Curtailing Free Speech in the English Speaking World

Matt Welch in Reason Online:

If Australian Prime Minister John Howard gets his way, citizens down under will soon face seven years in prison if they are convicted of “sedition.” That’s not entirely new—sedition laws have been on the country’s books for at least 40 years—but the proposed legislation more than doubles the penalty. It also expands the definition of criminal speech to include “assist[ing], by any means whatever, an organisation or country…at war with the Commonwealth, whether or not the existence of a state of war has been declared.”

What comprises such “assistance,” and how on earth do you know when an organization is at “war with the Commonwealth” in the absence of a declaration to that effect? The answers are not clear, even after one very heated month of public debate and outcry.

. . .

Australia wasn’t the only English-speaking American ally to put the squeeze on speech last November in the name of fighting Islamic terrorism. At the seat of the monarchy that—on paper, anyway—still reigns over the former penal colony, Prime Minister Tony Blair pushed through by a single vote legislation outlawing the “glorification of terrorism,” defined as speaking or publishing words that would encourage the “commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.” This measure came on the heels of another Blair bill, also passed by the House of Commons, outlawing “inciting religious hatred.”