Jeff Winter And Free Speech

The news that former Premiership referee Jeff Winter’s home has been raided by Strathclyde Police’s National Football Co-ordination Unit should send shivers down the spine of every free-thinking Briton today.

Mr Winters lives in Middlesbrough, necessitating the co-operation of an English police force. Another man was arrested in London in connection with the case.

You have to ask the question: What is going on here?

I don’t mean what is the story about; it is a silly little tale of Jeff Winters talking about altar boys being raped in celebration after a Celtic win against Rangers and the Pope as a dress-wearing ex-Nazi who hides kiddy-fiddlers. Crass stuff, yes and arguably not very funny but if it crossed the line into breaching the new anti-sectarian laws brought in by the Scottish government, then it is a line crossed by many a comedian and anti-religious campaigner before Mr Winter.

And much of it is factual.

The Pope was a former member of the Hitler Youth and his involvement in the hiding and re-circulating of child-molesting priests is the subject of hot debate in many circles.

The joke about altar boys is distinctly unfunny. Using child abuse as a means to get laughs doesn’t sit well with me, frankly.

You could argue that the whole thing is a bit off, humour-wise but, even if it offends some who are sensitive about their Roman Catholic faith, you have to ask the question: Is it really criminal?

You could also make the point that the Roman Catholic clergy’s massive collective guilt in the area of abusing children should be something that is highlighted much more than it is.

In the new, open and supposedly free society we live in, should we really still be sweeping the uncomfortable subject of child abuse under the carpet?

And all to protect the “rights” of people of a certain faith? What rights do Roman Catholics have to take offence in an area where their religious leaders have taken part in the systematic rape and abuse of minors?

Do the victims of these crimes not have a right to have what happened to them brought into the light?

After all, the same “church” that does its best to cover up child abuse also seeks to police the sex lives of others in its opposition to birth control and same-sex marriage.

If the Roman Catholic religion wants a say in the sexual area of society, then let’s be open about what has gone on – and is still going on – concerning the sexual molestation of children by its clergy.

I cannot imagine why any person of the Catholic faith would want to cover this matter up; nor can I imagine why they would take offence when it is brought up.

Maybe the remarks that Jeff Winters allegedly posted on his Twitter account – and there is some dubiety he personally was responsible – are hard for practising Catholics to read. And, like I said, they are crass and unfunny. But Jeff Winters did not invent the issue. The matter of child abuse by Roman Catholic clergy is a global scandal of off-the-chart proportions.

It could be argued that the publicity surrounding the Jeff Winters case is a good thing because it brings the subject out into the open again.

The Roman Catholic religion’s association with child molestation simply cannot be denied.

But something else has to be said here.

Whilst child abuse is a Roman Catholic church problem, it is not solely a Roman Catholic church problem.

The truth is, child abuse knows no boundaries religion-wise.

There are many people of non-Catholic persuasion who molest kids. This includes so-called Protestant clergy. Some who wear dresses, as well.

Child abuse is not an area for moral high horses – it is too important for that.

Neither is it an area for scoring points, religious or otherwise.

And the cover-up of paedophilia in Scotland is not the sole province of the Roman Catholic church – but I’ll be covering that at another time.

What should be of concern to people with this Jeff Winter business is that whoever made the remarks on Twitter probably did so while not being located in Scotland.

No crime was therefore committed on Scottish soil – the alleged crime being an internet communication.

The decision to go after Jeff Winters for his Twitter account remarks was presumably taken after a complaint by Celtic FC. You can certainly understand Celtic may have been annoyed to be connected with the remarks but it was in a rather tenuous way.

However, if internet rumours are true, Celtic FC will have a much bigger problem to deal with in the days to come than an ex-ref making dodgy jokes linking the team with child abuse.

The point is, is this whole story an indicator of a trend toward increasing police intervention in a “Wars Of The Offended” scenario where thin-skinned people take ever-increasingly ludicrous umbrage at trivial remarks?

I don’t know if Jeff Winter’s remarks were just that – trivial and silly – or whether he committed a crime worthy of multi-force raids on his home. That’s for others to decide if it ever reaches a court of law.

But I can raise the question and discuss the story in the context of freedom of speech.

Can’t I?

If not, then we really are in more trouble than we think.

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