POST DEBATE: Battle of Principle or Letter of Law? Freedom of Speech Has Become a Hot Debating Topic in the Light of Recent Events. Education Correspondent Shahid Naqvi Looks at the Issue

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Byline: Education Correspondent Shahid Naqvi

Last week BNP leader Nick Griffin was cleared of inciting race hate and calling Islam a "wicked, vicious faith".

Mr Griffin dubbed the verdict at Leeds Crown Court "a tremendous victory for freedom".

Earlier this week the hook-handed Muslim cleric Abu Hamza was jailed for seven years for preaching a "dangerous mix of hatred and violence".

Hamza was judged to have encouraged murder of non-Muslims with statements such as "fight and kill the infidels wherever you find them".

The principle that was upheld in Mr Griffin's case was the freedom to make a point or promote a cause even if others find it distasteful.

Hamza's comments were deemed to break the law by inciting violence and murder.

The principle of freedom of speech and freedom of expression is a complicated issue.

Birmingham University's Evangelical Christian Union has evoked that argument in its dispute with the university's student union.

In this case, the society claims the liberty of like-minded people to express their beliefs has been curtailed by the student union disallowing it to restrict membership to Christians.

Labelling the ruling "political correctness gone mad", it says the move means it will have to allow those totally opposed to Christianity -Satanists for example - to join.

In theory, it says, there would be nothing to prevent a person with such beliefs getting on the leadership committee if enough Satanists joined the club and voted for them.

The unsaid fear of the Christian evangelicals is that their meetings will end up getting sabotaged by mischief-making students opposed to their views.

But it is somewhat disingenuous of the Christian group to evoke the freedom of speech principle in its defence.

The Student Guild is not stopping the ECU from meeting or expressing its views. …