Monday, 6 March 2006

Variation on a Theme

Devout Christians, Joe Roberts 73, and his wife Helen, 68, of Fleetwood, Lancashire, are suing Wyre Borough Council for £10,000 compensation for being denied the right to freedom of expression and to hold religious beliefs.

In December last year, the couple wrote to the council to protest its diversity initiatives, saying that it was "pandering" to minority groups after they were told that, although the council would consider applications for Christian leaflets to be displayed, nothing that would offend minority groups would be approved. As a result, the police visited the couple to ascertain that no hate crime had been committed.

As recently highlighted by the Mohammed cartoons business and the condemnation of holocaust denier David Irving, there is fine line to be tread between protecting people and totalitarianism. As I concluded a few days ago; criminalisation is probably not the answer to intolerance.

While I don’t think the couple referred to above have much of a leg to stand on since they were not prosecuted and indeed had a chance to air their views far more widely than they originally intended, my view is that they are probably right in principal to be protesting against the way they have been treated, although, going to court and asking for money might be less legitimate.

Regular readers of this blog, will know that I do not hold religions in very high esteem. However, I also know that if I expect to have the right to express my opinions, other people should be allowed to express theirs; with the very important caveat that these opinions should not lead to or incite violence against another group. The fact that there are anti-hate crime laws is of course a good thing; what is not so good perhaps is that the police (ie the state) should visit and potentially intimidate people every time they say something that might seem to be wrong. It seems to me much more healthy to let people air their views (thus possibly making fool of themselves) and have the opportunity to publicly refuted them in a measured but frank debate of ideas.

I think that these people are perfectly entitled to their views and religious beliefs, however wrong I think they are. In return however, I would expect them to allow me my own views without trying to decide for me how I should think or act. The fact that gay people are finally given rights has no influence on “devout Christians’” lives (unless they are gay, perhaps) and should therefore be none of their business.

Fundamentalist Christians (or any fundamentalists for that matter) are forever claiming that gay rights campaigns and the advance of gay liberties (among other things) are offensive to them without being able to recognise that their views and beliefs can in return be offensive to those who don’t share them. It seems to me that this couple are forgetting that they are not part of the majority anymore. They should feel pleased that their council is “pandering” to minority groups. This means they will be given the right to express their views. It all comes down to being willing to respect other people, to be mindful of not offending them, in order to try and live in peace with them, rather than try and fit them into a mould that only fits ourselves.

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