The Speaker
Wednesday, 24 July 2024 – 23:09
Buckingham Palace / Pixabay

The right to be distasteful must be protected

NOTE: This is an opinion article – any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Speaker or any members of its team.

When a national mood sweeps across a country, divisions shatter away. A consensus is repeated,
with any dissent, a slight deviation, is shunned, at best, with an eye roll. At worst, law enforcers
clamp down merely for expressing a point of view that dares to parts from an agreed consensus.

This has taken place repeatedly during Queen Elizabeth II’s mourning period. An undoubted titan
of Britain for decades, she balanced transforming the monarchy while retaining stability. Her
passing was an undoubted newsworthy event, not least the sheer logistical scale of the operation
demanded to execute an event of such scale.

However, her passing, to some people, is insignificant. Yes, personally, there is great sadness, but
the Queen should not exist. To republicans, Britains should choose their head of their state, rather
than it determined the moment a previous occupant passes away.

As the Queen passed through Edinburgh and London, they made themselves known. With
cardboard signs and protests, they sought to argue their position was perfectly legitimate. Which
it is. Just because a pursuit or vision is held by a minority does not make it any less worthy of
respect and argument. It would seem the police, however, are yet to catch onto this.

On numerous occasions, republicans have been arrested for fear of words causing harm. Simply
for defying the common consensus on the Queen’s death, they have possibly faced criminal
records. Eager to suggest all crowds are singing from the same hymn sheet, police have
prioritised authoritarian crackdowns.

You may believe, as I do, that the protests are slightly distasteful. At best, they appear crass after
a death. Yet they have every right to conduct those protests, make their point known and, yes,
offend others. The, often frequent, suggestion within free speech discussions that words
themselves cause harm forgets words are the anathema to violence. War, for my money,
represents the failure of democratic politics to resolve disagreement through argument, reason
and words.

A truly pluralist society must embrace dissent. Deviating from perceived orthodoxies and
challenging the status quo are all part of reaching a more worthwhile society. By having those
challenges, forcing individuals to freely defend their position, a better solution is far more likely.

Indeed, even if the viewpoint were as absurd and nonsensical as believing the Earth is flat, there
would be no justification to censor and punish its proponents. Rather, others should reaffirm the
factually correct position. A statement that is right should be open to challenge, unafraid of
questions and wholly supportive of open inquiry.

Freedom of speech involves the freedom to judge. Citizens can socially disapprove of their fellow
members of the public. But that is what societal regulation is for – reading the room exists for a
reason. Nonetheless, societal judgment can have its own chilling effect by narrowing the
boundaries of acceptable argument. Whether it’s a legitimate question about constitutional
monarchy or a fundamental matter of life and death, all who valiantly cherish Enlightenment ideals
should put them into action.

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