‘Freedom of Speech Under Attack’ This has been the war cry of late, coming from at least two foreign sources. The first was in December 2014 when North Korea allegedly hacked the computers of Sony to prevent the screening of a movie called ‘The Interview,’ about the fictitious assassination of its leader Kim Jung Un. Cinemas which hosted the film were threatened with terrorism. The general screening was cancelled due to this threat and America said that ‘freedom of speech’ was attacked.
The second was the massacre of the editor and cartoonists of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on January 7, 2015. The murders were done by Islamic militants in reprisal for the front-cover displaying images of their prophet Muhammad. Four days later, 1.5 million people and 40 heads of state marched in Paris to stand up against terrorism and for freedom of speech.
Any objective observer of the Charlie Hebdo magazine covers will have to agree that when it came to religious images, be they of Muhammad or the Holy Trinity, they were deeply offensive and blasphemous. Even one of the founders of Charlie Hebdo said that the late editor ‘Charb’ went too far. Having said this, we do not condone violence or even suggest criminalizing offensive and blasphemous speech - there are other and better ways to counter these affronts.
Yes, freedom of speech is under threat. But its greatest enemies are not North Korea or the Kouachi brothers at Charlie Hebdo nor al Qaeda. The real enemies are within our own western societies. This threat evolved out of the half-century old western cultural civil war, with the neo-liberals (‘progressivists’) pitted against the traditional social conservatives. One of the results of this war has been the proliferation of legislation: ‘Hate speech’ laws, anti-discrimination laws, and racial harmony bills. These laws, subjective in nature, with elastic definitions of key terms, are threatening to choke of free speech. In the Australian State of Victoria, two Christian pastors from South Asia were on trial for 5 years and $500,000 for allegedly vilifying Islam while teaching Christians about this religion at a YWAM base. Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act, Section 18C, bans language that offends, insults, and humiliates people.
The worst threat of all comes in the form of political correctness (PC). At its core, PC believes language creates reality. For too long, PC argues, ‘white westernized Christian males’ have dominated society and subjugated women, non-whites, minorities, and homosexuals by word and deed. Now, through the language of political correctness, a new, tolerant, and inclusive reality is being created. Failure to conform to PC can invite a torrent of abuse and bullying.
It is political correctness that:
• Forces Colorado baker Jack Phillips to attend ‘sensitivity training’ for refusing to bake a ‘same-sex wedding cake’ because of his Christian convictions;
• Had Atlanta’s fire chief Kelvin Cochran fired from his position because he wrote a short piece in his church’s Bible study group saying that linked ‘uncleanness’ to ‘homosexuality;’
•A British justice of the peace was disciplined for declaring that adopted children needed a mother and father, not a gay couple;
• Branded a 7 year old British schoolboy as ‘racist’ by his teacher because he asked a dark-skinned fellow student if he was from Africa;
• The new Labor Government in Victoria promises to remove the exemptions of churches and Christian organizations in anti-discrimination legislation to force them to hire non-Christians;
The core of political correctness is ‘the right not to be offended.’ Classic offendedness meant to cause someone ‘to stumble, fall, injure themselves, be pulled down, crushed, or turn away from faith.’ Today, we have lowered the bar. Today, ‘offendedness’ does not cause any real harm, just possible hurt feelings and discomfort from words that have been deconstructed and twisted beyond recognition. Perception, not truth or reality, is king. This right ‘not’ to be offended is supported by political activists, the media, and government.
With political correctness, people are not free to say what they really think, nor are they allowed to have personal convictions. The intentions of their heart are irrelevant. Can there be any greater suppression of free speech than this? If we cannot agree to disagree, then we will lose our precious free speech.
We are reaching a fork in the road. Free speech and the culture of ‘freedom from being offended’ cannot co-exist; they are mutually exclusive. One will eventually prevail against the other. As Christian people, we want to win people to Christ; we do not want to deliberately hurt or offend anyone. Nevertheless, if we succumb to political correctness and the right ‘not to be offended,’ then we can kiss good-bye our free speech and the freedom of conscience that goes with it, which fellow Christians Jack Philips and Kelvin Cochran have forcefully discovered.
The Road Ahead is a blog from the ministry of Teach All Nations that offers insights on world trends, current events, and victorious living from a Biblical worldview. If you want to receive regular updates on these topics, register your email at: http://tan.org.au/contact_us/index.asp