A few days ago, I tweeted a link to an article on the Spectator: “Revd Dr Alan Clifford’s ‘homophobic’ comments referred to the CPS” (it might be worthwhile reading the article for some background), and I noted that it had worrying implications for free speech.
Anyway, someone replied to me on Twitter this morning and – because I didn’t condemn Dr Clifford’s behaviour – accused me of (1) believing that gay people were subhuman; (2) believing that gay people were ‘targets’ (of what, I don’t know); (3) that I would allow people to propagate hate (or hateful) speech.
All of this worries me. I absolutely do NOT believe gay people are subhuman, and I don’t understand what they meant about believing gay people are ‘targets’ (but I’m pretty sure I’m not that either). I hold what I believe to be an orthodox Christian doctrine of sex – that is to say, I believe its proper context is within a lifelong, monogamous heterosexual relationship – and that anything which falls outside of that is by definition immoral.
The worrying question for me is: is that opinion ‘hate speech’? I appreciate that it’s not a popular opinion in society, but … hate speech?
The problem is, ‘hate speech’ seems to have come to mean any opinion which differs from society’s view on the matter. According to the article I linked to above, the Police had a booklet which outlined that a homophobic offense is “any incident which is perceived to be homophobic by the victim or any other person”. In other words, if I make a statement such as the one I made above, and someone perceives it as homophobic, that may constitute a homophobic offense.
Now, as far as I can tell Dr Clifford actually sent these tracts to the organisation Norwich Pride, which is admittedly more than simply publishing a blog post. But the problem is not that he actually sent these letters across, the problem is that they were perceived as ‘hate speech’.
I haven’t seen these tracts which were sent, but from what I’ve read I have absolutely no idea how they could be construed as ‘hate speech’, unless the criteria is someone disagreeing with someone else on an issue (in which case, a typical evening down at the pub for most people would involve quite a lot of hate speech). What defines hate speech? What defines homophobic remarks? I wonder whether this is maybe a problem because in our culture ‘homophobia’ has come to mean expressing a dissenting opinion about homosexual practice’.
A few years ago (and this may still be the case), photographers were arrested by the police for taking pictures of public buildings in public areas – for the sake of security. Worst of all, some police didn’t seem to know the law. I’m wondering if something like that is going on here – taking a principle and running with it. It seems like homophobia is such an emotive issue at the moment, a bit like security was a few years back, that it’s difficult to be objective about it.
Whatever the cause is, I don’t think the situation is looking good at the moment in the UK for freedom of expression for religious beliefs. What I think needs to happen is for clearer guidance for the Police on what exactly constitutes homophobia and hate speech. Otherwise I think we’re going to see more of this kind of thing (e.g. this arrest during Wimbledon).