CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

How Free is the Free West?

Jun 10, 2008

A case can be made that there is some sort of connection between the Judeo-Christian worldview, and basic Western goods, such as freedom of speech. And a case can also be made that there is a connection between the decline of the Judeo-Christian worldview and the decline in freedom of speech.

Most often these assaults on freedom of speech in the West come in the guise of distorted views of tolerance and acceptance. The main legal restraints on free speech come in the form of various anti-discrimination laws, equal opportunity legislation, and assorted vilification laws. In the interests of promoting diversity, tolerance and multiculturalism, we are well on the road to abandoning freedom of speech altogether.

Plenty of examples can be mentioned here. In Victoria, Australia, an outlandish religious vilification law has resulted in real restrictions on freedom of speech. Two Christian pastors, said to have vilified Muslims, were in turn vilified and harassed by the Equal Opportunity Commission. In the end the case went to an appeal board, and the original judgment was squashed.

The original guilty charge against the two was found to be a legal mess, and it seems the real crime of the pastors was to actually quote from the Koran. How ghastly! And it turned out that truth could not be used as a defence in the case! Although eventually let off the hook, the two pastors had to endure a five-year kangaroo court process, and costs amounting to over a half million dollars.

An almost similar court case is brewing in Canada at the moment. Columnist Mark Steyn has been dragged before the Human Rights Tribunal in British Columbia for essentially the same crime: offending Muslims. The gist of the charge seems to be quite like the Victorian case: quoting from Muslims, who in turn were offended by such quotes.

The Canadian Islamic Congress took offense at the comments of Steyn, and had him brought up before the Tribunal to give an account of himself. In Australia it was the Islamic Council of Victoria who made the complaints. Their Canadian brethren obviously got wind of the case here, and decided it would be worth trying in the Peoples’ Republik of Kanada.

Law Professor James Allen had a piece in the Australian legal affairs pages on Friday, bemoaning this madness in Canada. He begins with these words: “There is a little known fact about Canada. It is today a country where you can say or write things that are true and yet still be brought before a tribunal. That tribunal can fine you; it can order you to pay money to the people who complained about your words; it can force you to issue an apology; it can do all three. That’s not all, though. The people who complained will not need to hire a lawyer. Their costs will be picked up by the state, by the taxpayers. You, on the other hand, will have to hire a lawyer to defend yourself. And there will be no award of costs at the end, so that even if you win, you will still be out of pocket to your lawyers tens of thousands of dollars.”

This is again almost identical to the current legal situation in Victoria. The accused is simply declared guilty until proven innocent. And the accused is stuck with all the costs, while the complainant goes cost free and can remain anonymous. This is what is known as justice in Australia, and in Canada.

One downside of the Allan article is that he is evidently completely unaware of the Victorian case: “This amazing inroad into free speech will surely come as a surprise to most Australians, not least because in so many ways Canada is the country closest to ours in terms of constitutional and democratic history. And yet it’s all true. These things are happening right now – in Britain’s oldest self-governing Dominion, the place where so many of the lawyerly class here in Australia regularly look for inspiration when it comes to bills of rights and how best to protect human rights (which is incredibly ironic, I know).”

Sorry, but it does not come as a surprise. Indeed, it sounds all too familiar. But as a Canadian-born Queenslander, he can perhaps be excused for this oversight. He continues:

“Back in the 1960s and 70s, Human Rights Tribunals were established in Canada at the federal and provincial level. One of the provisions these codes share is a hate-speech one, that it is an offence for any person to publish ‘any statement that … is likely to expose a person or group or class of persons to hatred or contempt’. And truth is no defence here. Unlike in regular courts where fair comment and truth are defences to any defamation action, in these so-called Canadian Human Rights Tribunals truth is not a defence. What you say can be wholly true and accurate, and you can prove it, but you still cannot say it.”

Plenty of other commentators have written up this case. Yesterday Rich Lowry had a piece at townhall.com in which he also weighs into this Canadian lunacy. He begins, “At its best, Western civilization has fostered freedom of speech and of thought. But Canada has a better idea.”

Normal freedom, of expression “in 21st-century Canada, where the old liberal rallying cry ‘I hate what you say, but will fight for your right to say it’ no longer applies. The country is dotted with human-rights commissions. At first, they typically heard discrimination suits against businesses. But since that didn’t create much work, the commissions branched out into policing ‘hate’ speech. Initially, they targeted neo-Nazis; then religious figures for their condemnations of homosexuality; and now [Canadian newsweekly] Maclean’s and Steyn. The new rallying cry is, ‘If I hate what you say, I’ll accuse you of hate’.”

Lowry rightly concludes, “Free speech is a very clean, neutral concept – ‘Congress shall make no law …’ Once a government begins policing offensiveness, things get much murkier. It has to decide which groups are protected and which aren’t – the ‘who/whom’ of Lenin’s power relations. So, even though there are plenty of fire-breathing imams in Canada, no one ever pesters them about their hatefulness. It is the genius of Muslim grievance groups to leverage Western anti-discrimination laws to their advantage. In his Maclean’s essay, Steyn noted how in much of the West, ‘the early 21st century’s principal political dynamic’ is whether something offends Muslims. Indeed – but in Canada, truth is no defense.”

All around the Western world various freedoms, especially of Christians, are being whittled away in the name of hate crimes and other lousy laws. The Steyn case is just the latest result of a growing batch of draconian laws designed to privilege various noisy minority groups while penalising the Christian majorities.

The question is, how much longer before free speech is taken away from us altogether.

www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,23816891-25192,00.html
www.townhall.com/Columnists/RichLowry/2008/06/09/mark_steyn_enemy_of_the_state

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13 Responses to How Free is the Free West?

  • Bill,

    Do you think it would be fair to say that such laws in Australia (e.g. anti vilification law) prevent us from having excellent Christian radio and TV programs where we can openly discuss our point of view and challenge others?

    I have always thought that shows like, say Greg Koukl’s Stand to Reason, or Lee Strobel’s Faith Under Fire (both great American shows), would be hot potatoes here. It’s a pity, because they are great examples of clear thinking Christianity, the likes of which is apparently and implicitly censored here.

    Did you by chance discuss any of this with Greg Koukl during Summit, because I have heard Greg talk about this before?

    Thanks, Duane Proud

  • Thanks Duane

    These shows certainly could be problematic here in Victoria, and in other parts of Australia. I have not talked about this with Greg, but I expect one day the thought police will come knocking on my door, demanding that I close down this website. The secular left is increasingly making it difficult for genuine debate on a whole range of issues to be heard in the West.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hello brother,

    It seems that persecution today is coming in the form of legislation. Such ‘anti-discrimination’ laws, although meant and conceived for good, are now being used to systematically ban the Christian point of view from the public sphere. What happens in Australia is current currency in Europe.

    Stand firm! Be blessed!

    Anon (for security reasons), Europe

  • All this is happening before our very eyes and yet most of the church sleeps on regardless either denying there is a problem or else totally oblivious that there is one.

    Ewan McDonald, (from an undisclosed location somewhere in Victoria lest after knocking on Bill’s door the thought police come after those of us who agree with him!).

  • Then seizing Bill, they led him away and took him into the house of the high court judge. Ewan followed at a distance. But when they had gathered outside the courtroom and had sat down together, Ewan sat down with them. A postmodern thinker saw him seated there in the firelight and looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said.

    A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” “Man, I am not!” Ewan replied. About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Victorian from an undisclosed location.”

    Ewan replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, Bill’s website was shut down. Bill turned and looked straight at Ewan. Then Ewan remembered the things that Bill had spoken of in his blog: “I expect one day the thought police will come knocking on my door, demanding that I close down this website.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.

    🙂

    Luke 22:54-62

    Duane Proud

  • Bill, you have omitted the notorious Stephen Boission case in Alberta, Canada, prosecuted under the infamous Section 13 of the Human Rights Act in the country, which deal with hate crimes. The details can be found here:
    http://www.worldnetdaily.com/?pageId=66704
    and here:
    http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/jun/08060902.html
    and commentary here by Ezra Levant, Jewish journalist in Canada, who himself fell foul of the same Act:
    http://www.ezralevant.com/
    – where there are several entries relating to the case, along with links to other video clips etc.

    The case should be studied by ALL Christians, because with the likes of Rob Hulls here in Victoria, and wall-to-wall Labor governments the same will happen here. It is only a matter of time.
    Persecution is alive and well here and in the Western world generally!

    And don’t imagine that truth will get you off the hook: under these “hate speech” laws truth is no defence. In that case I really wonder why a witness in a case under such a law should have to swear “to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”. Why not simply swear that the evidence one shall give shall hurt no-one’s feelings? After all, that is what “hate speech” laws are all about, are they not?

    Murray Adamthwaite

  • Thanks Duane

    While I will resist the temptation to any messianic pretensions here, you are right about the coming persecution for Christ’s sake. We are warned about being dragged before tribunals, as Jesus said (eg., Matt. 10:17-18). Those who will stand up and be counted for Jesus will increasingly find themselves standing against the various courts and commissions. The question is, are we willing to pay the price? Or will we cower in fear and go along with the system?

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • B. Hussein Obama and a Democrat-controlled Congress would pass Canada-like laws. But many of America’s Christian “leaders” are just as oblivious, and as much “useful idiots” as many Layba supporting Christian lobbyists were in Australia.
    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • Thanks Murray

    Yes, I am about to write up this most alarming story – stay tuned.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Good one Duane. Unfortunately there are probably enough references to me out there on the web for the thought police to track me down anyway. I even have a mention on unbelief.org – but I mustn’t boast.

    Ewan McDonald, Third planet from the sun.

  • See Media Ignore That Gagging Sound from Canada by By Robert Knight.
    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • The possibility of evil replacing good is in serious danger of happening if this passes into Victorian law. Will state parliamentarians be propected? Will any public figure be safe? How many courts or tribunals will be needed to handle the cases for their decision? The media alone would fearure in large part when they do their job of exposing wrong things and then get done in cour by smart lawyers? Even judges and magistrates could end up trying to protect themselves because of the determinations they make. This is a bad one and should be scrapped!
    Peter Rice

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