The issue of free speech tends to get mentioned quite a fair bit in the media. What constitutes as “free speech” and what constitutes as “hate speech” is often blurred, especially around issues such as racism and homophobia.

Case in point: There have been calls to ban controversial American preacher, Mark Driscoll, to be banned from coming to Australia when it was reported that he was due to talk at the Hillsong Conference. He’s still coming to Australia, but only to be interviewed by head pastor, Brian Houston. I’m not sure whether that was always the plan, or whether Houston backtracked and decided to have Drisoll interviewed instead of preach after the public backlash.

Calls to have Driscoll banned to enter Australia at all have caused debate. On the one hand, Mamamia blogger, Candice Mehta – Cujak has continued to demand that he be banned from coming to Australia due to his alleged sexist and homophobic views.

On the other hand, ironically from ABC journalist for “The Drum”, Clare Lehmann, has criticised the calls for having him banned, arguing that it’ll only reflect poorly on feminists, who traditionally champion personal freedoms.

A similar debate was sparked last year when Festival of Dangerous Ideas (FODI), ended up cancelling speech from Hezb – ut – Tahrir speaker Uthman Badar when the topic he chose to speak on was whether “honour killings” were ever morally jusitfied.

 

The second example, is, of course, extreme. Andrew Bolt was a fierce critic of Badar and welcome the ban, while some of his followers called out hypocrisy and saying that it was a death of free speech.

So, what is free speech? What debates are OK? What should be banned and condemned legally and socially? I’m kind of in agreement with Lehmann that banning Mark Driscoll from entering Australia isn’t going to do any good, really. In my mind, Brian Houston made the call so Driscoll wouldn’t preach. I think it’s in his right to do so to uphold values that West do have about discrimination against women. To be perfectly honest, I think it saved Hillsong from receiving a lot of grief from the media and critics. To have him banned from Australia, I”m with Lehmann, actually. A ban would backfire on feminists and the Left. Let him say what he wants to say, and then let people make up their own minds.

With the FODI controversy last year, that’s kind of tricky. It was about violence, although, Badar insisted that he condemned such acts, but… I’m not sure whether Australia is the right place to have such views put forward. So, that raises the issue… is there a limit of free speech?

Seemingly discriminatory language, particularly racist language are condemned by law here in Australia. It’s still illegal to “insult, intimidate or offend” someone on the basis of one’s race and ethnic origin. Whether that goes too far, is up for debate, and has certainly been a contentious debate after the courtcase including Andrew Bolt in 2011, when two of his articles about aboriginal identity were banned. I didn’t read the articles so I’ll refrain to comment.

What I will say is this. I’ve been a long – time believer that words hurt as much as physical actions against others. Hateful language should be fiercely condemned. However, if we are to “ban” certain elements of speech due to discriminatory nature of a speech, it needs to apply across the socio – political spectrum. If it’s not legally permissible for someone like Bolt to say something, then the same rule should apply to someone working at the Sydney Morning Herald (in my opinion, what happened last year was far worse than what Bolt did anyway). Maybe we do need to essentially suck it up if we hear something we don’t like. Of course, preaching violence, is never ok. Apart from that, if you don’t like what someone in the public eye has to say, don’t listen. If you want to take something onboard, then take it on board. No one’s forcing you either way.

 

What do you think? Should restrictions apply to free speech? If so, what?

 

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