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April 2014 News

Free speech debate is only just beginning

  • Written by  Comment: Lyle Shelton

The final federal Parliamentary sitting week in March was dominated by fierce debate about free speech and racial vilification.

Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act makes it illegal to offend, insult or humiliate someone because of their race.

The Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt ran foul of these laws and was fined, prompting the then Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to promise to repeal them.

No thinking person, and especially Christians, wants racism.

The question is, how do you strike the right balance between free speech and creating a culture of respect for all people?

The human rights lobby believes strong legal protections are needed against racist elements in the Australian community and wants the laws unchanged. I tend to think the Australian community is far more tolerant than some give them credit for.

The Attorney General George Brandis has argued that free speech is a higher value and is proposing to repeal Section 18C.

However, he proposes to make it against the law to vilify people on the basis of race by inciting hatred or violence.

While still subjective, that seems to be a more appropriate place to strike the balance. But what of non-race-based claims of vilification?

Some people claim the statements: “Marriage should be between a man and a woman” and “that wherever possible, children deserve their mother and father” to be deeply offensive and humiliating.

In fact, those of us who have argued this publicly have been called “bigots”.

In saying there is “no place in Australia” for these views, as some Greens and Labor MPs who support “marriage equality” have said, it seems they would also support legislative change to shut down debate on the definition of marriage.

The debate about free speech and freedom of religion in Australia is only just beginning.

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