English Premier League soccer star John Terry has been accused of making racially abusive statements toward an opponent.
If he did it, (it is my understanding that there is audio or other “smoking gun” evidence), he needs our ostracism. He needs to be fined by the league. He needs to be suspended from playing games. He needs to lose endorsements. He needs to lose friends. He needs to lose respect.
He does not need to face criminal prosecution. But, indeed, he does. British prosecutors have charged Terry with a “racially aggravated public order offense.” Translating the Orwellian Newspeak into English, he has been criminally charged with name-calling.
I am thankful the First Amendment protects Americans from such criminal prosecution (at least for now). The British prosecution, however, is symptomatic of a pervasive belief in this country that all problems must be addressed by the government. Name-calling, especially of the most vile kind, must be condemned. It does not follow that it must be criminalized.
Prosecution for name-calling, no matter how vile, is a dangerous precedent. Where does it end?
Here is the pertinent language of the statute at issue:
Harassment, alarm or distress.
(1)A person is guilty of an offence if he—
(a)uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
(b)displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,
within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.
Public Order Act of 1986, Chapter 64
Thus, “a person is guilty … if he….. uses … insulting words… within the hearing …. of a person likely to be caused …. distress therby.”
Can you imagine trying to enforce such a statute at a Yankees’ game? Or a political convention?