Free Speech And Religious Freedom

Free Speech and Religious Freedom

Kevin Simington

Political correctness is destroying free speech in western society. In an article in the October 5th edition of “The Australian”, leading university chancellors spoke out against the censoring of free speech in their universities. University of Western Sydney chancellor, Peter Shergold, stated that universities should be places where people are challenged by a diversity of ideas and opinions, and where diverse and disparate concepts can be discussed safely, in an atmosphere of respect. Instead, he laments that political correctness has overtaken tertiary learning institutions and “universities are increasingly becoming closed intellectual shops, prone to groupthink and the censoring of diverse ideas”. Similarly, in the same newspaper article,  Australian National University chancellor, Gareth Evans, slammed “the emerging phenomenon of staff and students seeking to shut down debate under the premise that people should not be exposed to ideas with which they disagree.

Addressing the annual University Chancellors Council in Adelaide last month,  Gareth Evans stated, “We are seeing a cry for “no-platforming” [people not allowed to put forward an alternate point of view], and we are increasingly seeing students shouting down visiting speakers who propose a different point of view.” Evans described how universities have now been declared to be “safe spaces, where students can be completely insulated from anything that may assault their senses of what is moral and appropriate.”

This culture of closed-minded censorship has resulted in several violent protests against visiting university speakers in recent months, simply because they espoused alternative viewpoints on moral and ethical issues. The violent protests against psychologist Bettina Arndt’s guest lectures at the University of Sydney recently is one of many examples. Ms Arndt’s lectures were howled down amidst a storm of protest because she dared to espouse a more conservative moral viewpoint.

This kind of disparaging censorship and narrow-minded groupthink in our universities is indicative of the trend sweeping through western society as a whole. The rise of political correctness has exerted a monolithic and, at times, aggressive censorial dampener upon free speech and the expression of alternate viewpoints. Last year’s same-sex marriage debate was a case in point. In the lead up to the vote, a “It’s OK To Vote No” stall on the grounds of Sydney University, set up by a groups of peaceful Catholic students who gave out pamphlets and offered free kebabs to passers-by, was destroyed by an angry mob of protesters who pushed and kicked the Catholic students, spitting on them and screaming abuse at them.

Free speech and respectful dialogue between disparate viewpoints are the key things that set us apart from fascist regimes, where only one viewpoint is tolerated and where all dissenting views are violently oppressed. Yet the Australia of the 21st century is becoming intellectually and philosophically narrow-minded and, at times, violently and aggressively censorial. As an evangelical Christian, I don’t expect all Australians to agree with my beliefs and values, but I believe I have the right to hold those beliefs and values, and even to discuss them respectfully, without fear of hostile, narrow-minded reprisal and censorship.

2 Replies to “Free Speech And Religious Freedom”

  1. Sadly the most violently opposed speech freedom is about religious beliefs, in particular Christian beliefs..

  2. Greg Sheridan in his recent book “God is Good for You” talks about “our ethical instincts – liberalism, human rights, even secular and democratic government – (coming) about through hundreds of years of predominantly Christian thinking, refinement, and social practice” and about our society now “living off its accumulated moral capital.” I suspect that the serous loss of this moral capital in recent years is at the root of the loss of civil dialogue, respectful disagreement, and acceptance of differing views that you describe.