On the Right To Offend

I think I should have the right to offend. There, I said it. Are you offended by that? Tough beans. If people think they have some sort of right not to be offended, then I will claim a right to offend. Both claims are equally silly, so I might as well play the game too.

Indeed, since we seem to be in the business of pulling rights out of the hat, then let’s keep going with this foolishness. If inalienable characteristics are something which should be sacrosanct and free of all cause of offence, then I demand a new law be passed. Call it the Ugliness Vilification Act.

You see, I have never been blessed with movie star good looks. I have always been just plain, well, plain, all my life. And because of that I have known all sorts of ridicule, contempt and abuse for much of my life. It has not been pleasant, but I have had to learn to live with it. It never really occurred to me that it should be against the law.

But if my innate lack of physical beauty is something I cannot do much about, I suppose I could make a case for having a law enacted to protect me from being offended or ridiculed on the basis of my looks. It makes about as much sense as so many other similar laws.

Indeed, studies have even demonstrated time and time again that good looking people are more likely to get better marks in schools, get better and higher paying jobs, and be the objects of all sorts of preferential treatment. Hey, it sounds like I got a case on my hands. We need not only anti-ugly discrimination laws, but some affirmative action here as well.

Let’s sue Hollywood, Madison Avenue and all those other places which regularly discriminate against ugly people as they make use of only good looking folks. Indeed, let’s sue the beauty pageants for their gross discrimination against us ugly people. We should demand some quotas here: for every beautiful woman who is allowed to enter a pageant, three ugly ones should be accepted as well.

Let’s put an end to this unjust inequality and discrimination. After all, we don’t want to offend anyone now do we? But that is just what so much of our discrimination and vilification legislation seeks to do: ensure that certain groups are not offended.

The federal Racial Discrimination Act, like the Victorian Racial and Religious Vilification Act, may have been set up with the best of intentions. But both seem to increasingly be little more than clubs with which to clobber those who do not hold to acceptable views on controversial issues.

For example, the judge in the Andrew Bolt case said this: “I am satisfied that fair-skinned Aboriginal people (or some of them) were reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to have been offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated by the imputations conveyed by the newspaper articles.”

But can we not say this about countless other writings? The cases would be endless. A gung-ho misotheist tract penned by angry atheists would also have resulted in people – in this case, theists and Christians – being “offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated”.

The reverse is true as well. For a Christian to aver that God exists and all men must bow before him will likely cause plenty of secularists and atheists real angst; they would most likely be “offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated” by such remarks.

A Muslim would likewise be “offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated” when a Christian proclaims that Jesus is the Son of God and the only way to the Father. So do we pass laws making all Christian evangelism illegal so as not to offend Muslims?

One can see just how ridiculous this entire notion is of declaring that people have a right not to be offended. The truth is, I am probably offended twenty times a day, as would be most people. I was offended when I heard this incredible ruling in the Bolt case. Does that mean there should be a law passed making it illegal for judges to make dumb decisions which might offend others?

I am offended when I can’t easily find a Dr Pepper in Australia. OK, let’s pass another law then. I am offended when Collingwood wins anytime, anywhere. So when does the law banning the Magpies come into effect? I am offended when angry activists regularly abuse me and vilify me. But for some reason there seems to be no law against that.

Michelle Malkin in the US has written about this nonsense, and she even singles out the Bolt case here: “When I commented about the court case on Twitter tonight, a liberal Australian wrote to me: ‘So you think it’s right for headlines such as ‘White fellas in the black’ to be used? What if your Asianness was questioned?’ To which I replied: ‘People question my Asianness every damned day. So what? Thank God it’s not a CRIME here in America.”

Exactly. As Tony Abbott said of the ruling, “We should never do anything in this country which restricts the sacred principle of free speech. And free speech means the right of people to say what you don’t like, not just the right of people to say what you do like.”

This ruling will just result in more division and enmity, not in unity and reconciliation. As John Roskam of the Institute of Public Affairs said, “It’s going to have a chilling effect on freedom of speech and it’s more likely to create racial intolerance. If people debate ideas, then racial intolerance will be unfounded but this is likely to drive opinions underground. Racial intolerance will thrive if we don’t have a free society.”

Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes said in a speech in June that the Racial Discrimination Act was an “Orwellian law that, probably, should not be there.” He also said, “I am concerned that people in some of the circles I mix, on my side of politics, increasingly seem to think that they should write, or invoke, or resurrect, laws that will shut Andrew Bolt up. A democracy is at the very least a free marketplace of ideas, and a free marketplace of arguments against those ideas. But it is never, never, a stifling or a suffocation of ideas.”

Former Labor Minister Gary Johns said this: “The provisions of the act used to silence Bolt are bad law. The provisions inserted by the Racial Hatred Act 1995 were strongly opposed by the Coalition on the grounds that it might impinge free speech. They have now done so.”

Or as one legal affairs writer put it, “The court’s ‘Bolt principle’ will encourage Australians to see themselves as a nation of tribes – a collection of protected species who are too fragile to cope with robust public discourse. Unless this is overturned on appeal, it will divide the nation. Aborigines should be outraged that they have been associated with this patronising ruling. But their anger is best directed towards the law, not Justice Mordecai Bromberg.”

So it seems many people – from all political persuasions – find this ruling to be quite disturbing, to say the least. It really is a blow against freedom of speech, and it really is a perfect illustration of how dumb it is to suppose that anyone can claim some sort of right to not be offended.

And if what I just said offends you, then just sue me already.


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25 Replies to “On the Right To Offend”

  1. But it already happens, Christians are being dragged to court for proclaiming Jesus, for the very reason that it offends atheists and muslims. with an atheist pm atheist hate speech is already protected as free speech, especially if it is directed only at Christians.

    For this I rejoice, Jesus told us this would happen, he also told us how to combat this, preach the good news louder and more often. This I gladly am doing wherever I go, the atheists hate it and voice it quite atheistically (abuse, insults, slights of intelligence threats etc). On a side but related note to this, Richard Dawkins has had to change how he allows comments on his website because to paraphrase his words, it has descended into anarchy, abuse, profanity, threats, slights on intelligence etc. atheists are an argumentative bunch.

    Neil Waldron

  2. Thanks Bill.
    It is not merely the case in Britain where police demanded that the proprietor of a Christian cafe halt a TV monitor from displaying Bible verses, but this is now in the secular world, where a commentator of conservative persuasion now has to shut up on one field of his purview. I heard him on radio this morning: he was very subdued, almost in tears.
    Meanwhile, the self-vaunted “free speech” advocates, so vociferous during the Howard years against his “attacks” on press freedom (i.e. against their agenda), are crowing. The usual suspects in the Fairfax Press are having their celebration and writing their gloating hit pieces. They need to be called out on their hypocrisy, these secular Pharisees.
    Bill, I fear that in the light of this judgment the totalitarian activists, buoyed by the decision, are going to embark on a pogrom inter alia against this site, Saltshakers, and other organisations of similar ilk. Keep going as long as you can, and resist with every ounce of energy and wisdom you can muster. It is a war of ideas, and the weapons are not only arguments, but now physical threats and legal intimidation.
    Murray R. Adamthwaite

  3. Spot on Bill.
    And while we consider ‘ugly-phobia’ how about we think about ‘fat-phobia’ ‘age-phobia’ ‘height -phobia’ etc etc

    I am sure that many people have felt the effects of these ‘discrimination’s’ in their work or schools or lack of promotion in their careers, but somehow islamaphobia and homophobia and race ‘phobias’ get all the attention and government money.
    Surely it is no more acceptable for a person to be face vilification over their ‘weight’ than it is for their race?
    Who is deciding which things deserve more status than other things?
    Have more school students faced ‘bullying’ over their sexual orientation than over physical appearance or weight? I doubt it.
    Before the government continues to pour money into ‘homophobic’ programs can they prove that this is more substantial than every other reason than bullying?

    If interested Brad Stine, comment on ‘being offended’.

    Annette Williams

  4. There is a big difference between defamation of a specific individual (or individuals) and vague, so-called “offending” of a large group of people. The ruling against Andrew Bolt is a farce, as is the law it is based upon.
    Jereth Kok

  5. Bill,
    I have just listened to Neil Mitchell interviewing Geoff Clark, and the latter was in real difficulty over some of the questions. Geoff and certain others felt offended by the remarks Andrew made, and the case he argued.
    Well, most of us get offended by something, or someone, every day!
    Whatever happened to the time-honoured principle that, when this happens, you take it on the chin, and move on? You don’t reach for the phone and dial 000.
    Geoff and others were offended. Well, DIDDUMS! HOW ABOUT THAT!
    Murray R. Adamthwaite

  6. Andrew Bolt writes: “Justice Bromberg insists he hasn’t stopped debate on racial identification, unless, apparently, your adjectives are too sharp, your wit too pointed, your views too blunt, your observations not quite to the point, your teasing too ticklish and your facts not in every case exactly correct. And even then, having jumped every hurdle and written with the forensic dullness of a Reserve Bank governor, you will run the risk of a judge deciding that whatever you’ve written is, after all, the very opposite of what you really meant. Despite Justice Bromberg’s assurances, I feel that writing frankly about multiculturalism, and especially Aboriginal identity, yesterday became too dangerous for any conservative. It’s simply safer to stay silent, or write about fluffy puppies instead. And so the multiculturalists win. They win, because no one now dares object for fear of what it will cost them in court. Hope they’re satisfied, to win a debate not by argument but fear.”


    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  7. Dr Pepper? What! you like that? How un Australian ! I am offended, see you in court.
    Man. I am offended every day, work mates offend me with their language and dirty stories, whats on TV offends me, billboards on the freeway in Melbourne offend me, even just going to Melbourne from the country or to a shopping mall offends me. Certain christian miseries offend me to!
    Big deal, so what, I offend people as well. Just today I received an email from a local Councillor. I deeply offended him in my comments about his voting for a sex shop in Echuca. I had told him his decision was a bad one and he needed to do what was right first, despite what the planning laws allow. Once I offended the faculty of a large bible college (JSwaggartBC) in the USA while having lunch with them and simply raising a question about what was going on there because of my conversation with some students in the meal line, who told me they only were there to please their parents. From that moment on I was shunned and treated as if I did not exist, not one single word was spoken to me, and of course I was not qualified to comment any how as I did not have a doctorate or at least a masters degree.
    Boy how offended would they have been if Jesus appeared. He would offend just about everyone like he did 2000 years ago, and they rose up to kill him. This world is in for an incredible shock in the near future. As it has been said if someone gets on your goat it only proves you have one.
    Great article Bill!
    Dr Pepper indeed! actually it’s not bad.
    Rob Withall

  8. Thanks Rob

    Hey, I am offended that you are offended that I am offended that there is no DP.

    And I don’t want anyone writing in here saying they are offended that I am offended that you are offended that I am offended that there is no DP.

    Because if they do, then someone else will say that they are offended that they are offended that I am offended that you are offended that I am offended that there is no DP. I think…

    There oughta be a law!

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  9. Thanks Rob
    I burst out cheering and hand clapping with your comment, how offended would they have been if Jesus appeared.
    Daniel Kempton

  10. Good essay. The right to freedom of speech didn’t come easily. It had to be fought for. Plainly the fight has to be ongoing. Mr Bolt was right to raise the issue of what defines an Aborigine and why some people, apparently white Caucasians, should be specially considered as Aboriginal. If they think they have a case then let’s argue over it without the risk of being taken to court because feelings were offended. Truth is more important than hurt feelings.

    The beauty of freedom of speech is that it lets us see what is out there in society. All sorts of threats come out of the woodwork, from neo-Nazi youths to Moslem terrorist sympathisers to corporate psychopaths. If they weren’t opening their mouths enjoying a freedom they wouldn’t fight for then we wouldn’t know they were there.

    John Snowden

  11. Hello Bill

    I am certain that when Christ comes for the second time he will find in Australia a great number of protesters protesting over the end of the world. Depending on how long it will take to wind up the universe He may also have to appear in the Federal Court to defend an urgent application brought by environmentalists on environmental damage caused by His actions. We are headed this way.

    Bill Spence

  12. Thanks guys

    This from Miranda Devine:

    “Make no mistake, the Bolt case and the swarm of Left-wing lawyers who have urged it on, acting pro bono or commenting approvingly from the sidelines, are all part of an illiberal movement in Australia to crush dissent. At a time of extraordinary political disharmony following the ousting of Kevin Rudd, the hung Parliament and the rise of the Greens, there is a concerted attempt to shut down conservative voices.”


    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  13. As a child growing up I was taught that I’m responsible for my reactions. We were taught that if a sister said something unkind or unfair (in the view of the one on the receiving end!) we had a choice how to react/respond – and the choice we made was our own responsibility. Pouting, sulking or banning fair comment or criticism were not among the several conflict resolution strategies encouraged in the home or in life in that lost era. Once past the toddler stage an evolving degree of dispute resolution was expected and allowed among the siblings.
    Anna Cook

  14. Hi Bill,

    This will surprise you. I don’t know much about GetUp! Aside from the fact they are a far-Left organization. Someone could enlighten me on more to what they are about. But I just found out from a Facebook site that defending Andrew https://www.facebook.com/defendbolt?ref=ts, so even GetUp putting up a petition on their site defending Andrew Bolt-


    Carl Strehlow

  15. Hi Bill,

    You have certainly pointed out the silly situations that these laws engender.

    The answer clearly is to get back to basics, bundle all these EO, HR, discrimination, charters of rights and vilification (have I missed any? federally and state) together while the issues are circulating in the media.
    Perhaps it is not that simple, but we must strike while the iron is hot. These laws bristle with technical etc, aimed as they are at would-be perpetrators seem to have traditionally worked because they operate to discourage certain actions rather than providing fuel for litigation.
    Nearly all of us now have the means of quickly having our say via electronic and printed media. Let us (from children with mobile texting devices to oldies with an ordinary telephone) truly learn to communicate in a genuine two way fashion, while learning to actually receive criticism without resorting to some sort of violent response. (yes, turn the other cheek) That result might be the mark of good education, without the specialist courses on bullying being felt to be necessary.


  16. Bill,

    I must add here that one some of the Greens sites I read today, they applauded the decision. Senator Sarah Hanson-Young status on her FB site says “ Diddums Andrew Bolt. Diddums.”. Unbelievable this is an Australian Senator we are talking about. How old is she again?

    While on the NSW Greens site their status says “The Greens NSW FB site “Andrew Bolt ignores journalistic standards and the law in his attacks. Our cogratulations to the complainants who took him on in the courts to prove it. This is a terrible day for free speech in this country” he says, but there’s not risk to free speech provided you don’t deliberately make up the “facts” to fit your prejudice.”

    As i said even GetUp! realize the ramifications. I know they have many if not almost all their views I would not agree with, like same-sex marriage for one; but unless there are any motives behind it, this is one I can agree with that their statement “After the Federal Court of Australia ruled free speech is dead in Australia, we must campaign to support our principles of free speech. While we may not all agree with all Andrew Bolt says, we should still fight for the principles of a free society”.

    Carl Strehlow

  17. Thanks Carl

    Yes it is a lefty outfit, but anyone can put up a question or issue. However they will only act on lefty causes.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  18. All this talk of being offended really offends me Bill.

    Having to read about Collingwood in many of your recent posts – albeit in a suitably negative light – is also offensive to me as a Geelong supporter.

    Keep up the great work Bill!

    Joel Hawting

    (PS. Go Cats!)

  19. Great article, Bill, as ever. I was reminded of the words of the active Atheist, Voltaire, who said (to Rousseau, I think), “I may disagree with everything you have said, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it!” Not generally the P-C view held by most these days though. God bless you.
    Laurie Parkinson

  20. Offences

    When the Villification Act was being discussed in Vic, I wrote a letter to enter into the discussion. My point was that offence is always in the perception of the offended.

    It is easy to legislate against that offence when it is the state or society that is offended, as in the case of common law.

    It is impossible to legislate against that offence when it is a person that can be offended. You will never know if you are going to offend someone until after you have done it.

    Bruce Knowling

  21. I’ll offend most here.

    Up the West Coast Eagles, they’ll win the flag next year.

    As I’m offended by the umpires bias towards Victorian teams…

    From a West Australian living in Rugby nut Queensland. :-0

    Yes, these vilification laws are ridiculous, it’s just the left attempting to inflict lawfare PC, to silence conservative journalists and Bloggers.

    A political tactic adopted by our socialist alliance foe’s. They lose the culture war argument, so they return to the last ditch effort to pull the veil over peoples eyes by soft totalitarian silencing and smear.

    Craig Terms

  22. Well I’m offended because God made me plain too. LOL

    Seriously, great article. Taking it a step further, what I admire is the ‘plain’ people all over the world who overcome whatever their shortcomings are and make useful lives for themselves.

    I know a ‘fair-skinned’ Aborigine who is married to an Australian lady with a great family. From ordinary beginnings he worked hard, started business enterprises and now lives in a million-dollar home with a million dollar view and mercedes in the garage.

    Compare that with the dregs outside the courtroom after the Bolt decision; fancy anyone of any race in the 21st century being proud of being represented by them.

    Let me offend a few people and say that there are, in my opinion, some Aborigines who need to grow up, stop being victims and get with the program. The ‘invasion’ happened over 200 years ago. Claiming victim status in 2011 is like white Australians claiming victim status because they are descended from transported convicts. What about the white children stolen from England throughout several decades of the 20th century. We don’t hear much about them.

    We’ve had the Apology. Now people want motherhood statements in the Constitution. Next will be a piece of Australia carved off as an Aboriginal ‘nation’. Well I say let them have it, and see how difficult is the job of forming a nation.

    David Williams

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