Opinion: Risk to freedom of speech

Never mind his policies, his name alone triggers schoolboy sniggers. But should we refuse presidential hopeful and leading Republican candidate Donald Trump entry to the UK?

By Mike Tilling
Monday, 28th December 2015, 8:00 am
Donald Trump
Donald Trump

His view, that there should be a blanket ban on Muslims entering the United States because they might prove to be dangerous, has provoked right-thinking people here into starting a petition calling for a ban on his coming to Britain. It has attracted over half a million signatures at the time of writing.

If no publicity is bad publicity, then Donald Trump must be rubbing his hands with glee.

But has he said anything illegal? I am no expert, but it appears that his opinions would not trouble the courts in either the UK or the USA.

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So why would we want to ban him? The answer, it appears, is that some people find his views offensive.

Now let’s say, for the sake of argument, that these views are right wing. This probably means that there are people all over the country who agree with him, and they will probably be running a counter petition.

Despite disagreeing with Trump myself, I would sign the counter petition.

The reason is simple and, I believe, rational: someone may publish opinions of a left wing nature that others disagree with and, to be consistent, we would then have to ban them from our country if enough people signed up.

This is not the way democracy works.

It seems to me that people who think banning others for holding objectionable opinions is the right thing to do, do not understand the system we have developed in this country for guarding our freedoms.

People have a right to publish an opinion, others have a right to find it objectionable, but we do not resolve this difference by a banning order.

The same holds for laughter: we have no right to have our values and opinions shielded from ridicule.

There are certain freedoms and responsibilities that we in a democracy believe to be inviolate. Freedom of speech, within the law, is one of them and must be defended.