislating on a certain area, they have a habit of not stopping.
A great example is holocaust denial. In my opinion it should not be an offence to deny the holocaust, because there should be the opportunity to have a full debate on the history if new evidence emerges. Unfortunately though, most, if not all people who deny the holocaust are idiots. Despite the overwhelming evidence that it occurred, they claim it is part of a Jewish conspiracy of one sort of another. So several European countries have made holocaust denial a criminal offence, and it is difficult to argue against it given the type of person who actually make these statements in public.
Freedom of speech is not an excuse to persecute minorities verbally, because they do not have any legitimate way of stopping you criticising them (although they can take the law into their own hands of course). The only organisation that can stop you saying something is the government, who can legislate against statements they do not like. I repeat then that freedom of speech is not the right to make offensive statements, but the right to criticise the government without fear of persecution.
To be fair, Iain's article is not about something as serious as holocaust denial. It is about a state-regulator criticising Jeremy Clarkson for calling something "a bit gay". It is not a surprise with this kind of ruling that more and more people are starting to confuse freedom of speech with the right to offend.