Charles C.W. Cooke reports over at NRO that former LA police officer and religious preacher Tony Miano was arrested in London under the Public Order Act for preaching about “sexual immorality” on a public street.
The Act prohibits “insulting” words, but the House of Lords recently amended Section Five, the clause in question.
The English police even questioned him on his conception of sin:
During the subsequent questioning at Wimbledon police station he was asked about his beliefs on what constitutes “sin” and about how he would treat gay people in hypothetical situations.
“As the questioning started it became apparent that the interrogation was about more than the incident that took place in the street but what I believed and how I think,” he said.
Why is the British state so concerned with the definition of sin? Clearly, it is a subject that may “insult” others. Indeed, a woman called the police to complain that she was “offended” by the preaching. Cook explains that this incident aligns with a consistent pattern of British civilians reporting their fellow citizens to the state for “rude” and racist language.
1.) The state should never be the class teacher. Freedom of speech can only survive comfortably in a liberal, tolerant society that interacts through debate and persuasion. Eventually, somebody is going to become offended that other people dare to hold different opinions. This is natural.
The issue becomes ominous, however, when the state endeavors to adjudicate which speech is legitimate and which points are “insulting.” Indeed, this role encourages the citizenry to abandon their mutual connections and to rely on the government to coercively manufacture a consensus. The people abandon their freedom for an artificial security, which empowers the state to even define religious concepts such as “sin.” This leads to my second point.
2.) Why should any police officer in a country such as Britain ever ask about “treat[ing] gay people in hypothetical situations”? Just as many atheists in this nation scream about separating religious systems from the state, I maintain that the state has no say in the definition of sin in a religious context. Our Establishment Clause has successively prevented the federal government from entering that sphere.
James Madison addressed this in his arguments against Patrick Henry’s bill “Establishing A Provision For Teachers of the Christian Religion” in the mid-1780s. The act would have “provided that each taxpayer be assessed and the revenue from the tax—less a 5 percent administrative fee—go to the governing board of a local church body identified by the taxpayer.”
Madison opposed the bill because he feared that it would enable the Commonwealth of Virginia to use churches for merely temporal ends. As the contraception mandate in the United States and this unfortunate arrest show, we don’t want the government to define and prohibit sin or insulting words.
Mr. Miano was released the same day that he was arrested. Let this serve as a warning for all those who support and propose “hate crime” legislation.