Free Speech, No Offence

Warning: Some readers may find some of the views expressed in this blog post offensive.

On Saturday, The Times published an article by our Home Secretary, Suella Braverman. It was prompted by an incident at a school in the North of England in which a Quran suffered some minor damage. The reports in the media are sketchy but, as far as I can make out, the damage was unintentional. Subsequently, however, the 14-year-old boy who dropped the Quran was sent death threats by another boy. The police were informed, and the incident was treated as a malicious communications offence. It has not been recorded as a hate crime. Nevertheless, Suella Braverman has expressed “deep concern” about it.

Here’s an extract from the article in The Times:

We do not have blasphemy laws in Great Britain, and must not be complicit in the attempts to impose them on this country. There is no right not to be offended. There is no legal obligation to be reverent towards any religion. The lodestar of our democracy is freedom of speech. Nobody can demand respect for their belief system, even if it is a religion. People are legally entitled to reject — and to leave — any religion. There is no apostasy law in this country. The act of accusing someone of apostasy or blasphemy is effectively inciting violence upon that person.

Everyone who lives here has to accept this country’s pluralism and freedom of speech and belief. …

This freedom is absolute. It doesn’t vary case by case. It can’t be disapplied at a local level. And no one living in this country can legitimately claim that this doesn’t apply to them because they belong to a different tradition.

The way to ensure community cohesion and peace is not to cave into bullies, nor to demand that people aren’t “unnecessarily offensive”. The right approach is to defend our pluralist, free society very robustly indeed.

Suella Braverman in The Times, 4th March 2023

Now, on the political spectrum Suella Braverman is about as far to the right as a sitting MP can get, and her views consistently cause Crotchety Man to fling foul-mouthed invective at her picture on the TV. But, in this case, I applaud her stance. She has made the case far too strongly for a politician seeking to carve out a long career, but in this case she has my full support. Violence can never be justified by religion. It must be possible for an individual to articulate their opinions and beliefs without fear of reprisals. That is what we mean by “freedom of speech”. All beliefs are offensive to someone, somewhere, but that is no reason to ban all discussion. Where no offence is meant, no offence should be taken.

And, on that note, I think we should have some music. Here’s a short playlist on the theme of free speech and taking offence:

The Rolling Stones, on the offensive

One thought on “Free Speech, No Offence

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