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.