Traditionally, book-burners had to bide their time until the offending tome was published before they could spray the kerosene and strike a match, but modern technology and social media have changed all that. Today, when word spreads that a book which challenges the left’s preferred narrative and prevailing ideology is about to appear, the approach is pre-emptive and most definitely pro-active. As publisher Connor Court has discovered, there is no need for bonfires because intimidating printers is so much easier and far more effective. With an old-fashioned burning there is always the possibility that some books might be overlooked, go uncollected, and thus escape the flames. The modern approach aims to make sure ink is never laid on paper in the first place.
This has been the story with Stealing from a Child: The Injustice of Marriage Equality, the recently released book by Dr David van Gend, who heads the Australian Marriage Forum. Given that Australia may well resolve the issue of same-sex marriage via a plebiscite in February, 2017 (should Labor set aside its objections, that is), it would seem reasonable that those who favour retaining the existing definition of marriage might want to put their case before the voting public.
However, we are no longer living in a country where both sides of an argument enjoy equal access to the pulpit of public opinion, this being especially so just now in regard to same-sex marriage, whose advocates typify the difference in attitude between the “progressive” and “conservative” mind. Conservatives tend to believe that those who disagree are most likely ill-informed and that a civil conversation might change their minds. Those on the left, by contrast, tend to view all who differ as evil and give their arguments no more than a contemptuous dismissal. Rather than argue the point, in this instance they have pitched a narrative that paints opponents as gay-bashing bigots and jackbooted homophobes, further insisting that mass outbreaks of suicide and mental collapse must surely follow if such views are allowed to be freely expressed. When the vocal left turns out in force to oppose something — well, anything, really — respect for free speech becomes an also-ran.
The book is proving to be a hot seller, despite the best efforts of activists to sabotage it. First, the company that had agreed to print the book and with which Connor Court had enjoyed an untroubled, ten-year commercial relationship — McPherson’s Printing Group — suddenly refused, citing the subject matter. Sensing trouble, Connor Court took precautions and ran off several thousand digitally printed copies. The bare bones of this saga are detailed at the Books & Publishing website, whose account can be accessed via this link.
McPherson’s must have printed thousands of books representing a range of political positions over the years, so what led to this one’s rejection? The company’s only response to that question has been, to quote Books & Publishing,
[An] email from a McPherson’s representative reportedly reads that due to the subject matter and content of the book, ‘unfortunately I have been instructed by senior management not to proceed with printing this title’.
If McPherson’s was intimidated, even to the point of now having lost Connor Court as a client, it would not be alone. Two weeks ago, a discussion to have been held by the Australian Christian Lobby at the Accor Hotel in Sydney was cancelled after gay advocates harassed staff and launched a campaign against the venue on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. The actual launch of the van Gend’s book, which took place in Brisbane, was attended by 40 protesters from a gay organisation calling itself “NOH8”. Despite its name, protesters yelled H8-ful insults at those who braved their abuse to attend the sold-out event.
Of course, a free society also means the right to free association. If a printer or hotel refuses business from whatever reason, they have that right to do so. When companies refuse to associate for no other reason but fear of the consequences threatened by third parties, this is an endorsement of bullying at its worst. More than that — indeed, worse than that — members of the public are denied the opportunity to arrive at fully informed positions. his is both a tragedy and an irony: who’s to say that, should the plebiscite be held, same-sex marriage supporters won’t be able to recruit supporters once their arguments have been heard?
Author van Gend is not one to be intimated; it’s not the first time he has faced censorship. He tried to air an ad on behalf of Australian Marriage Forum during the 2015 Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, broadcast on the taxpayer-funded SBS, outlining the case for traditional marriage. But SBS refused after first agreeing.
As it happens, I do not agree with all of David van Gend’s views, but I welcome his book as an addition to the public debate on the definition of marriage. The publisher itself has published both points of view, earlier in the year it published Faith, Love and Australia: The Conservative Case for Same Sex Marriage by former Tony Abbott speechwriter Paul Richie. I would encourage even supporters of same sex marriage to read the book and inform themselves of the opposing arguments. This will challenge their own position and allow them to better make their own case in the lead up to a plebiscite. That would be good for democracy, good for debate and, best of all, a gesture of support for the concept that free speech must never be gagged nor repressed.
Tim Wilms is the Co-Editor in Chief of theunshackled.net where he writes about promoting more economic, societal and cultural freedom. This is an edited and expanded version of an essay that first appeared on theunshackled.net