Australia and Freedom of Speech

Who can and who cannot? It's all over the Jewish news this week, and the results may be very long lasting. Is there a content-test for freedom of speech? Should there be a muzzle on sportspeople who want to talk about what they believe or don't believe? 

From the get-go, let me say forthrightly, NOT! Freedom of speech must allow for speech with which I seriously disagree. 

Case in point: A visiting professor at University of Sydney

Peter Kohn writes in the AJN this week, "Jewish communal leaders are concerned about plans for Richard Falk, a US academic who has endorsed conspiracy theories and who is widely accused of antisemitism, to visit Australia to speak at the NSW Parliament and at the University of Sydney." Their concerns have to do with the content of his speech and the effect he might have on the conversation.

Lesli Berger is the president of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. She says Falk's judgments on the Jewish people "make this function offensive in the extreme."

Case in point two: The continued fallout from Tim Anderson

Joshua Kirsh wrote last year about the sacking of Tim Anderson, and this week in the AJN again wrote about Anderson with "The use of the swastika sends a tacit message to Jewish students: do not presume to talk about these issues. It encourages Jewish students to keep their mouths closed and their eyes on the door." In other words,  what Prof. Anderson did had an impact on Jewish students which was out-of-bounds and thus warranted his being sacked.

Kirsh said, "Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences; nor does it mean the freedom to belittle or degrade students because of their background."

Is that true? I disagree with Kirsh. It is exactly that freedom which both he and I and Prof Anderson continue to have in Australia. 

Case in point three: Wollongong Uni

National Tertiary Education Union branch president Georgine Clarsen said she was "astounded" workshop organisers invited a "fundamentalist" to represent a Muslim point of view. She said, "There is a big difference between free speech and hate speech and this particular man that was invited was on the record as saying very hateful and inflammatory things about gay people."
David Ould is an Anglican minister in Parramatta who tweeted today, "Freedom of speech must include objectionable speech in order for us to have a free non-coercive society. That's why I support - not because I agree with everything he says or how he said it but because each and every one of us depends on that same freedom."
Others tweeted about Ould earlier: "I remember Christian leaders like and defending Roz Ward, the Marxist co-founder of Safe Schools (which they opposed), when she was suspended by her employer, LaTrobe Uni, for embarrassing the university by her speech."
Case in point four: Israel Folau
Ould mentions Israel Folau, about whom I've written before as has just about everyone, in his now-legendary fight with Rugby Australia. The issue of contract breaking and homosexuality are not relevant to this post. What IS relevant is that Rugby Australia put into Folau's contract from last year something which prevents his freedom of speech. According to reports, Folau may have his own opinion about his religion and about atheists and adulterers not getting to heaven, but his term of employment prevents his speaking or tweeting about that in public. That's a muzzle which seems out of bounds with anyone in a free society. I wish him luck in this matter.
I'm so glad the thought police are not preventing my speaking out here.
I'm so glad you and I both have a right to speak freely in Australia. Imagine if we disagreed with a totalitarian regime in Saudi Arabia or China, or anywhere for that matter. And we were prevented from speaking out. No employer, no government, nobody should prevent our freedom of speech. Human decency will prevail, as honest-to-goodness people will disregard the nonsense of those who peddle hate or demeaning bullying talk of demigods.
While we still have the rights, let us use those rights.
While we still have the rights, let us defend those, even those with whom we disagree.
Use wisdom in challenging them but let them speak.
King Solomon gave some advice to humanity about fools and speech. With these I leave you today, to ponder, and to respond.
Prov. 18:2   fool does not delight in understanding, But only in revealing his own mind.

Prov. 12:23   A prudent man conceals knowledge, But the heart of fools proclaims folly.

Prov. 15:14   The mind of the intelligent seeks knowledge, But the mouth of fools feeds on folly.

Prov. 13:16   Every prudent man acts with knowledge, but a fool displays folly.

Prov. 15:2   The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, But the mouth of fools spouts folly.
Prov. 18:6-7   fool’s lips bring strife, And his mouth calls for blows. fool’s mouth is his ruin,          And his lips are the snare of his soul.

What do you say?
If you have time read the articles by Peter Kohn about the American anti-Semite Richard Falk here and Tim Anderson's being fired by the University of Sydney here. or this one from University of Wollongong about an anti-gay Muslim speaker in the Mercury here


Anonymous said…
Didja see Liz Ellis of Australia talked about Folau's MRS today? Something about netball being inclusive. Right! Includsive but leaves out Folau's wife.
Bob Mendelsohn said…
Thanks Anonymous. Good point.

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