Nick Cohen Nick Cohen

The internet is proving to be a tool of censorship, not emancipation

The case of Adrian Smith, the Christian the Trafford Housing Trust demoted for politely expressing his opposition to gay marriage on Facebook, is one of the most disgraceful I have come across. Much will be written about the contempt for freedom of speech and conscience Mr Smith’s po-faced and prod-nosed employers showed.

Mr Justice Briggs was clearly upset that legal technicalities prevented him from giving Smith more money.

‘I must admit to real disquiet about the financial outcome of this case. Mr Smith was taken to task for doing nothing wrong, suspended and subjected to a disciplinary procedure which wrongly found him guilty of gross misconduct, and then demoted to a non-managerial post with an eventual 40 per cent reduction in salary. A conclusion that his damages are limited to less than £100 leaves the uncomfortable feeling that justice has not been done to him in the circumstances. All that can be said is that, had he applied in time, there is every reason to suppose that the Employment Tribunal would have been able (if it thought fit) to award him substantial compensation for the unfair way in which I consider that he was treated.’

I hope that, like the judge, commentators give it to the new breed of witch finders and heresy hunters with both barrels. (And I say that even though I am an adviser to the National Secular Society and a supporter of homosexual equality).

But something may be missed. In democracies, and of course dictatorships, the Internet is proving that it is the friend of the censorious rather than a tool for emancipation. Adrian Smith could never have been hounded in this way 30 years ago. He would have expressed his opposition to gay marriage in his church. Only the congregation would have heard him say, ‘I don’t understand why people who have no faith and don’t believe in Christ would want to get hitched in church.

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