We are now in the realms of coerced speech – get ready to praise the Dear Leader

A Catholic journalist, Caroline Farrow, is being investigated by police for calling a transgender woman a man on twitter. As I started writing this post early yesterday, I linked to the above article on the Guardian website that was headlined , ‘Catholic journalist is investigated by police for calling a transgender woman a man on twitter.’ As I came back to finish the article, I clicked the link, and it suddenly had a different headline and considerably different content (as you can see). Apparently, it would seem, the Guardian jumped on the story and suddenly realised they weren’t fully aligned with the right on position so changed it!

Previously, the story read that the journalist was being investigated for misgendering somebody on twitter, after they made an appearance on Good Morning Britain. The new story leads with the dropping of the case by the mother involved – the chief executive of the transgender children’s charity Mermaids – who now claims that she is withdrawing the case because ‘it was leading to the spread of misinformation.’ She stated, ‘If I had continued my complaint then [Farrow] would have continued to have a platform to spread misinformation about what actually happened… Being involved in an investigation would have meant that I couldn’t talk.’

The Guardian report:

Farrow, a Catholic commentator and broadcaster, had been contacted by Surrey police and asked to attend a police interview over a series of tweets about Susie and Jackie Green. On Tuesday Farrow she posted that she did not “remember said tweets”, adding: “I probably said ‘he’ or ‘son’ or something. All I have been told is that following an appearance on Good Morning Britain I made some tweets misgendering Susie Green’s child and that I need to attend a taped interview.”

Going on to state:

But on Wednesday Green pointed to a tweet sent by Farrow on 4 October last year, and subsequently deleted, which read: “What she did to her own son is illegal. She mutilated him by having him castrated and rendered sterile while he was still a child.” She also accused Farrow of child abuse.

Farrow has said: “I have pointed out to police that I am a Catholic journalist/commentator and it is my religious belief that a person cannot change sex.” She added that she would “happily do jail time” for her “right to say that people cannot change sex”.

So, it is entirely unclear whether Farrow was approached by police because she misgendered Green’s child or whether she is being investigated for stating that her opinion of what went on when Green sought to change her son’s sex. In either case, it is an outrage that the police should be involved in this case at all.

Regardless of your view on transgender issues, it cannot be right for the police to involve themselves in cases of people holding any given view of it. Nor can it be right for the police to involve themselves in investigations concerning pronouns. I have no right to expect people to be arrested if they decide to call me a girl. If somebody refers to me by the pronoun ‘she,’ should I expect the police to turn my potential offence into a criminal investigation?

Some may deem it rude not to call somebody by their preferred pronoun. That may be the case but since when has the law been concerned about prosecuting rudeness? I notice, for instance, lots of people quite happily refer to people by the most vile four-letter epithets on social media without any repercussions whatsoever. I also struggle to see how it is credible to call people all sorts of vile swear words whilst suggesting that calling someone ‘he’ or ‘she’ is potentially criminal. Worse still, that if such misgendering is directed toward any woman or man who doesn’t identify as transgender, there is no foul. How does that make us all equal before the law?

Perhaps most concerning of all is the coercion of speech. It is one thing to make certain words illegal (though I think this is its very own problem), but it is quite another to force people to adopt words they do not wish to utter. I don’t think it is alright that certain words are illegal – I find that a deeply dangerous position that is beginning to bring its own repercussions. There are lots of words I would much rather people didn’t use – there are plenty of ideas I wish people didn’t hold – but I don’t think it is legitimate to ban them. But now we are insisting that people must do more than merely refrain from certain words and phrases and, instead, must utter certain words or phrases or face police sanction.

Insisting that somebody must use your preferred pronoun is coerced speech. You may not like me calling you ‘he’ if you prefer to be called ‘she’, you might think that very rude, but forcing me to call you by your preferred pronoun through law is a terrible precedent. If we insist that people must use sanctioned words – regardless of the ground for doing so – what is to stop the authorities insisting all manner of words must be uttered? If we have just determined that it is wrong to force bakers to make cakes that carry messages with which they deeply disagree, how can it be any more reasonable to insist that people should make statements that they believe to be untruths?

In the midst of this story, there are really three very chilling truths. First, a journalist is being investigated by British police for words that she published. That is a troubling enough fact. But second – even more frighteningly – a British journalist is being investigated by police for refusing to utter words dictated by another. Third – and perhaps most chillingly of all – a British journalist is being threatened with legal sanction for failing to utter words that another insists she ought to say when she believes they are demonstrably untrue.

Herein lies the big issue. We have gone from insisting that people oughtn’t to utter certain sentiments to insisting that the voice specific sentiments to now forcing them to state particular words that they believe to be lies. If this is the precedent we are setting, what orthodoxies that the state wishes to force us to endorse can possibly be out of bounds?

It matters not whether you think it is lying to affirm somebody as a man or woman when you firmly believe they are the other sex, the state can insist that you affirm it. If you must affirm that despite your firm belief to the contrary, why not insist that you must affirm anything that they wish you to endorse? It could be political beliefs that you believe are errant, it could be statements of truth about reality you believe to be untrue, it could really be anything. There is no end to what they might insist you utter.

This should be a real concern to all of us, whether we wish to affirm the Queer Theory on which the case for transgenderism rests or not. If we can be coerced into affirming transgender pronouns today, who is to say that transgender people will not be legally obliged to assert that their own view of themselves is a lie tomorrow? If we are now obligating people to affirm statements determined by the state, it shouldn’t matter whether we agree with the position or not, it should be deeply troubling to us that we are being forced to accept it. It should be all the more troubling that we are forcing people to claim they believe it when they manifestly don’t.

I have said before that the only guarantee I have that I will be allowed to say what I want is if I allow others to say what they want. I have often used that as a statement in defence of free speech. I never thought I would need to say the only way to guarantee I will not be forced to state what I actively disbelieve is if I don’t force others to state things that they actively disbelieve. Not only does it not work – it doesn’t make people change their minds, it just makes them assert things they don’t think – it is a kind of totalitarianism that we have never before entertained. But entertain it we currently are.

We aren’t just discussing what you can’t say, we are now in the realms of what we must say even if you think it untrue. I think references to 1984 are hackneyed and overplayed, but I can’t think of a more appropriate time to employ it. We are a hairs breadth from being forced to praise the Dear Leader.