Sunday, April 6, 2014

Free Speech for Me, But Not for Thee

Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties. ~ John Milton

Milton meant the freedom to think and speak is the foundation of all other liberties and without this most basic of freedoms, we cannot be truly free. At one time this was a given in Western liberal democracies but recently we have seen a great deal of evidence that many in the West regard freedom of speech to be dispensable.

Last week the CEO of Mozilla, Brandon Eich, was dismissed by the company because five years ago he gave a personal donation to the National Organisation for Marriage (NOM), an organisation that supported Proposition 8 in the 2008 Californian state ballot opposing gay marriage. Now I happen to be a supporter of gay marriage, but I'm an even bigger supporter of free speech and of the right of anyone to support the political causes they choose. In case you think Eich's political views are irredeemably rightwing, I'll remind you that Barack Obama only came out in favour of gay marriage in May 2012 and was opposed to it prior to that.

As unreasonable as Mozilla's position is, there is an even more sinister aspect to this whole business. How did the media find out that Eich supported NOM? They discovered his donation because NOM's tax return was leaked to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), NOM's main opponent in the campaign for Proposition 8, and published on HRC's website. The NOM return listing the donors appeared on the HRC website complete with obvious redacted codes that are placed on documents only after they are received by the IRS, so it must have been leaked by someone in the IRS. There has been no thorough or conclusive investigation into this leak, which is a serious criminal offence.

If you think all of this is acceptable then you need to imagine the boot being on the other political foot. Consider, for example, a conservative administration leaking the details of those who donated to women's groups that support abortion liberalisation. Would it be acceptable to hound a chief executive out of her job because she donated to such a group?

In New Zealand we are not immune from the same type of anti-free-speech witch hunts. Three years ago Employers and Manufacturers Assocation president Alisdair Thompson was hounded out of his job for making the point that women take more sickness leave than men because of their menstrual cycles. This is, of course, a statistical and medical fact but that wasn't any defence to the hysterical screams of the supposedly offended feminists. There are some things you just aren't allowed to say.

Free speech protections aren't for those things you want to hear. They are for the things you don't want to hear. I would have thought that was obvious. So when someone says, "I support free speech except for...," you know they are really saying they don't support free speech at all.

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