Whether it’s the murderous attack on free speech in the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo

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What Price Free Speech?

Whether it’s the murderous attack on free speech in the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, or the police investigation into Katie Hopkins’ ‘Jocks’ tweet, the issue of free speech has hit the headlines recently.

Free speech has a rich tradition. The general wisdom distilled from the great writers on human liberty is that we won’t agree with every opinion being offered, but we should defend everyone’s freedom to offer those opinions. We should do this not just to protect the right of the person with the opinion, but also to protect our right to hear other views too. In other words, in denying someone the right to voice a conviction, we at the same time deny ourselves access to that conviction, so we decline the opportunity to hear something that may challenge us.

We may not agree with everything we hear, and some of the things we hear may be vile, controversial or foolish, but we do ourselves an injustice if we fail to hear dissenting voices, because even the most discrepant opinions may contain within them at least a grain of truth. In assessing them carefully we compel ourselves to question how we know what we do and whether the sources from whence our knowledge came were reliable and verifiable. The more censorious we become the more we become prisoners of our interference.

From a Christian perspective, free speech is vital in being able to express God’s word. With Christians seemingly exercising less and less influence in the UK, and all sorts of challenges coming our way, the open availability of the gospel is a key part of its propagation, as the message of the cross transcends all social and cultural barriers.

If the truth will set us free (John 8:32) then we must seek to ensure the continuation of the freedom for the gospel to be proclaimed openly, and the truth of Christ’s love to be made known in spite of any opposition we may encounter. For many people we meet, we may be the most influential witness to the truth they have encountered at that point on their journey. Our challenge, then, is to imitate Christ by being a messenger of the gospel in gentleness and love – and to defend the good news against all attempts to marginalise it or make it less socially relevant. Christ is the Truth – and the Truth is always best in the open.

James Knight
James is a local government officer based in Norwich, and is a regular columnist for Network Norfolk and Network Ipswich, Christian Community websites which cover the East Anglia region.

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