TCS Daily


Freedom of "Hate" Speech

By Sean Gabb - August 25, 2004 12:00 AM

Read the newspapers, and you'd think that persecution of Christians is something that happens in places like Pakistan and Indonesia. But in fact, it is happening right here and now in Europe.

Ake Green is a Pentecostalist preacher in Sweden. In 2003, he preached a sermon in which he referred to homosexuality as "abnormal, a horrible cancerous tumor in the body of society." He also quoted some of the standard biblical injunctions against homosexuality. He was denounced to the authorities and charged under a 2002 law which makes it a criminal offence to say rude things about any of the usual privileged groups - that is, women, non-whites, non-Christians, homosexuals and so forth. He stood trial in January this year, and was at the end of July sentenced to imprisonment for one month.

This is not an isolated case. In November 2003, the Bishop of Chester in England was investigated by the police after he had suggested that homosexuals should consider some kind of therapy. He was not charged, but the local police chief gave him a public lecture about the duty to tolerate all lifestyles.

Both these cases arose under human rights legislation that make it a crime to offend certain groups.

I can understand that words do often hurt. But there can be no place in a free society for protection against being offended. The traditional liberal view is that people are free if they can think and publish and associate as they please, and do whatever does not infringe the equal rights of others to life and property. Any restrictions on these freedoms going beyond the need to protect the equal rights of others, or to protect national security - interpreted very narrowly - is unwarranted interference, and has no place in a free society.

With regard to freedom of speech, liberals have traditionally been emphatic. They have taken it as meaning the right to say anything about public policy or alleged matters of fact. If someone wants to say that homosexuals are the spawn of Satan, or that black people are morally or genetically inferior to whites, or that the Holocaust did not happen (but should have), or that the Prophet Mohammed was a demon-possessed, epileptic pedophile, that is his right. If he causes offense, hard luck on those offended. People have no right to legal protection against such views.

Of course, liberals have also been emphatic about the rights of homosexuals. They have said that consenting adults have the right to do as they please without intervention by the law. But freedom for homosexuals does not mean legal privilege against the hatred and contempt that others - however unjustly - may feel for them.

The recent tendency to include "freedom" from being offended in human rights legislation is a cuckoo in the nest of human rights protection. It can be used to shut down debate. This is wrong for the liberal reasons just stated. It also, however, causes more hatred and resentment against the protected groups than would otherwise be the case.

Pastor Green would once have been largely ignored. By those who paid any attention at all, he might have been regarded as an uncharitable bigot. He is now, because of his conviction, a prisoner of conscience. There ought surely to be no place in modern Europe for such cases.

Dr. Sean Gabb is editor of the journal of the Libertarian Alliance, Free Life, and of Free Life Commentary. For more information his personal web site can be found at www.seangabb.co.uk Dr. Gabb can be emailed at sean@libertarian.co.uk


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