“Freedom of Speech” is a term that many people use, but few actually understand what it means. Most people believe that it simply refers to the right of an individual to voice their opinions and while this is true, it goes much deeper than this simple act. If you genuinely believe in the ‘Freedom of Speech’ then it is imperative that you also realise that by doing so, you must also accept the personal responsibility it places on you.
An individual’s right to ‘Freedom of Speech’ ceases when, if by doing so, they infringe on the rights of another. This is the cornerstone by which the tolerance you have for another’s opinion must be measured. I do not believe that I have ever infringed on the rights of another with anything I have written here. I believe I have been exercising my civil and moral responsibility to highlight injustice, malfeasance or corruption. And in all the articles that I have written I have included a facility for anybody to comment on the piece, whether they agreed or disagreed with its content. This is freedom of speech.
When millions marched in France recently, including the leaders of all the EU countries, they did so to show solidarity with the right of all people in Europe to express their opinions without fear of persecution or reprisal. Indeed, all reasonable and fair minded people would probably subscribe to this point of view. However, each of us need to ask ourselves whether or not we truly believe in this right and if so, do we defend it in our own daily lives with the decisions that we make?
While I can live with the consequences of my actions sadly many cannot, primarily because they have considerable financial obligations and need to provide for their family etc., which I don’t. However, the ramifications of this being an acceptable state of affairs are colossal. Simply put, you either keep your opinions to yourself or your will suffer. Is it any wonder that people appear so apathetic about issues that affect the lives of every one of us and indeed, their own children? If exercising your right to free speech can cost you your livelihood then understandably the majority of people will “toe the line” and the only passionately expressed opinions they proffer are about such things like sport, fashion, films and television dramas. As the present financial system is designed to ensure the majority of people are maintained as debt slaves, who will speak up against those in power, who have the ability to ultimately destroy their lives?
I am who I am, I believe what I believe and I passionately feel that unless each of us has the courage to speak out, we as a society are enabling the continuance of the system where money and those who control it, can ride roughshod over the rest of us with impunity. Denying somebody the ability to make a living simply because they hold an opinion is not just wrong it is morally and ethically indefensible. In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Drafted after WWII in 1949), Article 19 states that; “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference“. Turning me or any other individual down for a job because of my exercising my human right is at the very least ‘interference’.
I’m not writing this because I am bitter or angry but primarily to highlight, regrettably, how each of us in our daily lives can and do allow prejudice to influence our decisions and consequently the well-being of others. It is understandable that an individual in a recruitment firm may decide not to put someone forward for a position because it may be deemed to be a “controversial” choice (and we all know that companies don’t like controversy). It may be understandable, but do you think it is acceptable? What would you do? Take the easy route or do what is right?
We need to consider how each of us as individuals shape the type of society in which we live. We need to consider whether we as individuals are genuinely willing to stand up to protect the rights of others. We should consider whether our actions are contributing to a better society or, making it worse. After all, the society and community in which we live is shaped by each of us and how we behave. I believe we each have a responsibility to play our part and not simply turn a blind eye and leave it to others.
In 1946 the Protestant pastor and social activist, Martin Niemöller, addressed a crowd of twelve hundred students In Erlangen and during his service he suggested that Germany must accept responsibility for the five or six million murdered Jews. This assertion was roundly condemned and he was shouted and jeered at. Today, no civilised person would disagree with him.
The following is an extract from one of his sermons in 1946.
When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn’t a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
The biggest changes in history which relate to the welfare of all the people in society, started out with somebody voicing a controversial opinion. Consider the abolition of slavery, the granting of the vote for women, the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the introduction of contraception and indeed, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights itself.
These and countless other pivotal moments in the development of our civilised society resulted from those who have had the courage of their convictions and regardless of the cost to themselves, they stood by what was right and not always what was convenient.
I urge you to do the same….