Considering two recent cases of offensive tweets regarding Captain Sir Tom Moore, Nick Buckley , who has personal experience of twitter amplified intolerance, argues that offensive comments should not be criminalised and offenders shouldn’t lose their jobs. Freedom of speech must be a universal value, otherwise it becomes an elite privilege:
Jarel Robinson-Brown has felt the heat of twitter-wrath in response to his comment that although Captain Sir Tom Moore was a ‘kind and generous soul’, for whom he would pray, he would not be joining the national call to clap because it was ‘a cult of White Nationalism’. He apologised and removed the tweet along with his twitter account.
I genuinely feel sorry for Jarel Robinson-Brown. Should we blame him for holding beliefs and opinions that a significant proportion of the country have been promoting for decades? Beliefs that, using partial truths paint a straw-man model of British society that is belied by the experience of many people of different ethnicities: the UK is evil. White people invented slavery. Black people are shot dead daily on the streets by police. LBGT+ people are persecuted until they commit suicide. Unless you are white, Anglo-Saxon, straight and Christian, then the UK is not for you, and you are not welcome.
Now I must stress what he posted was insulting to our nation, and the memory of a good man. I would also say his tweet was racist because a public act of commemoration was called morally tainted simply because of skin colour. It could even be deemed a Hate Crime. But, let us be honest, anything can be deemed a hate crime these days, for this law is flawed and unnecessary. At heart, this legislation endorses a diminished and degraded view of individuals that can only lead to greater self-censorship and thus increase mistrust.
I am glad Jarel Robinson-Brown was challenged, for it shows that the tide is turning and the silent majority are once again finding their voice. But what I did not like was the automatic call for him to lose his job. Unless you are a parishioner in his church, then you have no say on who should be a clergyman and what views are acceptable. By all means, criticise his post. I did. Express your view on his character. But do notcall for someone’s head because you are offended. Or more accurately, because you think you should be offended. This overreaction is exactly what Jarel Robinson-Brown is likely to have done if he had disagreed with a post. And overreact is exactly what some in Scotland have done in charging a man for an offensive tweet. The object of his ire was Sir Tom Moore’s status as a British soldier. He now faces a six-month prison sentence, or a fine of up to £5,000, or both.
It is high time to reign in legislation that makes being offensive a crime, and being offended, a high-status virtue. One hundred and twenty clergy rightly criticised the racist and homophobic nature of some of the twitter responses to Jarel Robinson-Brown’s original tweet. They also voiced their concern for freedom of speech. If Jarel Robinson-Brown merits freedom of speech, we all do, including the man in Scotland currently facing a criminal charge. Both made offensive comments on twitter. You can criticise either or both, but neither should be criminalised or be removed from their positions at work. Unless, of course, you think freedom of speech is a privilege, applicable only for those whose values and views with which you agree. Such an elitist position would not sit well with a Christian commitment to equality. Hopefully the hundred and twenty clergy men will see fit to defend the right of freedom of speech for the man from Lanark as well as the clergyman from London. Injustice is still injustice even if it is perpetrated against someone we despise.
I know how this game is played. I was at the centre of a Twitter storm in June 2020 for offering my opinion on BIack Lives Matter. I was sacked and had to fight to get my job back. My life is still not the same. It is perfectly acceptable to criticise me for we live in a free country, but it was wrong for people to have called for my head, or to be prosecuted. And it is wrong now in both Jarel Robinson-Brown and the man from Lanark’s cases. If Jarel Robinson-Brown has broken his terms of service with the church, then they need to take the action they feel is appropriate. But they should not bow to public pressure for a sacrifice or scapegoat to satisfy a twitter mob. We need to treat him fairly: offer him forgiveness in the hope he eventually sees his beliefs are wrong. Jarel The Martyr will only harden the hearts of the misguided. We need to show a position of tolerance and generosity, even to those whose opinions we may hate, offers a better, more ethical way of living than seeking a utopian idea of intolerant justice.
“An eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind.” – Gandhi