Freedom of Speech

By Cathy Drumore


I’ve always firmly subscribed to Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s famous saying that “I disapprove of what you say but would defend to the death your right to say it.” As always, there are a number of controversial debates in current media, which can result in both deep emotive responses and indignant outcry. However, like Pope Francis, I believe that only by keeping the lines of dialogue open can we educate people. Whatever our viewpoint, we all feel defensive if our opinions are censured or if our voice is stifled.

In the story of Christ’s passion, a soldier slaps Jesus because he thinks Jesus is being disrespectful to the interviewing Jewish leader. In our current politically correct climate, it seems that if we wish to avoid being figuratively “slapped” for what we say, we’re best to either avoid speaking on controversial topics or adhere to the prevailing viewpoint, because even discussing a controversial topic somehow seems to smack of bigotry.

My own personal preference for these topics is the third path of having a frank and accepting conversation with others who are able to engage in a respectful debate.

Bigotry can only be overcome by dialogue, especially if the views espoused come from people who are otherwise well-meaning (most people, in my experience). Everyone wants their voice to be valued. Refusing to enter into a conversation with a person with extreme views means that their views will never change. Sometimes in these conversations, people start to self-correct, especially as most Australians want to give others a fair go and have civil relationships.

I have students, friends and acquaintances who are gay, who have had extra-marital relationships, who use contraception, or who are not pro-life, for example, all of which I may personally differ in my views about, but this doesn’t mean that I can’t have deep and meaningful conversations with them about controversial topics. The key is to be respectful and put across your view without demonising the viewpoint of the other person – and especially not demonising the other person.

Unfortunately, in our society, disagreeing with someone’s viewpoint or choices is perceived as a personal attack. However, we have a duty to be brave enough to say what we think is right if we care about others, and if we’re truly their friends. We don’t want them to make unwise choices or terrible mistakes and later say, “I wish someone had said something to me beforehand.”

Every time we look at the media, we see a plethora of important issues concerning us as Christians. We are called to be God’s voice in the world, and this means clarifying where our concerns rest and why, for we care about our brothers and sisters of all creeds and colours – if we think about it, they may well be the ancestors of our future descendants! And we want to leave the world a better place for all.