Free Speech, Intolerance and Common Sense

I am pleased to see that the Commons have backed down and accepted the ‘free speech’ defence in the new laws on homophobic hatred. But I am also sad that in the current climate words continue to be evacuated of meaning and the looming spectre of ‘intolerance’ is being banded around again.

There is a difference between disagreeing with someone’s views and actively hating that person. It is possible to criticise someone’s views or actions without the aim of arousing hatred against them.

Intolerance is all about failing to respect the beliefs of someone who holds a different view from you. It does not mean we must all hold the same views. Nor should ‘respecting’ someone else’s view mean you can’t express a different view or criticise it. Otherwise our very parliamentary process would fall apart since Labour MPs would be guilty of intolerance to their Conservative colleagues and vice versa.

I am all for tolerance. But as I believe I have argued before, for tolerance to have any content more than one point of view must be on the table. I cannot have a tolerant attitude towards you if I hold the same views as you – that is simply agreement. Only if I hold a different view from you can I have a tolerant attitude towards you. Tolerance means I respect you and the fact that you hold a different view, but it also means I have a right to air a different view.

I have no wish to see a rise in the number of ‘hate crimes’ and would certainly not condone violence in the presentation of any view. But nor do I want to see any further examples of heavy-handed policing in situations where Christians are simply expressing their views.

So for the time being, this does indeed seem to be a victory for both Free Speech and Common Sense. But I respect your right to disagree with me…

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