Freedom of Expression,  Law

Defend Rowan Laxton

According to The Telegraph:

Foreign Office diplomat Rowan Laxton has been charged with racially aggravated harassment after allegations that he launched a foul-mouthed anti-Jew tirade at a gym, it has been confirmed.

Well, if he’d ranted in my gym, I’d have been highly offended. I have no doubt that his tirade amounted to anything less than racially aggravated harassment. But, I’m not sure than (other than evicting him from the premises) it is a matter for the police. It would be fair if he were banned from that gym. Indeed, if other gyms – having heard of his behaviour – declined his membership applications, that too would be reasonable.

I also think he should lose his job. People prone to bigoted and racist outbursts are not suited for employment in the Foreign Office. What could be more undiplomatic?

But I don’t think that bigotry is criminal.

Put simply, clubs should be able to bar people who make their other members uncomfortable. Businesses should be able to fire people who are disruptive or whose publicly expressed opinions bring the organisation into disrepute.

But it isn’t, in my view, a criminal matter. Rowan Laxton should be shunned, criticised, made to feel unwelcome in polite company, and left out in the cold. But he should not be dragged through the criminal courts for merely expressing his opinion.

We should welcome his candour.

It is better that people are open about their views and we all know where we stand, than that we live in a society where people are afraid to say what they really think and perhaps even work against each other in secret.

Now we know that Rowan Laxton has a nasty reservoir of antisemitic bile. We can judge him accordingly and we can act accordingly. Prosecuting him will disincentivise other bigots from showing themselves, but more than that, it is an attack on Mr Laxton’s own freedom to express himself. It is an attack on everyone’s freedom to express themselves. As I have said, for ill or good, opening your mouth has social consequences. These are sufficient. We need to the police to catch thieves and direct traffic, not monitor citizens for thought and speech crimes.