According to the Bill of Human Rights we are all entitled to Freedom of Speech and to follow a Religion of our choice. As I have highlighted in previous chapters, these rights come with certain obligations that we need to fulfil to enjoy them to the fullest.
This last week in particular has seen the most dreadful breach of that right to freedom of speech and worship according to our religion, with the massacre in New Zealand. In our multicultural modern societies, this is a tragedy that is happening far too often despite billions of people around the world respecting that right and appalled by the actions of the minority. The community in Christchurch has been changed forever, and one can only hope that it will bring them together, united against such hatred and make them stronger than ever.
Freedom of Speech and Religion
We are all free to speak our minds in private, but that does not necessarily mean we will get away with it in public! It depends on what your government has deemed as a subject you can voice your opinion about outside your own four walls!
For example in the UK: ‘Any communication which is threatening or abusive, and is intended to harass, alarm, or distress someone is forbidden. The penalties for hate speech include fines, imprisonment, or both’.
In some countries freedom of speech is completely denied to a population and any infractions dealt with severely; in some cases with death. Religion too is not exempt from rigorous penalties rained down on individuals as well as groups of worshipers as we have seen recently.
I am sure that like me, you would never condone any speech or piece of writing that incited hatred to any group or individuals, whether it is racially offensive or is going to cause distress. However, it is becoming more of a minefield, as there are a great many subjects that have been added to the list of offensive topics all coming under the term ‘Politically Correct’.
In some schools for example, traditional activities such as nativity plays and Christmas carol services have been suspended so as not to offend those in the school who are not Christian. I don’t understand why we cannot be grown up about this and have a celebration with elements of all the religions represented by the pupils! Perhaps a celebration of spirituality and winter…… or would that be considered pagan?
I think we are all aware that most of the world’s conflicts since the dawn of time, have been primarily down to two main contributory factors. Politics and Religion. There is a good reason they are usually banned from the dinner table. Nothing sparks off a heated debate than everyone expressing their freedom of speech on those two subjects between courses.
Many millions around the world do not have freedom of speech, and men and women are effectively gagged from talking about politics or practicing religion. It is unimaginable to me, how terrifying it must be to have to guard every word that you say and to keep your family safe in that environment.
However it is a sad fact that some of us who enjoy the right to speak our minds frequently misuse its power. Both on a personal level and now, courtesy of the Internet, on a much wider scale.
Of course some members of our communities take their right to freedom of speech to extremes. The paparazzi for example, who feel that they have the right to intrude into people’s lives and dish the dirt even when they do not have the facts.. Sometimes they exercise their right by simply publishing a photograph with an ambiguous headline and let our imagination do the rest. Even alleged mainstream media lean to left or right according to their financial and political affiliations rather than editorial responsibility, and there is a definitely a manipulation of facts and statistics when it comes to the political and financial institutions that govern our day to day life.
But is it not just the major media organisations who manipulate the truth to cause dissent or to stir up friction between communities. It is easy to for us as individuals to create barriers before we even begin communicating with others online.
We seem to be fixated with creating labels for ourselves and others. Certainly on official paperwork we have to define ourselves as White, Black, Asian Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Mormon, Quaker, Catholic, Irish, English, Scottish, disabled, Gay, married, single, divorced, widowed, retired or all of the above!
But we seem to be doing this in our personal lives too. I look at the profiles of some people that approach me to connect and they appear to want to belong to as many groups as possible. Even if I was meeting them for the first time face to face, I wouldn’t have an interest in their colour, religion, sexuality, political affiliations or that they are a feminist or manist! These terms do not describe a person, only the labels they have adopted that they feel defines them. There are some things that I deem as private and don’t believe belong in a personal Facebook or blog profile.
Personally I would like to know more about what makes them a human being. What areas would we both be interested in sharing such as books, writing, the cinema, love of animals, sport, meeting new people and learning more about others. I don’t want to know about the groups or labels that might highlight our differences before we get into some form of relationship to establish how much we have in common.
What happened to the joy of belonging to the human race?
A lack of tolerance and respect for others probably raised its ugly head as humans and Neanderthals began to inhabit the same terrain around 45,000 years ago. There is some evidence that the two groups did co-exist for around 5,000 years and very probably did cohabit too. There are genetic links to a tiny proportion of modern day man that supports that theory. However, the investigation into the mystery as to why Neanderthals became extinct is still ongoing. One theory is that the modern humans migrated in as the earth warmed up and pushed the Neanderthals out over time.
Chances are that modern man wanted nice cozy caves, rich hunting grounds near to flowing rivers and established plants and fruits. It may have taken them 5000 years but in the end they got what they wanted. Including the freedom to live, worship and survive without the complication of a group with a different perspective and needs making life difficult. That was just two groups working against each other.. We now have thousands of factions all shouting about their needs and beliefs; it is no wonder that the world is in chaos.
Then of course there were the gods who have maintained their presence in our lives throughout the history of man in many guises. One group would worship the moon and others the sun and fall out over it. Some believed that their gods lived on mountains and were omnipotent.. Others felt that throwing some poor individual, preferably a virgin, into a fiery volcano would appease these legendary beings. Wars have been fought, some cultures wiped out and many of these early religions disappeared completely. However, after thousands of years, we are still following this tried and tested method to get people to join our gang or suffer the consequences.
Thankfully most people agree to differ, respect each other’s beliefs and live and let live. Yet there is an element of every society, who have defined themselves by their interpretation of a religion, and take the moral high ground, expecting everyone else to convert. There have been extremists in every religion on earth and it will always be so.
There are some individuals who assume that freedom of speech entitles them to say whatever they like, whenever they like and to whomever they like. Because of course, their political, personal or religious views are the one true path. And despite all the laws enacted against hate crimes or inflammatory language, we do not seem to be becoming any more tolerant.
You don’t even have to get up close and personal. The Internet provides a wonderful platform for free speech despite the new legislation. Which is why cyber-bullying is such a popular sport and that the main casualties are young people. Words can be brutal and young people in particular of both sexes have not concept of how devastating their comments can be to someone of their own age.
- Over the recent years there has been an 87 % increase in the number of Childline’s counselling sessions about online bullying.
- 40% of 7 to11 year old respondents know someone who has been cyber-bullied .
- 7 in 10 young people aged between 13 and 22 have been a victim of cyber-bullying .
- An estimated 5.43 million young people in the UK have experienced cyber-bullying, with 1.26 million subjected to extreme cyber-bullying on a daily basis
The statistics for bullying of gay students is even more concerning.
- Over two in five gay pupils who experience homophobic bullying attempt or think about taking their own life as a direct consequence Three in five young people say that bullying has a direct impact on their school work and straight-A students have told us it makes them want to leave education entirely
- More than half (55 per cent) of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people experience homophobic bullying in Britain’s schools
- Ninety six per cent of gay pupils hear homophobic remarks such as ‘poof’ or ‘lezza’ used in school. Almost all (99 per cent) hear phrases such as ‘that’s so gay’ or ‘you’re so gay’ in school http://www.antibullyingpro.com/blog/2015/4/7/facts-on-bullying
Of course bullying is not the only misuse of the freedom of speech. Many suicides of young people are because they do not wear the right label. They do not belong to the accepted in crowd, and because they are different, they are ostracized and isolated.
Added to this is the continuous bombardment by the media, across all communication devices, of the devastating results of human intolerance. The young of today face a climate of fear and uncertainty for the future that has never been experienced before in human history on this scale. Is this really the world we want our young to inherit from us?
Youth Suicide Statistics In the USA
- Suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for ages 10-24. (2016 CDC WISQARS)
Suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for college-age youth and ages 12-18. (2016 CDC WISQARS)
- More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED.
- Each day in our nation, there are an average of over 3,041 attempts by young people grades 9-12. If these percentages are additionally applied to grades 7 & 8, the numbers would be higher.
- Four out of Five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs
It is tough to imagine that we as an individual can make a difference to the world and its chaos. But we can certainly make sure that we, and those close to us, understand that freedom of speech is a ‘right’ to be treasured. A right that when exercised with thoughtfulness, can positively change things that are broken, instil trust and understanding with others. We can set an example and be role models for our children and those we meet that have a different view of life and religion that we do.
We are too far down the road for this to change overnight. Some of the conflicts that are currently fueled by hatred and intolerance may not be resolved without more violence but we have to start somewhere and that is right here and right now. We need to choose the words that we speak and write more carefully and treasure the right we have to use them in the first place.
At the end of the day there is only one true fact and that is we belong to just one group and the label reads:
Next time – Rejection – A Fact of Life
©sallycronin The R’s of Life 2019
Thank you for dropping in and your comments are always gratefully received. Sally