From reader Dean Sterling Jones…
I disagree with what you say, but will fight to the death for your right to say it – if by “fight” you mean “surrender,” by “death” you mean “live comfortably” and by “your right to say it” you mean “your right to shut the hell up.” Don’t bother reading the revised sentence back, it makes little sense. But you get the picture. For some, the right to freedom of speech means little more than “the right to do as I say.”
It’s easy to pay lip service to the cause of freedom. I understand. Fighting for your rights is difficult and dangerous. Why expend all that mental and physical energy when you can just stay home and watch TV? Freedom of speech? Isn’t it just an abstract concept? Some bigoted old man has to endure a few months in prison? Good! He knows to keep his evil, racist mouth shut. Let us now retreat to the chamber of social media, where only that which we wish to hear may reverberate endlessly within closed walls. Everything in its right place. Amen.
Closed minds house their own prisons. Thankfully, those seeking to punish an old man for daring to speak his mind will never again have to endure the trauma of hearing an opinion disagreeable to their delicate constitution. These are the same people who argue for limits to freedom of speech. The progression of their argument is as follows: that certain groups within society are especially vulnerable; therefore, certain groups within society are in need of protection. That scary, “offensive” words lead to violence; therefore, scary, “offensive” words must be choked at the root. Neat theory, but what does it prove beyond being able to tenuously link two previously unrelated ideas? Are we to believe that certain groups are such that they are unable to tolerate the slightest of criticisms? That the only way to counter so-called “hate speech” is to provide legal redress for the aggrieved?
One can only presume that Thursday’s decision to prosecute Pastor James McConnell for speaking ill of the Islamic faith comes on behalf of the offended, who are apparently all-too-happy to sacrifice liberty for the sake of their hurt feelings, and not on behalf of UK Muslims. I make the distinction because the law governing communications is an equal opportunity prosecutor, blindly rooting out “offensive” speech without prejudice.
The problem is the vague language used to describe the offence: if what constitutes “offensive” speech varies from person to person subject to interpretation, the word is for all intents and purposes utterly meaningless, unless we wish to enforce laws based solely on people’s subjective experiences. However, the decision to prosecute is discretionary, depending on whether there is a public interest.
Some advice then. If, as with Pastor McConnell, you happen to find yourself on the wrong side of popular opinion, you better pray nobody’s listening.