The Core Issues of Free Speech

In a follow-up to a short post I wrote four days ago questioning the limits of Free Speech and its abuse (I was almost in a good mood, then I went online) I would like you now to think about what happens when we go too far in the other direction. I don’t necessarily mean censorship, in its dictatorial form, but in one far more dangerous – the censorship imposed by those with the moral high ground. Let me elaborate. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, recently banned a Christian group’s bus ad campaign stating that the ads were “clearly offensive” to the homosexual community. The Ad in question simply reads “NOT GAY! EX-GAY, POST-GAY AND PROUD. GET OVER IT!” and was put forward by two Christian groups – Core Issues Trust and Anglican Mainstream. It was launched in response to the ads run by Gay Rights group Stonewall which ran a similar ad reading “SOME PEOPLE ARE GAY. GET OVER IT”.

Now before we continue let me make it absolutely clear that I in no way support or encourage the ideals or aims of the Core Issues Trust or Anglican Mainstream. But the fact that I have to clarify that, so that I am not misunderstood and attacked as homophobic serves to illustrate my point. I fully support gay rights and, though I am no expert, from what I know being gay is not a choice, but rather something you are born as. I would never in a million years suggest to any of my gay or bisexual friends that they seek “therapy” to “correct” their tendencies. But does a person not have just as much a right to be straight as he does gay? The Core Issues Trust makes the argument that they are an organization that provides support for those who voluntarily seek to change their sexual preference and expression. I’m not here to debate the correctness of this, or whether it is even possible. But if someone feels like they want to change, despite being told that it is absolutely okay to be exactly who they are, does that we mean we should then stop them from doing so? Isn’t that exactly what the gay rights movement fights against – the act of being told who to be despite one’s own personal desires and feelings?

I’m not suggesting that this organization should be allowed to propagate their ideology to the detriment of the rights of others. But this is the tricky thing about the freedom of speech. It entails the balancing of rights that very often are in direct opposition. If an organization makes no attempts to forcefully coax or coerce others to convert to their line of thought, if they act solely as a guide for those that come to them, should they not be given the right to freely express their opinion? Is it not possible for an individual to be proud to be straight, without being labelled a homophobe? If it was okay for London buses to show an ad saying “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life” why is it less okay to run this ad? Surely people who are deeply religious were offended by the denunciation of God on public transport?

The representatives of Core Issues Trust have appealed the matter before the High Court, arguing that there has been an infringement of their freedom of expression. It will be interesting to see how this matter is handled. Of course everyone wants the right thing to be done, but in such a tricky situation, what is the right thing?

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