Where did my free speech go?

By Brianna Thomas

FreespeechA recent incident that occurred at Sydney University and erupted all over the internet is enough to make any Catholic duck for cover.

James Parker, a Catholic from Perth, was invited to present a talk as part of “life week” by the University of Sydney’s Catholic Society. James, who is happily married with a six-year-old daughter, speaks openly about his former life as an active gay man.

James tells about his involvement in a homosexual lifestyle turning around after an encounter with Jesus.

It is intriguing at worst, and powerfully heart-warming at best. It is a raw story about a man coming face to face with his demons, wrestling them down and coming out a healthier, stronger version of himself.

He undertook therapy initially to tackle some commitment issues, not for the purpose of addressing his sexual orientation. From a psychological perspective, it sounds extremely healthy.

A week before the talk was due to take place, different bodies around the uni got wind of the topic and alerted authorities that someone was coming to discriminate, judge and offend. Students wrote to deans and chancellors, saying James would be speaking dangerously against them and their beliefs by promoting Gay-Conversion Therapy. Well, this was the start of an all-out war.

On the popular site Buzzfeed, where a frenzy broke out in the lead up to the talk, a Catholic USyd student commented that people shouldn’t judge until they’d heard the talk, and that we [Christians] are entitled to our free speech.

This comment received an onslaught of harsh stabs, including an argument about free speech not being for people who discriminate. Basically saying free speech is for us and not you.

What’s more, The Australian online recently reported that Sydney University is contemplating closing down rights for ALL religious groups to meet and practice on campus. They, too, are saying we are inclusive, except to you.

We’ve all experienced sensitive and controversial conversations where you know if you put your two cents in, people will turn on you with a pitchfork. How did it happen that society boasts of being open and accepting, but in reality this applies only to people with a particular view? Why is university all about equality, except for people who believe what I believe?

Everyone is trying to push us aside; don’t let it happen. Be who you are unapologetically, everyone else is! But here’s the thing – if we fight like the other team, it’s going to be a blood bath. Stand back and think about your tactics.

Looking at the top 100 speeches from history, most took place in a time of devastation and were meant to encourage people, or a time of controversy, to speak the truth.

This is our calling… we are in a time of both controversy and devastation. Encouragement and truth are so desperately needed.

Gaining knowledge has never been more valid. We need to be informed, and have better language to talk about these things. Fuel your mind by reading, listening, watching and seeking out truth. Don’t shy away from these conversations. Start with something you’re passionate about; after all, it’s hard to be an expert on everything.

Now, the boys will have to bear with me for a moment, but I recently watched the new release of Cinderella, and found the “tag line” or moral teaching fascinating.

Cinderella was taught by her late mother to “have courage, and be kind”. This is exactly the right time to both have courage and be kind. One cannot live without the other, especially in a war over the right to speak.

Have courage. Speak the truth in the face of potential persecution, but let the kindness and love that we are made for, lead you through it.