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25 November 2010updated 27 Sep 2015 5:40am

A burning issue

The US and UK approaches to free expression

By David Allen Green

When Pastor Terry Jones threatened to burn the Koran, the response of the US government was rather significant.

Pastor Jones was condemned in strident terms by, amongst others, the President and Secretary of State. He was even telephoned by the Defense Secretary. There was little doubt that Pastor Jones’s misconceived and offensive gesture could have possibly placed US personnel at risk.

In the end, and perhaps because of this intense moral pressure, the gesture was cancelled.

But there was something which the United States government did not do.

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Even though it was plausible to contend that Pastor Jones was creating a clear danger to others, he was not arrested. It was the persuasive and not the coercive power of the US government which was deployed to stop the gesture happening.

What would happen in the United Kingdom?

Would we similarly seek to achieve a desirable end through normative means, without resorting to the use of police and their powers of arrest and detention?

Of course not.

Instead, according to press reports, we would casually arrest a fifteen year old girl.

 

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and was shortlisted for the George Orwell prize for blogging in 2010.