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40 Days for Life Vigil 005

With freedom of speech comes responsibility and respect

We must be cautious of any measure which could restrict our freedom of speech, warns James Bundy

Freedom of speech is fundamental to the operation of a free and fair society. It gives us the ability to debate ideas, speak out against the establishment and, most importantly, improve society.

With the introduction of buffer zones, safe spaces, and no platforming, however, freedom of speech is under threat. Society’s vision is becoming narrower due to the lens of avoiding offensiveness. We must reverse this worrying trend if we want to pursue our goal, which I think we all share, of making Scotland the most free and fair society in the western world.

Avoiding offensiveness is a noble aim due to the principle that no one likes to be offended. The question we must ask is, is it a realistic aim? Can we have a society where no one is offended at any time? To answer this question, we must determine what offence is. Who and what causes offence? What is required to remove the notion of offence from our society?

 

Offense 

A dictionary definition of ‘offensive’ is: “causing someone to feel resentful, upset, or annoyed.” Offence, therefore, is caused by an individual or group which makes others feel resentful, upset or annoyed.

When talking to one person, it is most likely that you can watch what you say to make sure you do not cause offence. When you are speaking to a lecture hall on topics such as Brexit, religion, or moral issues, not being offensive becomes much harder.

Regardless of what you say or what your opinion is, there is likely to be someone in the audience who disagrees with what you are saying.

If your motivation is therefore to avoid offence, there is not much you can actually say. How is the world supposed to improve if no one can point out the flaws that exist? How is an ordinary person supposed to call out the establishment when they do wrong?

 

Responsibility

With free speech comes responsibility. We must take decisions as individuals, using the guidance of others, to judge what we consider to be acceptable to say or not.

If we allow the group-think police to make this judgement, we will end up in a situation where anything outwith the majority will be barred from public life. This is a worrying prospect and must be addressed immediately.

One issue that sparked conversation at the weekend was a banner which was on display at Celtic Park which stated ‘Tories not Welcome’.

I have been a season-ticket holder at Celtic for over 10 years and, during this time, I served as chair of the Scottish Young Conservatives for two years, worked for a Conservative MP and also stood as a Conservative candidate for my hometown of Grangemouth.

 

Hurt

During my time as a season ticket holder, I have only felt acceptance to the club by my fellow fans (bar after posting one tweet which got a lot of abuse). To see a sign like that unfurled at Celtic Park, a place where I go to escape politics, was hurtful.

I was offended. Do I think such a banner belongs in a football stadium? No. Do I think there should be regulations on what fans can or cannot say? No.

This is where the responsibility of free speech comes into play. As Catholics, we are called to love our neighbour, and especially our enemies. Though we disagree with what other people say or do, we must show nothing but love to them.

Of course, I fall short of this sometimes. We all do, but it is what we must inspire to do at all times. Making a personal judgement on what we say, and how we say it, is vitally important to carrying out this commandment in our lives.

 

Consequences 

Another reason why I am hesitant to introducing restrictions on our freedom of speech is because of the consequences it could have for our Catholic Faith. In the history of our country, Catholics were oppressed simply due to their religion. The celebration of Mass was illegal, and failure to denounce the Catholic Faith meant you could not hold public office.

If freedom of speech is restricted, it could restrict our religious liberty. This year a man was arrested for praying outside an abortion clinic. Do we live in a fair and free society if someone is arrested for praying in the wrong place?

We have seen efforts in universities across the country to shut down pro-life societies.

Do we live in a fair and free society if moral issues cannot even be debated or discussed?

Free speech has been one of the key components of the living in the western world. The ability to speak your mind, express ideas and debate controversial issues has allowed our society to advance in many ways.

 

Future of debate

But, though we may feel that our society is enlightened, it is fundamentally important that debate is allowed to continue. Our goal is to do on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Refusal to debate leaves the implication that we as a society believe we have achieved Heaven.

So, stand up for the truth. Stand up for the Truth of the Gospel. The truth, sadly, does offend some people. The truth even offended people when it was said by Jesus, so it will offend people when you say it. Standing up for the truth is the only way to do on Earth as it is in Heaven.

People will resist the truth. We must show love to them, but we must also not become timid. Becoming timid means the truth is silenced, not by law but by our individual choices.

If we refuse to be timid, efforts will be made—as they currently are—to remove our voice. That is why we must defend the right to free speech. It is the backbone of our democracy, but it is also the path to do on Earth as it is in Heaven.

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