Freedom Requires A Definition Before We Can Solve It
Whenever the subject of freedom arises — whether it be the freedom to be religious or the freedom to say what you want—both sides almost always fail to define the meaning of it. And until we define what freedom means, we’re never going to solve the arguments around how we should use it.
What does it really mean to be free? Is it driving along a desert highway at high speed? Is it wearing that skimpy dress even though your friends say you shouldn’t? Or is it having the right to call your neighbour a moron because he is adamant about the world being flat? The thing is, all those scenarios are still beholden to reality. You are free to drive at high speed, you are free to wear whatever you want and you are totally free to call your flat-earth-believing neighbour a moron — but you’ll never be free from the consequences. You could get arrested, you could get all the wrong guys ogling you, and your neighbour could thump you on the head.
In other words, freedom does not afford you the immunity to do what you want. It only says you can do it.
In certain cases, freedoms are struck down by the government. Depending on the jurisdiction in which you live, driving above the speed limit is illegal. Same with killing, stealing, verbal abuse and indecent exposure. As a human, you are, unfortunately, free to do any of those things, but you never have the right to do them under government law. That’s the difference here.
So while freedom is the entitlement to speak, act or think in any way you please, the silent question is who gives you that entitlement? As I’ve noted, you being a human gives you the right to do what you want, but that right can be struck down by the government through laws. So the only way your freedom will ever be taken away is if the government gets involved, which is perhaps one solid reason why we should have the unconditional right to protest.
Now that we’ve properly defined what freedom means in this current reality, we can solve the issues around religious freedom and freedom of speech.
Solving Religious Freedom
While we can heartily understand why driving at high speeds or murdering someone are criminal offences under government law, something like religious freedom obviously should not be. For one, praying to deities doesn’t directly affect anyone else, just the person who is praying. And before we launch into a campaign about giving full rights to religious people, we must take into consideration that 7% of the worldwide population are non-theists — a number that is growing.
As a human, you are free to do what you want, according to our definition of freedom; and if we discard government interference, you should be free to practice any faith you want, undertake any activities that relate to your faith and preach to others about your beliefs. However, the statistic I noted above isn’t the least of your problems. Not only do 7% of the world either don’t believe in God or are not sure if there even is one; there are also three major religions to contend with, not to mention hundreds of subcategories of those three religions. That means that a majority of those around you don’t believe in your God or, at least, a version of your God. So, while we must allow freedom of religion, we must also allow freedom from religion. Because not only do you have the freedom to be religious, so does everyone else; conversely, we also have the right to not be religious at all. Which means you have the freedom to pray to whatever God you want, and I have the freedom to remove myself if I don’t want to see you pray. Which essentially gives you the right to pray in public, just so long as I am allowed to walk away.
This also means you have the right to wear whatever garb you wish, just so long as I don’t have to. That’s freedom.
In simple terms, you do you, and you let me do me.
Solving Freedom of Speech
Free speech is a right for everyone, but we have to remember that not everyone will like what you say. Welcome to reality!
In order for freedom to thrive, the government must not impede. But there are times when speaking is a crime. You could be found in contempt of court for what you say. You could be found guilty of espionage. You could be found guilty of verbal abuse. You could even be found guilty of defamation. Perhaps it’s not a good idea to write bad things about people.
Aside from those issues, all humans have the right to free speech. And equally, everyone else has the right to feel offended. But they don’t have the right to use their offence as a blocker on an argument. If you don’t like what someone says, walk away and find something less offensive. Telling them to stop talking because your offended is not affording freedom of speech. It’s impeding it. Instead of telling them to stop talking because you’re offended, why not use your right to free speech to tell the world why it’s offensive.
In another article, I wrote about the controversial social media posts by Israel Folau and how they do more than just offend, and now devout Christians consider it an attack on free speech because he has been fired over it. (For those who don’t know, Israel Folau kept posting on his social media that gays will go to hell. Rugby Australia told him to stop, made him sign a contract, and Folau went on to post up again that gays will go to hell. So they sacked him.) Aside from the fact that this is a contractual issue, Rugby Australia, being a private enterprise, has the right to sack whoever they wish for what they say on social media. It’s not a government issue, it’s a social issue, and they as an organisation have the right to make sure their employees and stakeholders adhere to their brand. They don’t have the right to fire someone over their religious beliefs, or their sexuality, or their race, or their gender, but they can fire someone over what they say. Folau didn’t need to say that gays will go to hell —he could have just kept that to himself or only told people within his private circle — but social media is an area where his image is connected to Rugby Australia and their stakeholders. Rugby Australia also has the right to freedom, including both what they say and what they do. They fired him because he failed to adhere to the contract, but they also fired him because he was tarnishing their image.
This also means that religious organisations should have the right to (politely) refuse service to specific minority groups. But they cannot complain when those people post up their story online, causing the market to turn against them.
In essence, free speech enables you the right to say what you want, but it doesn’t free you from the consequences.
The impingement of your freedoms can only arise from government control, so the only time you should whinge about your freedom being taken away is when the government gets involved. That’s why we should always have the right to protest and to protest whenever we want. Even if it means skipping school or work.
And if someone is telling you to shut up, or blasting back a fiery argument, that’s their right too. Don’t complain about your free speech being taken away, because that is not the case. You’re free to fire back your own argument.
Everybody has the right to free speech and so does everybody else. So while you can say whatever the hell you want, you may want to have a think about the consequences before you say it.