Defenders of the United Kingdom’s monarchy insist that it is ceremonial and does not, in practice, exert much political power. While that’s largely true, a good deal of governmental power is currently being exercised to shut down those who are criticizing the monarchy amid King Charles III’s succession.
As Newsweek reports, one man who yelled, “You’re a sick old man” at Prince Andrew during the queen’s funeral procession (referencing accusations regarding his connection to Jeffrey Epstein) was arrested and charged with “breach of the peace.”
A woman was reportedly arrested after displaying a “f*** imperialism, abolish monarchy” sign outside a cathedral where a ceremony for the king was taking place.
Another man was arrested but later “unarrested” after shouting, “Who elected him?” during a proclamation event.
I was arrested today in #Oxford after I voiced my opposition to the proclamation of "#CharlesIII". Can we be arrested simply for expressing an opinion in public? I was arrested under the Police Bill passed earlier this year. This is an outrageous assault on democracy.#NotMyKing
— Symon Hill (@SymonHill) September 11, 2022
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone arrested on such threadbare grounds, let alone experienced it myself,” that man, Symon Hill, told the Guardian.
“I didn’t in any meaningful sense disrupt the ceremony,” he explained. “I just called out something that a few people near me would have heard, and then they carried on with the ceremony, and [the police] collared me. I find it really alarming that you can be arrested for expressing an opinion in public. I am feeling quite shaken.”
It doesn’t matter whether you love the monarchy or hate it; these stories should chill you to the bone if you care about free speech.
These British citizens simply spoke out in public against their government. They weren’t violent. They didn’t trespass. They didn’t call for violence. They simply communicated their disdain for the monarchy and levied public criticism against government officials.
If that can get you arrested, you’re not living in a free society. Period.
To be clear, I don’t necessarily condone heckling someone during a funeral procession. That’s in bad taste, in my opinion. But it’s still well within the confines of free speech.
Yes, these people are expressing minority viewpoints, as the monarchy remains overwhelmingly popular among the British people. Yet that’s exactly why their voices need to be heard. It’s never popular ideas that need protecting — it’s the dissenters. And, in many cases, they end up being on the right side of history, if their case is allowed to be heard in the public square.
Of course, none of these acts of censorship would hold up legally if the U.K. had free speech protections similar to our First Amendment. But it does not. And that’s the real takeaway for Americans witnessing this Orwellian saga.
Our friends in the U.K. are similar to us in culture, history, and countless other ways. Our people aren’t somehow different; we’re not immune to the same temptations toward censorship and suppression the British people have succumbed to. It’s our constitutional protections for free speech that keep us from heading down that path.
So, if we allow the First Amendment to be eroded here in the U.S., it won’t be long before we find ourselves facing the same kind of censorship we see happening right now across the pond.
This column originally appeared at the Washington Examiner.
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