Monday, October 29, 2018

Post 77--Freedom of Speech and Offensive Speech

Recently the European Court of Human Rights upheld an Austrian woman's conviction of calling Prophet Muhammad a pedophile. The conviction, it ruled, did not restrict her freedom of speech. The "Court's" judgement was approved by a higher court apparently who ruled that the earlier one had "carefully  balanced her right to freedom of expression with the right of others to have their religious feelings protected."  She is said to have publicly declared that the Prophet's marriage to a young girl was akin to "pedophilia."  Back in 2011 she was convicted of "disparaging religious doctrines" and ordered to pay a fine of  $713 plus costs, a ruling that was also upheld in higher places (The Associated Press, Vancouver Sun, October 26, 2018)

I do not know enough about that marriage to argue for or against the woman's opinion.  Even if I had enough data to support her opinion, I would definitely not state it this way in public. As a Christian, I have no desire to insult what my neighbour holds dear and precious, even if I disagree with him. I may wish to convince him of another truth and change her mind about his own, but I would do so with respect in the fashion of dialogue, where two partners explain their different opinions, opposing, contradictory opinions even, but always with respect. 

The only time I would turn more vociferous would be when "the other" becomes unjust or oppressive. If it were an extreme case, I might lose it.

You may have noticed that I placed quotation marks around "court" in the first paragraph. There's a good reason for that, at least from the Canadian point of view. Canadian human rights "courts" are anything but courts. Not infrequently they are described as "kangaroo courts." They hand out sentences without the solid data that characterize the more standard courts.  I've had no experience with them, but I read the newspapers and too often read about the soft "legal" --there's those quotation marks again!-- reasoning practiced in these  "courts," reasoning based more on bias and prejudice than on facts and legalities. Whether this holds true for their parallels in the EU, I am not sure.   

Of course, Christians who read the Bible literally can find plenty of excuses for berating other religions. The Old Testament makes short thrift of the pagan religions that surround Israel without any attempt at showing respect. The New Testament has its own examples. Jesus, in fact, castigates the leaders of His own religion something fierce, for having twisted its spirit and turning it into a vehicle of oppression. He leaves our Austrian woman far behind in the dust with His insults! The issue for Him was that the good of the best religion was so thwarted and abused that it became impossible for our Lord even to control Himself. He became totally disrespectful in public! He became a model revolutionary!

So, there is a place for lack of respect, for telling it as it really is, but there has to be a pretty good reason for that. Jesus pushed the line for appropriateness; I would  not go beyond Him, for His was based on true insight and wisdom and on love for the poor who were the victims.

In today's Vancouver, the egoism and greed of the property owners would probably evoke the same outburst from Jesus as did the religious leaders of His day. It is no wonder that entire groups of residents blare and yell it out in often brutal language. It is a shame that the Church and individual Christians are playing the same game as their secular counterparts. I am ashamed of them and am moving closer to shouting down especially church leaders who only bring bandages and ambulance service to the homeless, instead of attacking the systemic issues of greed and selfishness. 

But, to come back to our Austrian lady, should she have said what she did?  I would probably say "no."  But should she have the legal freedom of speech to say it?  I would probably say "yes."  Freedom of speech should not be restricted by emotions and bias. Political correctness is going too far. But that's human rights "courts" for you. 


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