Some years ago, a Conservative MP in England was carted away by the police for publicly quoting Churchill’s The River War, lest he offend Muslim sensibilities. That is bad enough. Quite simply, free speech becomes meaningless if we are prevented from quoting from the Bible. Certainly, in the public square when one’s professional associations are not tied up with one’s religious affiliations.
I read that Israel Folau has got a rugby league gig in France. I guess he would have preferred to stay in Australia but has been “cancelled” here. One of his soon-to-be opponents who happens to be gay was quoted thus: “I’m shocked and disappointed at the signing of Izzy Folau. Our great game is tasked with fighting against homophobia…”
I can only assume that those wanting to rob Folau of his livelihood would like to see him and his family out on the streets. Such was his sin for quoting the bible. Similarly, Margaret Court’s Christianity has offended progressive sensibilities. John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova got so het up that they made complete asses of themselves at the Australian Open.
Me? I, too, have been driven to a kind of distraction. My interest in tennis is slight to non-existent, yet Wang Qiang became a sort of heroine of mine when she beat Serena Williams. Nothing against Ms Williams you understand. I just want Margaret Court’s record number of Grand Slam wins to forever stick in the craw of those who would take delight in her relegation to second place. I am not sure that this is an entirely Christian attitude on my part. But there it is, we all fall short of the mark.
I wonder where our society thinks it is heading by putting the bible off-limits. Those who believe that certain passages are best left unsaid, all benefit from living within a peerless civilisation whose beginnings and subsequent flowering owes most to Christianity. They are ingrates or, at best, ignoramuses.
They only have to look around the world to understand that tolerance for non-mainstream sexual behaviour is severely limited in non-Christian countries. Do they think that to be an accident? Would openly gay couples be welcomed in the local mosque as they are in my Christian church?
What does this troublesome Bible say, among other instructive things? It says that marriage is between a man and a woman and that same-sex sex is sinful, as is any other sexual congress outside of marriage. This is made very clear in numbers of passages. Moreover, there is no passage which says that you can pick and choose those bits that you like and reject the rest. Nor is there one which says that it is best to keep quiet about rules of behaviour which might cause offence to some people.
But don’t fret. We are all sinners. And, boldly, I suggest that most of us have committed the sin of fornication (sex outside of marriage). So, none of us should throw stones at another, as Jesus reminded us. At the same time, we simply cannot allow society to degenerate to a level where it is acceptable for people to face crippling penalties for quoting the Bible.
I am not primarily talking about penalties imposed by government which see you end up in jail for speaking your mind, for which there is no justification whatsoever, but penalties imposed by society, or segments of it, which see you lose you livelihood, your reputation and/or your peace of mind. The threat of this happening can curb free speech almost as effectively as despotic government.
There are of course circumstances when a right to speak freely, including quoting from the Bible, is legitimately circumscribed. In my view, employers should be able to sack those who don’t follow the party line as part of their work activities, however twisted is the party line. For example, Jon Caldara, a columnist on the Denver Post, has recently been sacked for daring to state in his column that there are only two biological sexes. I don’t have much trouble with this. Even though I too know that there are only two sexes, he knew when he wrote what he wrote that his newspaper is not nearly so sure.
Speaking freely outside of the work environment can also bring legitimate penalties. Suppose I worked as an administrator for my local Islamic Centre yet wrote on social media that Jesus is the Son of God and Mohammed a false prophet. That is true but still makes my continued employment untenable and my sacking justified. Truth is not necessarily determinative.
However, while the position is not as straightforward as I would like it to be, the presumption should be that speech outside of the workplace on matters unrelated to workplace activities should be free from the threat of penalties. It’s not completely straightforward because, for example, issuing racist or anti-Semitic statements would get you barred from participating in most team sports, and I doubt that many would find that penalty unjust.
Judgement is required and common sense. Israel Folau and Margaret Court were referencing the foundational book of our civilisation and doing so on their own time. So far as I know, Christianity does not offend any part of playing rugby or tennis.
Their critics can deplore the tenets of Christianity which Folau and Court espouse but that stops well short of any legitimate right to mete out punishment. Only a relatively short time ago this would have been agreed by society as a whole. Now progressive activists have managed to warp the minds of many in politics, in industry, in the media and in the population generally. Such is the stricken state of contemporary society.