The above article shows  the vexations faced by supporters of free speech in 2012 which saw a number of arrests for posting so called offensive comments on the internet.  But though Mary Whitehouse might seem like a joke now does this mean that a society should not  apply its values of the time and make judgements about the value of what is being expressed?  Surely the law has the right to act if words are distressing and damaging? In my view he likes of Linford House and Liam Stacey were rightly arrested for posting offensive comments on the internet.  

In 1977 a neo-Nazi group planned a march, wearing Nazi uniforms and bearing swastikas, through Skokie, a village in America with a large Jewish community. The village objected and the case went to the US Supreme Court. The Nazis said that they were entitled to march under the Constitution’s First Amendment which protects freedom of expression. The court ruled in the Nazi’s favour.

You can see a short documentary on the case here

Freedom of expression has to have limits imposed upon it, including expression in the media. People do not have the right to cause harm, which words can do.   Football fans should not be permitted to chant racist abuse at players; Holocaust deniers should not be given a weekly column in a Sunday supplement.

As the judge ruled in another free speech case at the US Supreme Court - freedom of speech does not give people permission to shout ‘Fire!’ in a theatre full of people.  


When we are dealing with words, Clare, perhaps we should apply an additional test, viz. should we ban words that are offensive or should that sanction only be applied to words that cause actual harm?  I prefer a harm test. Offence may often exist only in the ear of the beholder.

"Let the Nazis march?"