On Wednesday, British Home Secretary Theresa May served anti-Muslim hate group leaders Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller with a ban notice, informing the duo in writing that they were not permitted to enter the UK ahead of their scheduled street rally with the English Defense League, a far-right street gang.
Spencer and Geller had planned to visit Woolwich, England, the site of last month's grisly attack on British soldier Lee Rigby. While they cloaked their trip in overtures of "free speech" and "honoring" the memory of Rigby, no one was buying that. It was clear to Mrs. May and British officials that the event would do exactly what hate group leaders are meant to do: incite hate. Their presence would "not be conducive to public good," the report read.
Of course, minutes after receiving notice of their ban, Spencer and Geller jumped on their blogs and spewed out their usual lines: this was, they said, an attack on free speech; Europe had bowed to Islamic supremacists; truth had lost; and of course, references to Nazis and Hitler and 1920s Germany.
The truth is that while they cry "free speech," the issue isn't even about that. Free speech does not mean that one is entitled to speak his or her opinion anywhere and everywhere. It doesn't mean that one can demand that venues accept them and host them and provide them with a public platform to say anything they want. That's not how free speech works. Owning a handgun doesn't mean you can just walk around firing it indiscriminately — even if you have the right to own it!
Rather, our society affords citizens these rights and then monitors them through the Overton window — that narrow range of ideas that we find acceptable as part of public discourse. When the ideas are too extreme, the window shifts and voices of hate like the KKK and the neo-Nazis and the Pamela Gellers and Robert Spencers of the world are swept under the rug of history. That's what Britain did yesterday. The people spoke — they signed petitions, they organized, and they voiced their concerns and they won. The government listened and decided that society was better off without these haters wagging their jaws in public.
They were right. And hopefully, this will be the beginning of other similar bans.