Beware the threat to Freedom of Speech

In the last couple of years new legislation has been introduced which is increasingly being employed in a post-Christian environment to curb the Gospel message both in public and in private. Christian Concern outline the challenges.

by Andrea Minichiello Williams
Christian Concern

ChalmersIN Acts 17 we find the apostle Paul publicly addressing the Athenians with the gospel. Athens at the time reflected much of modern Europe today – urban, pluralistic and non-Christian. What isn’t seen so much today is the robust respect that the ancient Athenians had for free speech.

Freedom of speech in the UK and Europe is coming under huge pressure from a number of sources – but most notably from the homosexual lobby (under the guise of secularism and ‘equality’) and from Islamists.

Politicians, journalists and cartoonists have all faced challenges to their freedom to speak in the last few years. There have been too many incidents to catalogue, but taken together they paint a picture of what Europe may look like within another generation.

The threat to freedom of speech from Islamists, in particular, is acute and well documented. It can also be deadly.

The use of violence as a means of expression

This week (11 Dec) Sweden suffered its first suicide bomb attack. Iraqi-born Taimour Abdulwahab Al-Abdaly tried to set off a car bomb packed with gas canisters in a busy shopping street in Stockholm. A few minutes later he blew himself up. Because most of the bombs did not detonate, a tragedy was averted and we thank God that only 2 people were injured. One of the reasons he gave for the bombing was the Lars Vilks drawings in 2007.

Swedish artist Lars Vilks depicted Muhammed as a dog in cartoons in July 2007. This was actually part of a Swedish custom of doing dog cartoons as part of an annual festival. The cartoonist stated that he wanted to test the limits of free speech. Most of us would never dream of doing such a thing as Mr Vilks did, but the fundamentalist Muslim response was predictable and telling. There was an enormous backlash against Mr Vilks. He had several fatwas issued against him and he was attacked and head-butted by a man during a lecture he was giving on free speech. Around 20 people tried to attack the cartoonist during the lecture and the police had to protect him. Several Muslim countries launched protests demanding that the Swedish government censor any criticism of Islam.

I do not believe it is right to gratuitously insult religious belief, but this response of violence and intimidation is unacceptable. Violence is now the routine response from parts of the Islamic world when they encounter disagreement. The voice of most Western Governments is not to acknowledge that but to continue to assert, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that this aggression is perpetrated merely by a few fanatical individuals and that their Islamic faith has little or nothing to do with it.

And 'giving offence' laws..

Closer to home in the UK, it seems that even a private discussion can land you in trouble. Last year Christian couple Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang stood trial for “insulting” a Muslim lady during a discussion about religion. During the discussion the couple said that Jesus is the Son of God and not a prophet of Islam, and they expressed concern that the Islamic dress code for women could be oppressive. Astonishingly the couple were arrested and charged with breaching Section 5 of the Public Order Act. After a two-day trial at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court the criminal case against them was dismissed by the judge. Unfortunately the Vogelenzang’s have suffered a drop in bookings and huge financial difficulties because of the case.

with selective application....

Islam will dominateInsults to the Jewish and Christian community appear to be made with impunity in the UK and the Police refuse to take action. If the Police refuse to act against the Islamist then they are giving into intimidation. It is the duty of the Police to create an environment in which our right to freedom of speech can be exercised without fear.

On our University campuses we have talks given by Islamists that give support to terrorists. The recent talk at LSE by Abdel Bari Atwan resulted in anti-Semitic incidents and the intimidation of many Jewish students. Why do we allow such individuals to continue to reside in our country and abuse our freedoms?

These examples highlight a growing trend of intolerance that is extremely dangerous. Society is in danger of giving into fear rather than tackling the issue of radical Islam. We cannot compromise on freedom of speech. We must have the courage to stand so that we hand over to the next generation a society that is free and not oppressive and limiting.

leading to intimidation....

Recent cases in the UK have highlighted the pressure on Christian street preachers. In June 2008 two Christian preachers were stopped from handing out Bible extracts by police because they were in a Muslim area. They were told by a Muslim police community support officer that they could not preach there and that attempting to convert Muslims to Christianity was a hate crime.

A restriction on freedom of speech is damaging not only for society as a whole but particularly for Christians, whose Gospel message is always counter cultural and has always offended some. I can only wonder how the apostle Paul would fare in modern Britain. How long would he be able to preach before being arrested? If the gospel can’t be preached to Muslims in the UK then how are they going to hear the good news about Jesus?

But "Speak up"

It is more important than ever for Christians to speak out and speak of the hope and peace that is found supremely in the Lord Jesus Christ, not just for individuals but for communities and nations. We do this by not succumbing to fear and by robustly defending our freedom of speech.

We must deliver to the next generation the freedoms that we have historically enjoyed.
If we don’t there will be a catastrophic price to pay.

Christian Concern, 17/12/2010