FREEDOM OF SPEECH
When most people think of human rights, they commonly think of concepts such as the right to pursuing sustenance, happiness and, perhaps, the right to education. Another freedom which is high on the list of human rights is the freedom of speech.
Freedom of speech is something that we often hear professors and radical activists demanding. However, if freedom of speech is a basic human right, then all people in society have a right to use it, including Christians.
True freedom of speech allows for the free flow of ideas, including the expression of contrary ideas. This is often useful in determining courses of action in many different arenas and is needed in making social decisions. Even though freedom of speech is useful and constructive in many ways, freedom of speech is under attack in our postmodern world, as well as in postmodern Canada.
A major idea which is set in opposition to freedom of speech is “inclusivism.” Inclusivism, or inclusive speech, is simply perceived “political correctness.” It is the refusal to speak things that would be divisive or offensive. It has the motive of including as many people as possible in something, without saying something that would push some person away. Unfortunately, inclusivism has been applied to not only the refusal to speak divisively but, in many areas, the refusal to let others speak what they sincerely believe.
While in many contexts it is a positive thing to be inclusive, it is unrealistic and impossible to be inclusive in all things. We live in a real world. We live in a world with real issues that hotly divide society. We live in a society with contrary and conflicting values. Once we require one segment of society to be silent on the values that it holds, we are violating the principle of freedom of speech.
Today, there are possibly no greater examples in of the stifling of free speech as the prohibition in many workplaces, institutions and public forums on critical objections being raised to the homosexual lifestyle and towards the abortion-on-demand movement. Those who come to these issues with heart-felt concerns, and convictions which do not support these movements, are often called “bigoted” or “homophobic” and are sometimes subjected to prosecution or disciplinary action.
Inclusiveness, many times, is just a code word for “group-think” (either coined by or used by Irving Janis).1 It is the pressuring of individuals to adopt the views of a group, without any expression of opposition or dissent being allowed. The dynamics of group-life are such that pressure is placed on individuals to abandon their personal views, or values, for the perceived good of the group.
In some contexts, inclusiveness and group-think may be constructive as teams work towards a common goal. However, when well-meaning, conscientious objections towards issues are being interpreted as hate towards people, and banned as such, then inclusiveness has gone too far and is being abused. In such cases, freedom of speech is being violated.
What is “hate” and should people be allowed to speak it? Hatred must be carefully qualified when evaluated in relation to free speech. I think that people should not direct hatred at individuals or groups of people. However, hatred may, quite rightly, be directed at issues or lifestyles. For example, few would argue against hating the practice of slavery or against hating the vice of racism. It is right, and good, to directly speak out against these evils. If someone participating in the practice of slavery, or racism, was offended by such remarks, they have no real right to be prosecuting such speech. In a similar way, practices, such as the homosexual lifestyle and abortion, should be spoken against and even hated. To do so, is not the same as hating individual people, or people-groups, involved in these practices.
Christians make a careful distinction between hating the sin while loving the sinner. This distinction must be recognized when addressing the issue of hatred and free speech. Christians are called to love and show Christ-like compassion towards others. Christians are also called to stand for what the Bible teaches on moral issues. On the topic of same-sex lifestyle, the Bible says; “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” (Leviticus 18:22). Christians, and people in general, have a moral obligation to hate what is evil and to love what is good.
Historically, other regions in our 21st-century world have forbidden freedom of speech and freedom of dissent. Communist parties and totalitarian regimes crush and punish dissent and deny freedom of speech. By doing so, in many cases, regimes have streamlined their political operations, but at what cost? They have done so at the sacrifice of human rights and this is horribly wrong. Sadly, Canadian society has taken some steps down this same road of banning public dissent.
Restricting freedom of speech and banning dissent may, in some ways, streamline Canadian politics and make society more inclusive but it ignores the larger issue of personal freedom. Instead of valuing its citizens as free people, who have a right to their own opinions, society and governments sometimes view them as problems and obstacles to progress, as they define it. More seriously, they regard people's human rights and freedoms as problems and obstacles to their course of perceived progress.
What is fair play in the field of freedom of speech? Fair play allows for objections. Fair play also responds to objections to issues with responses to issues. That is to say, that when someone speaks out in objection to an issue, then that person's position should be heard and response should be made to the position, not necessarily to the person.
However, all too often, when someone speaks out against the homosexual lifestyle or abortion, the response to their objection, instead of being directed at the issue in contention or at conservatism in general, is directed at the individual. The person raising the objection is often called a bigot or homophobic, instead of response being made to the issue objected to. In such cases, it is the name-caller who is guilty of hatred, not the one objecting to the issue of the homosexual lifestyle or abortion. We need full freedom of speech to expose and respond to the weak arguments put forward in defence of the gay lifestyle and abortion-on-demand.
This distinction, of separating the issue from the person, must be made if we are ever to regain freedom of speech in Canada. It is wrong for governments, or institutions, to crush dissent or force conformity on conscientious objectors regarding controversial activities. Many would allow for freedom of thought in private life but would ban it in public life. However, thought in private becomes speech in public. It is a form of mind-control to take away a person's freedom of speech when in public life.
To take away freedom of speech is to shut the door on reform. Human societies, institutions and countries cannot grow and progress without reform. Canada needs reform. Canada needs freedom of speech.
To deny a people the freedom of speech is to deny them their very identity. It is to demand a surrender of their identity and to insist that they conform to something foreign to their very beliefs and values. Freedom of speech, even in democratic nations, is a precious freedom that is becoming fragile. When governments take steps to limit the freedom of speech of their citizens, it shows that those governments view their citizens as anomalies and even obstacles to their national plans. Without the freedom to express dissent, there is no possibility for reforming our world. This is too important a freedom to let go of. 2
Freedom of speech is directly connected to freedom of conscience. In the early days of settlement in North America, Puritans left England in search of freedom to practice their faith and speak its truths. They found this freedom on the shores of North America. This is one of the great virtues of colonial America. Modern-day America and Canada must decide if they will again be known for this essential freedom.
Freedom of speech allows freedom of belief and the profession of it. A Christian's profession of faith is the most important profession he or she will ever make in their lifetime. Freedom of belief is a fundamental human right and the freedom to profess that belief is every bit as fundamental and foundational to a person's humanity. To disallow a believer the right to profess his or her faith is to reject that person's humanity. How? It is rejecting a person's humanity because a Christian's faith is the foundational thing by which he or she defines themselves; it is their very identity.
Canada is a country which has a long history of extending freedom to its citizens. However, in recent history, for a time, activists and special-interest groups had been successful in establishing “hate speech” legislation in Canada. Hate speech laws were set up in the 1970's and were codified in section 13 of the human rights act. Since that time over 100 Canadians have come under fire from this legislation. Conservative reforms led to revisions being made. Canadian hate speech legislation, after being revised, did make some provision for religious doctrine and did allow critical speech directed toward an identifiable group on religious grounds. The first revision established that free speech was not to be prosecuted “if, in good faith, the person expressed or attempted to establish by an argument an opinion on a religious subject or an opinion based on a belief in a religious text. ” 3 Many activists were upset by this provision and would like to have seen it changed. For a season, freedom of religion and freedom of speech in this country depended on this provision. The situation changed again when Conservative MP Brian Storseth put forward Bill C-304, which having passed, has repealed the section 13 hate speech clause from the Human Rights Act. This is the single greatest victory for freedom of speech that our nation has ever seen. The greatest barrier to freedom of speech in our country was the human rights code itself. Now that the human rights code has been amended, Canadians can begin speaking freely again. This does not mean that the battle over freedom of speech is completely over. While this legislation protects freedom of speech in general conversation, far too often, such rights are not honored in the Canadian workplace. Open speech on religious convictions, in the workplace, could, and sometimes does, result in disciplinary action, even in a free country like Canada and can lead, in some cases, to a worker's dismissal. Sometimes people can't express in print all that they would like to because of copyright laws. This is regarding quoted material I think that this is a form of denying freedom of speech. I would like to see reforms come to copyright law which would expand the boundaries of "Fair Use" and the Public Domain. I also think that publishers should not be allowed to hold rights over works that they allow to go out of print.
Freedom of speech is a basic human right, as fundamental as any, within a democratic society. Freedom of speech allows for the free flow of ideas and the expression of both affirmation and dissent. In our country of Canada an on-going battle is being fought as the boundaries of freedom of speech are hotly debated. May God keep our land glorious and free.
1. Tammy Bruce, The New Thought Police – Inside the Left's Assault on Free Speech and Free Minds (Roseville: Prima Publishing, FORUM, 2001).
2. Thomas R. Berger, Fragile Freedoms (Toronto: Irwin Publishing, 1982).
3. Section 319 of Canadian Criminal Code. email@example.com
By quoting this document I am not claiming that the Canadian Government endorses my article or book.
Berger, Thomas R. Fragile Freedoms. Toronto: Irwin Publishing, 1982.
Brasch, Walter M. Social Foundations Of The Mass Media. Lanham: University Press of America, 2001.
Bruce, Tammy. The New Thought Police. Roseville: Prima Publishing, 2001.
Canadian Criminal Code, Section 319. firstname.lastname@example.org
Cookson, Catharine. Ed. Encyclopedia of Religious Freedom. New York: Routledge, 2003.
Levant, Ezra. Shakedown. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2009.