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Freedom of speech?

November 2002 | by Jonathan Skinner

A new and deadly form of fundamentalism is spreading across our land and it could take away our freedom of speech.

In the wake of recent atrocities perpetrated by religious fundamentalist groups, many governments have reacted by promoting their own form of fundamentalism — pluralistic fundamentalism.

Politically correct

The term ‘fundamentalism’ is confusing because it is used with so many different slants of meaning. Broadly, it designates any religious anti-modernist movement, whether Hindu, Islamic, Christian — or whatever.

‘Fundamentalists’ want to get back to the ‘roots and core’ of their faith, undiluted by modern trends. Most so-called fundamentalists pose no danger whatsoever to society.

However, all religions have their extreme factions, and some of these resort to violence. It is these that catch the media’s eye.

Reacting to the perceived dangers of fundamentalism, many governments are threatening to restrict freedom of speech. How? By demanding that no one should say that what they believe is right, and what others believe is wrong.

Every teaching must be viewed as valid and true — it is not ‘PC’ to accuse anyone of error.

Rights eroded

However, it is one thing for a nation to tolerate a diversity of religious views, but quite another to forbid its citizens to say that someone else is mistaken.

The freedom to hold a religious opinion, and to persuade others of it, is a basic right in a free society — and this right is being eroded.

Surely, in a free country, any religious group has the right to broadcast its views without having to water them down and make them ‘politically correct’.

As long as there is no incitement to violence or law-breaking, all should be free to speak their minds.

Muslims should be able to proclaim Islam, atheists to disseminate atheism — and so on. If the group has the resources and the will to broadcast, then it should be allowed to do so.

We do not need the government to ‘shield’ us from the diversity of strong and contradictory views present in a multi-faith society.

Overstepping

The point is, we can make up our own minds as to whether we are persuaded by a view or not. A government is overstepping its responsibility if it tries to make that decision for us. We have the right to hear opposing views — and to express them.

‘Pluralistic fundamentalism’ demands that we must all be right. But this is self-contradictory and patronising nonsense — we cannot all be correct, because we are saying things that contradict each other.

A peaceful and harmonious multi-faith society must maintain the right of every citizen to hold their own religious opinions — and have the freedom to express their views in the media.

Censorship

In 2000the European Court of Human Rights upheld the UK Government’s refusal to give United Christian Broadcast (UCB) a national terrestrial radio licence.

This court decision opened the door to a new form of censorship, not just in the UK but also in all the other countries of the Council of Europe. It allows a state to refuse a national licence application for press or media facilities, simply on the grounds of what that state may not like or approve.

The UK Government effectively argued against Christians being allowed to broadcast across the UK on the grounds that UCB is Christian and not multi-faith.

It justified its discrimination with an extraordinary new term — ‘Enforcement of Pluralism’. This means that UCB are not acceptable unless they promote all faiths (religious pluralism).

‘Enforcement of Pluralism’ is a form of censorship of the press or media and violates democracy. It not only prohibits the nationwide propagation of Christian beliefs through the media, but bars any distinctive religious, ideological or political grouping.

The Government’s answer to pornography and violence on our TV screens is the ‘off button’. But their answer to Christianity is to silence its voice.

Cults?

Another example of this trend in religious censorship was seen when the Belgian Parliamentary Commission on Cults issued a 600-page report identifying 189 religious groups as cults — included were 21 Christian denominations.

Germany, Austria and Italy proposed a religion supplement to the Maastricht Treaty, which could have meant that churches without a ‘constitutional status’ could be discriminated against.

In France, anti-sect legislation has been passed by the French Senate to fight what is termed ‘mental manipulation’. It was thought that such phraseology would only ban groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. But it could go much further.

The point is not whether one agrees with these groups, but whether they have the right to proclaim their views in a free society.

It is salutary to note that a former European super-state, the Roman Empire, allowed citizens to worship any gods they liked as long as they didn’t say that their god was the only true God. If they did make such a claim, a quick career-change took place — to gladiator or lion-fodder.

We must not forget that only a few hundred years ago our own Government executed those who preached religious views different from the official one. And today, similar persecution goes on around the globe.

Religious freedom has been a hard-won liberty. We need to keep it.

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