Monday, December 24, 2007

A Few Additional Thoughts Concerning Free Speech in Canada

A few lessons for those who seem a little confused about what it means to live in a society with freedom of expression:

1. Learn to take "No" for an answer if someone won't publish your letter, rebuttal, or blog response. While freedom of speech is a right, it is not your right to force others to give you a voice. You can ask politely, be thoughtful, and write intelligently. But don't go running to the government if someone says "No".

2. If someone hurts your feelings, you can respond by writing a letter to the editor, publishing a blog, calling a radio talk show, running for politics, or any other number of things. But don't go running to the government!

3. Recognize that in a free society, the right to free expression does include the right to offend. But freedom of expression also includes the right to defend. We have the right and obligation to counter false or misleading accusations and correct prejudicial comments. But we do not protest that such things are published; we stand against what has been said. This is the nature of apologetics, to expose the truth that has been hidden behind the lies, misunderstandings or misinformation of our accusers. But the end result is not to expect or demand an apology from the publisher. The publisher does not need to apologize for offending Christians, Muslims, or green-eyed snakes. To call for this would be to call for the suppression of the freedom of expression. Our obligation here is to present the truth and call for ethical behaviour in reporting. And if the publisher refuses to act, we can stop reading their stuff and we urge others not to as well. Or we can get over it and act like adults. But we don't go running to the government to protect us from offended feelings!

4. Be aware that the trend toward defending an individual's or group's "right" to NOT be offended (in particular, it seems, for Muslims and homosexuals) and thus limiting the rights for others to express different opinions, represents a significant threat not only to freedom of expression and religious liberty but to democracy and the Rule of Law itself. This trend undermines two basic premises of the Rule of Law principle. The first is the shift from the objective (what was expressed) to the subjective (how was it received and/or perceived). This represents (as Mats Tunehag well stated) "a shift from freedom of speech to "freedom from hearing'; from the speaker to the hearer; from what was said to how it was perceived; from instigating violence to ‘I was offended'; from objective to subjective criteria and laws."

The second Rule of Law principle that is being undermined by this trend is the loss of predictability. Laws and the consequences of breaking them should be predictable. But how can one know if what one says is going to offend someone, somewhere, for some reason? The law, therefore, becomes entirely subjective and liable to abuse, just as we see the Blasphemy Laws of Pakistan being abused today.

It is at this last point that I think we do need to run to the government to protect us from those who would restrict free speech in Canada in the name of human rights and are using the human rights commissions to do it.

No comments: