Monday, October 30, 2006

Religion and Freedom of Speech.

In the all too frequent debates that have emerged over the limits of free speech when it offends religious sensibilities, mostly one religion in particular, one of the arguments of those who wish to inhibit free speech either by law or making certain ideas taboo is that the right to speak freely does not encompass the right to cause offence and the violent response of those who have been offended is in part the responsibility of the person who caused offence. This is of course bizarre as this article in the Australian publication 'Policy' by, Steve Edwards, elaborates:

Allow me to take stock of our new situation with reference to two hypothetical social groups, A and B. Group A is rather scientific and sceptical, curious and uncertain—at once interested in discovering ‘truths’ through rational inquiry, while remaining open to the possibility that existing knowledge can be falsified. Group B subscribes, with a famous ardour and certainty, to a bundle of unproven and unfalsifiable beliefs—a religion—and thus necessarily rejects the very premise of the ‘fallibility of human knowledge’. Clearly, as B already has The Truth, it shall be somewhat lukewarm on allowing any ‘conflicting notions’ to exist at all. Thus, legally-speaking, all demands that A take any notice of B’s sensibilities wherever something might grievously offend some pillar or derivative symbol of The Truth, imply both a justification for deploying force against A merely to placate the feelings of B and the subversion of Mill’s scientific case for free expression by allowing piecemeal incursions on behalf of ‘infallible’ dogma. That is, so long as B can bring enough rancour and enmity down on A for showing disrespect to some aspect of B’s unproven and unfalsifiable beliefs, the state may side with B against A.

In addition to this legal capitulation, our willingness to indulge B’s remarkable behaviour thus far has serious moral ramifications. Incredibly, due to the philosophical nature of B’s beliefs as unfalsifiable dogma, we have also necessarily admitted that B can be morally justified in heaping massive opprobrium on A, without being asked or even being able to explain precisely why. That is to say, B may mercilessly assault the character of A without bothering to provide a credible, logical, reason—I’m afraid ‘because God says so’ is no such reason. In short, by allowing any superstition to have a role in determining the theoretical legal limits of ‘free speech’ we are inadvertently crafting a doctrine for unscientific, irrational bullies.
The current governments long standing plans for a religious hatred bill will if it is ever allowed to pass do exactly that. It would be the most powerful tool for religious persecution since the eighteenth century.

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