Do we have the right to speak our mind?

Do we have the right to speak our mind?

Donald Trump has the right to be offensive and bigoted.

Super-duper-successful author JK Rowling said so.

Speaking at the PEN Literary Gala and Free Expression Awards in New York City this week, the lady who created Harry Potter confessed that she found US Presidential hopeful Trump “offensive” and “bigoted”.

But Rowling, who previously described her villainous creation Voldemort as “nowhere near as bad” as Trump, defended the divisive candidate’s right to say whatever he wants.

“I consider him offensive and bigoted, but he has my full support to come to my country and be offensive and bigoted there,” Rowling explained about why she objected to an online petition calling for Trump to be banned from entering the UK.

“His freedom to speak is my freedom to call him a bigot.

“His freedom guarantees mine.”


Free for all

Also, this week, outspoken Australian commentator Andrew Bolt defended Christianity along similar lines.

Observing how Christian beliefs and teachings are being shot down across Australian public debates, Bolt questioned the hypocrisy of our society not allowing people the freedom to express what they think. Even if you disagree with it. 

Rowling and Bolt are on to something. It’s difficult to deny someone the opportunity to speak their mind, if you don’t want the same opportunity denied to you. “If you seek the removal of freedoms simply on the grounds that they have offended you, you have crossed the line to stand among tyrants who imprison, torture and kill on exactly the same justification,” concluded Rowling.


Warning: Offensive language

Issues of offensive speech seem to have been with us since humans first took breath. Say something … and someone might well get their back up.

Even someone who most people think is nice, loving and kind can be offensive. Check the whole world and you’ll surely find people who have been offended by Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr and other leading figures of human decency.

Perhaps you skipped over the bits where the Bible presents how Jesus offended people. Yes, Jesus offended people.

As recorded towards the end of the sixth chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus realises how many of his followers are offended by his statements about such important things as Jesus being “the bread of life” and what that means for eternal salvation.

“This teaching is hard,” say Jesus’ listeners of what he has revealed about who he is and what that has to do with every single person.

“Who can accept it?”

Jesus’ response to that question is fascinating and telling.

He doesn’t apologise. He doesn’t back down. He doesn’t change his tune. He knows that what they’ve said is true.

Acceptance of Jesus’s “offensive” message will be hard for some. But Jesus isn’t interested in us getting stuck on a debate about whether he should have the right to say what he says.

Instead, whether we are offended or not, he wants us to consider his content. Because freedom of expression isn’t what he’s about, so much as eternal freedom being “expressed” to those who don’t remain offended by his words.


Ben McEachen


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