Was Britain Wrong in Banning Right-Wing Shock Jock Michael Savage?

Savage was included on a list of hate preachers and anti-gay protesters, but what about civil liberties in a modern democracy?

I can vaguely understand why these measures might be tempting, but it's developments like these that remind me why U.S. civil liberties are worth appreciating.

The British government on Tuesday named 16 people who have been banned from entering Britain for "fostering extremism or hatred," including Muslim extremists, a former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard, a U.S. radio talk show host and a Kansas preacher.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who is responsible for domestic security, said she decided to make the names public to show the kind of behavior that Britain is "not willing to have in this country."

The list includes six Americans. Perhaps the most prominent is Michael Savage, a nationally syndicated conservative radio host who has made controversial remarks about immigrants and Muslims, such as urging Americans to "burn the Mexican flag on your street corner" and saying that "when I see a woman walking around with a burqa, I see a Nazi."

Among the other Americans on the list are former Klan leader Stephen Donald Black and Fred Phelps, the radical anti-gay preacher best known for picketing funerals.

"Coming to the U.K. is a privilege and I refuse to extend that privilege to individuals who abuse our standards and values to undermine our way of life," Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said in a statement. "Therefore, I will not hesitate to name and shame those who foster extremist views as I want them to know that they are not welcome here."

At first blush, this is understandable. These extremists are truly loathsome, spewing ugly and ridiculous ideas, based on a twisted and deranged worldview.

But I'm still not at all comfortable with these kinds of bans. It's not about defending right-wing lunatics; it's about the basics of civil liberties in a modern democracy.

Steve Benen is "blogger in chief" of the popular Washington Monthly online blog, Political Animal. His background includes publishing The Carpetbagger Report, and writing for a variety of publications, including Talking Points Memo, The American Prospect, the Huffington Post, and The Guardian. He has also appeared on NPR's "Talk of the Nation," MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show," Air America Radio's "Sam Seder Show," and XM Radio's "POTUS '08."
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