Freedom of Speech and Human Rights

The debate concerning freedom of speech and the Human Rights Commissions rages on.

I worked for the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission for six years and for the Canadian Commission for twelve years, and retired in 1991, so I have had some opportunities to consider such matters.

I value freedom of speech very highly, but there has to be some way of curtailing gratuitous offensive language.

It is pretty well understood that in the matter of race relations certain expressions commonly used in the past are offensive and insulting and their use has been largely eliminated in polite society. We have generally accepted the racial minorities’ own identification of the offensive words; they know better than do the rest of us which words are hurtful.

Surely the same principle should apply in religious matters. If for no other reason than common courtesy we should be considerate of the feelings of others and avoid hurting them. If we value our own freedom of religion, we will accord the minorities freedom of religious belief and practice and do nothing to hurt them or make them feel inferior, despised or unwanted.

If there was some worthy benefit to be gained by using offensive language it might be justified. But such practice is surely an attempt to elevate people who are already in a positions of power and to put down those who are disadvantaged or different.

One more factor. It is well known that there are tensions between much of “the Moslem world” and much of “the Christian world”. People of goodwill on both sides are trying hard to maintain peace. Printing the religiously offensive cartoons from the Danish newspaper “Politiken” is surely what used to be called “warmongering” or saber-rattling”. We don’t want war, but history teaches that there are extremists on both sides who might bring it on. Let us not fan the flames.

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