On Being Offended

To have any validity as a concept free speech must start with the freedom to be offensive and distasteful. Otherwise all that free speech means is the freedom to utter the warm fuzzy type of remark favoured by whichever elite is determining our social parameters.

The only kind of free speech worth a farthing is the type which allows speech which I find offensive, wrong headed, intolerant and which I would never utter myself. The free speech which allows you to say what everyone else wishes you would say is worth nothing. This is the type of free speech  prevalent on university campuses in the USA and increasingly in Britain, the freedom to agree with the consensus.

Defending free speech will automatically mean defending people with whom you disagree. I personally think Terry Jones is a pathetic figure with huge personality problems and that Frankie Boyle is an odious little toad. I am almost old enough to remember when Billy Connelly was funny and Emdadur Choudhury who burnt poppies on Remembrance Day is an Islamic fascist.

These are my opinions and I am prepared to back them up. It means also that these people I mentioned should be allowed to express their opinions, even when those opinions offend me, as they do with monotonous regularity.

If, however, I uttered an untruth about the people I mentioned there are plenty of libel lawyers eager to make another pile to take up their case. If I said Eddie Izzard is as funny as hemmorhoids I would be expressing my opinion, which should be free. If I said he was a transvestite I would be expressing a truth, which should be free. If I were to say that he was a shoplifting member of the BNP who ate kittens for breakfast that would be untrue (as far as I know) and would leave me rightly open to prosecution for libel.

In this discussion what matters ultimately is truth. For the Christian truth is to be protected at all costs as it is the truth which will set us free John 8:32, and the truth by which we try to live 17:17. One of the most often used phrases recorded of Jesus is “I tell you the truth.” For those of us who are Christians truth is an ultimate value and must be both defended and lived. All else is opinion and open to discussion, argument and disagreement.

Merely being offended is not enough to curtail another’s right to express his or her opinion. That you can be brought before a tribunal, legal or informal, for expressing opinions which are at most defamatory is a curtailment of free speech. To be curtailed an opinion has to have direct consequences on the life of another greater than merely causing offence.

It is a requirement of any functioning free society that its citizens (or subjects) grow up and learn to be a bit more thick skinned. We can’t always run to teacher when wee Jimmy in the playground says something nasty to us. If you have been offended be an adult, stand up and say that you have been offended, argue your case, and then get on with your life.


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