Whatever Happened to Free Speech?

Hasn’t Britain always been a place where citizens can express their views, albeit in a respectful way? Yes – I thought so too until I read the article (Times, 17.11, Melanie Phillips), stating that an actress has been sacked from her role in the musical, ‘The Colour Purple’,for saying that she didn’t believe that homosexuality is right. The actress is a practising Christian and is entitled to her views. Her role in the musical was to have been a gay character. Her comments, made in 2014 on Facebook, apparently reflect those in the Bible, which she believes in. Maybe I too should be criticised for saying that I no longer believe in the Bible?

Why was this actress sacked? Are people not entitled to religious views any more? Do we have to be afraid to express our opinions? This lady’s case is due to come before an Employment Appeal Tribunal – and I hope she wins. The issue is sensitive. Christians (as well as Jews, Muslims, or any other religious group) should be entitled to state their views. There have been Christian registrars who have refused to officiate at gay weddings. I remember the Christian baker who refused to bake a wedding cake iced with a ‘gay’ message, and the outrage at the time.

There is surely a fine line to tread between personal belief and communal acceptance of all faiths and sexual orientations. It would appear that this actress has expressed a personal belief that may well be shared by many other Christians. Such a belief does not necessarily constitute a statement against people who are gay. A personal belief is just that – personal. It is not negative.

Whilst we do not want to return to a society where people are ostracised or pilloried for their life styles, have we reached a stage where people are afraid to state their views? Take the issue of anti-semitism, for example, involving Jeremy Corbyn. I sometimes feel that this issue has been over-emphasised, and it is now time, to weed out ANY anti-semitic culprits from the Labour Party, then let the matter drop and get on with party business. On News Night, 17.11) I was appalled at the way that a lady representing a Jewish group, who happened to be speaking in support of Corbyn, was continually interrupted, prevented from stating her views fully and at the close of the programme, described as ‘….of her ilk,’ by the News Night presenter.

Phillips’s article informs us that David Goodhart has been appointed to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, inviting howls of rage from racist activists. Goodhart has described complaints of systemic racism as ‘statistically naive’ and has argued that white self-interest is not the same as racism. He has also been sympathetic to government attempts to deter illegal migrants. Is he a bigot? Or is he merely stating his views? His crime is to attempt to protect a national identity which defends its borders. We may not agree with his views, but he has a right to express them.

Have we now expanded the categories of what is ‘unsayable’ in a free society, and has this now gone far beyond what is considered as ‘hate speech’: this being the kind of inflammatory material that is meant to incite tension, fear or even violence? Whilst we all want a fair and equal society, such equality can only be achieved by freedom of speech. Society will never get every person in it believing in the same things. People are brought up to believe differently.

But personal belief is the basis of philosophy – and philosophy, from which the core of rational debate ensues, surely forms the basis of enlightened decision-making and equality for all. Long live free speech. We need to be true to ourselves, while respecting the opposing views of others: and able to compromise where necessary to achieve common goals. Expressing our views should not necessarily jeopardise the jobs we do: which is why all children need to be educated to hold onto personal beliefs, and be able to express themselves rationally and independently.

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