Monday, December 7, 2015

In defence of free speech

One of Cayman’s local legislators (an elected member of our mini-parliament) is in hot water from the liberals among us for defending his selective Old Testament Christianity. His god disapproves of sodomy, and so does he. 

His chief critic is the expat Chairman of our government-appointed Human Rights Commission; he believes in equal rights for homosexuals. The politician says the Chairman should be replaced by a Christian, by which he means an Old Testament Christian of his own persuasion.

As a human-rights advocate myself, and a fairly devout heathen, I agree with the Chairman on the equal-rights issue. Also as a human rights advocate, though, I believe in free speech, and must defend the politician’s right to speak his mind on the issue.

He (the polly) has not called for violence, or the jailing of sodomites, or even (I think) the legal banning of homosexual acts of passion. To the best of my knowledge he has not joined in any of the public protests against the “gay cruises” that visit Cayman from time to time. This being Cayman, his words of disapproval don’t amount to an incitement to violence – though they do encourage discrimination. What to do?

In recent years, around the world, the right to free speech has taken a bit of a bashing. There are laws in some otherwise civilized European nations that actually prosecute and jail people for questioning any detail of the orthodox story of the Nazi holocaust. (As it relates to Jews, at least: I don’t know the position relating to Gypsies, Slavs, homosexuals and the rest. We never read about that.)

The iconic figure of six million dead Jews is legally sacrosanct, in those nations, and to question it is blasphemy. Doubts are classed as anti-Semitism, intrinsically likely to provoke a second holocaust of Jews. Since there is no equivalent stigma attached to details of other Nazi slaughters – or indeed other historical slaughters of any time and any peoples – can we shrug off the anti-Semitism focus as driven by tribal hyperbole? I think we can.

Doubting details doesn’t amount to denying the whole thing. The “denier/denial” label has been picked up by the AGW brigade, who are keen to imprison heretics who disbelieve the orthodoxy that Global Warming is all the fault of humankind.

By the same token, quoting a couple of isolated incidents from the Old Testament constitutes homophobia, according to Mr Eden’s critics, and makes him a “hater”. Surely that is grossly unfair. Surely he is entitled to his opinion that all queers will go to hell. It’s only his hell, after all.

At my boarding school we were told that our right to swing a fist stopped where somebody else’s nose began. Also, that freedom of speech did not extend to crying “FIRE!” in a crowded theatre, unless there really was a fire. All freedoms sometimes have to bow to other freedoms.

English common-law has always contained a prohibition against “disturbing the peace”. The prohibition is often abused by Police and Prosecutors, but its principle is sound enough. Disrespecting any shibboleth may be permitted by the human-rights canon; but broadcasting that disrespect in a manner or place that encourages violence, is not. That seems fair enough.

In The Gay Marriage Thing (Archives March 2014), I argued against the practice of national governments to license marriages. However, if they insist on retaining the practice, only minimal tweaking would be needed to extend the licences to same-sex marriages – and to same-family marriages too. Reproduction, or even sexual congress, is not an essential factor in any marriage.

Old Testament legends are actually much more tolerant of incest than of sodomy; some of the world’s most respected religions display a similar tolerance. And a few decades ago incest was relatively common in Cayman – as in many other isolated villages around the world. We encountered jokes about incest as soon as we arrived in Cayman. A father expresses disgust to learn that his son’s intended bride is a virgin. “If she’s not good enough for her own family,” he huffs, “she’s not good enough for ours.”

I don’t have much sympathy for Mr Eden as a person. He was silent during the most recent kerfuffle over free speech, involving our local newspaper’s Editor. He was silent when I was being persecuted for the same reason, nearly thirty years ago. He has been silent for forty years about the officially tolerated abuse of migrant domestics.

Nevertheless… he is entitled to maintain his personal prejudices, and to advertise them, even if he himself might not be as generous to others.