Journalists, comedians, and pastors, among others, have been brought before the British Colombia Human Rights Tribunal for exercising their human right to free speech. This star chamber has the power to force people to pay fines, publicly repudiate their own beliefs, and even to send them to jail if they refuse or cannot do those things. All this is done without respecting basic human rights such as the right to face one’s accuser or the right to freedom of speech.
The vagueness of the B.C. Human Rights Code and the Administrative Tribunals Act means that if you read the Third of the Ten Commandments aloud in, for example, a church, you could be brought before the Tribunal for condemning those who have left any of the Abrahamic religions. The Third Commandment reads: “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me.” I should note that I’m an athiest and I don’t believe in the Ten Commandments, but I have a big problem with being told I can’t say them aloud.
Freedom of speech is not an arbitrary claim to be balanced against the sensitivities of certain groups and the need for a sensible discourse. Freedom of speech is an absolute right and the bedrock of human liberty. Without an absolute protection of free expression, I cannot advocate for the remainder of my rights – this is fundamental to citizenship in a modern democracy.
Many of those who spoke with “hatred and contempt,” such as a gay-bashing minister, were speaking about me and the values I hold. They might wish me harm or think me damned after my death, but I don’t want to see them be tried for thinking or saying that. If a minister is banned from condemning homosexuals because it is an unpopular viewpoint, I can’t be secure in my own right to voice unpopular viewpoints. Their liberty is my liberty. Only if they can show hatred and contempt for me, am I secure in my right to show contempt for their small-minded, stupid beliefs and ideas.
You can only fight bigoted, dated ideas with more and better ideas. Banning some ideas from the public discourse is fundamentally wrong. Particularly at universities, we have a duty, if we are to call ourselves academics, to approve and approbate ideas on their merits, not on the whims of some tribunal or some
politician who wishes to pander to a group that feels victimized. The only way to fight injustice is to be able to confront your adversaries on the public square and call the oppressors what they are. Using force to oppress them is hypocrisy of the worst sort, and endangers the freedom that those originally victimized are ostensibly seeking.
There exists no right to not be
offended, and there exists no right not to be confronted with uncomfortable or ugly ideas. There exists only the right to speak back and unmask hypocritical piety. Or better yet, to ignore and crush them with a deafening silence.
Peter Hurley was The Daily’s Web editor last year. His favourite right is that which allows him to party.