LAST WORD: Hate Talk – How much freedom of speech do we deserve?

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Given the inability of societal segments to have a respectful and thoughtful discussion, censorship is a necessary evil.

By Mohamed Sheriffdeen

Freedom is the ultimate moral ideal, at once religious and secular, political and apolitical. It is a driving human aspiration to the ultimate plateau: self-determination. Nobody but you dictates the manner in which you live your life. Freedom is sacrosanct.

Legislation of human needs and humans wants will forever be a prickly topic, subject to endless debate and scrutiny. Bill Whatcott, for example, had used his “freedom of speech” to preach anti-gay tirades.
Several weeks ago, the Supreme Court of Canada decided to uphold judgment of his abuse of this freedom while relaxing portions of the hate speech provision of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code for being too “overbroad.”

Whatcott claimed the ruling represented a “dark day for Canada,” insisting that his “freedom to speak the truth” was compromised. “I have to follow Christ first,” he continued. “What I have said is true.”
There was an astounding rush to support Whatcott’s anti-gay crusade as a function of his right to freedom of speech and expression. “The right to freedom of speech means nothing if it only applies to speech that most people want to hear,” wrote The National Post’s John Carpay.
Andrew Coyne of the same paper argues that the court cannot prove those who were exposed to words of hatred were actually subjects of increased hatred. The list goes on.

Freedom is a powerful thing. It is also a responsibility as much as a right, and has to be treated with dignity and respect. Any and every individual deserves the right to broadcast
an opinion without being frowned upon, provided that they articulate themselves in a justifiable and thorough manner.

Whatcott makes no such pretense of justification. He states his opinion as fact, a prime example being on the site Trust Christ or Go to Hell, with which Whatcott is affiliated. The banner reads: “Rebuke the Puke. Destroying the Wicked. In God’s Name.” The remaining content is loaded with a barrage of insults hurled witlessly against anybody who disagrees with this sect of Christianity’s views of moral, including women, Muslims, and the gay community.

There is no wiggle room for a discussion in his approach, a fact that his defenders barely noticed in their rush to initiate petitions for the expansion of free speech guidelines.

At the same time, ideological fanatics lined up to hurl grenades at Tom Flanagan after his comments about child pornography. Was he not just adopting an immensely unpopular opinion in the same way as Whatcott? I do not defend or condone his musings; the fundamental flaws in his argument have already been scripted elsewhere.

However, his biggest mistake seems to be that the topic he chose to comment on is one that the public unanimously considers a taboo. Consider this man, who has had a long, illustrious and highly decorated career as an academic and policy adviser vanish in a heartbeat of poorly constructed thoughts. Yet we rush to defend baseless bigotry as a right to religious expression.

“Americans have the right to be stupid,” John Kerry recently stated in Berlin, defending the right to boorishness as “something worth fighting for.” But do we truly have the right to be crass and venomous while hiding behind the curtain of freedoms of speech and expression?

A decision made in a lucid state requires accountability. Espousing socially and morally corrosive invectives while claiming protection behind personal freedoms divorces the speaker from their words and simply leaves these ideas suspended in the air of public conversation.
Censorship may bring to mind terrible images of technocratic and fascistic crackdowns on public expression, but given the inability of societal segments to have a respectful and thoughtful discussion, it is a necessary evil. Having the heated arguments that free speech advocates cry out for is all well and dandy, but they need to be conducted within a sense of decorum and respect for the other party.
Other wise, we encourage arguments that snowball into divisiveness, anger and contempt without resolution, actively fostering degradation of human unity.

Nobody deserves to be silenced. Yet nobody deserves to be labeled a sodomite and pedophile based on zero evidence and lifestyle choices.

So, ask yourself: without adequate individual policing, how much freedom of speech do we truly deserve? How can we protect criminal intent by suggesting that there is no damage done? After all, psychological trauma and alienation cannot be truly quantified.

Should we give ourselves to lapse into extreme ideology, blind to the capacity of the darker depths of human imagination to exploit those ideals? Society is not perfect, humans are not perfect; we are a living, flawed, complex, and thoughtful race, but we can co-exist. An individual’s decision to associate with or even care for another group is their own and cannot be questioned, but their ability to denigrate and savage another person for being different is not one that can we simply blanket as a freedom.

That is not freedom. That is textbook and systematic persecution.