British subjects have never had the broad protections for freedom of speech or the press that American citizens take for granted as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but historically, the United Kingdom has been a beacon for free expression when compared to the rest of the world. Today, however, the right to freely express oneself in the U.K. is increasingly under threat, as exemplified by hundreds of bizarre prosecutions in recent years. The debate is heating up, though, as lawmakers consider reforms that would expand or quash liberty.
Longtime pro-life campaigner Edward Atkinson, 81, was handed a three-month suspended jail sentence for his activism against abortion in September, and it was not the first time he has been prosecuted and even jailed for his work defending the unborn. In fact, Atkinson has been in prison more than a dozen times for his efforts over the years, and while he remains undeterred, the persecution is part of a broader assault by U.K. authorities on freedom of speech and religious liberty that is coming under increasing international scrutiny.
Under legislation planned for early next year, same-sex marriage will be legalized in the U.K., with the Church of England and other religious institutions supposedly free to "opt out" of performing homosexual marriages.
The government of the United Kingdom is under fire from Christian organizations, churches, and activists for refusing to recognize the right of Christians to wear crucifixes and crosses at work — even in government-sector jobs — while Muslim women and Sikh men, for example, are guaranteed the right to wear their traditional religious attire regardless of their employers’ wishes. Critics have slammed this and other policies apparently aimed at silencing Christians or forcing them to act against their faith as discrimination, but U.K. officials are currently defending some of the schemes at the so-called “European Court of Human Rights.”