On the ‘right’ of Australians to be bigots

CREATED ON // Thursday, 08 May 2014 Written by // Rob MacPherson

Where does freedom of speech end and freedom from discrimination begin? asks Pastor Rob MacPherson.

The “I-don’t-believe-they-actually-said-that” of the last few weeks has surely been the excrementitious statement that fell like faecal matter from the mouth of AG George Brandis, namely: ‘that people do have a right to be bigots’. This fetid (though perfectly formed) bon mot was disgorged in defence of the government’s intention to make amendments to the anti-discrimination act, also called the “Bolt laws”.

On its glossy, though putrid, surface, the statement is attractive to social libertarians who have an allergic aversion to any form of ‘nanny-state’ protectionism. It’s all about free speech in a free country, so toughen-up princesses, sometimes you’ll hear things that offend you. That’s the price of freedom. And you wouldn’t want to NOT be free would you?

See, when you were called names and derided for your sexuality, what these people were doing to you was not an offense, not humiliation, but a favour—reminding you that you live in a free country! (Clearly people must often forget this…)

So—“Faggot. Queer. Poof. Dyke. Bender. Pillow-biter. Shirt-lifter. Rug-muncher.”

Now, say it loud, “We Are Free!”

I jest, of course. However Brandis, the country’s most powerful lawyer, is not kidding. But this is a lawyer’s trick, and your humble scribe will now unpick it for you.

Brandis’s brightly polished evacuation cleverly but dishonestly conflates liberty with license, as if free speech means speech free of consequences. Even in a free country, one is NOT (and should not be) free to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theatre. And why not? There would surely be harmful consequences, m’lud.

And so it is with bigoted speech. While I accept you can’t legislate morality, we do legislate behaviour. Otherwise we’d be awash in murderers and thieves and embezzlers running around free of being oppressed by a nanny-state. Liberty is not license. License means, in effect, anarchy: everybody can do whatever the hell they want, unchecked by any consideration of who is offended. But even a child would know that that is not freedom—in the libertarian paradise of ‘no rules, man’, no one (ironically) is free, because everyone is in danger of other people pursuing their own notions of unrestricted freedom.

Unless, of course, the social order is governed by a deeply ingrained set of social codes, as in traditional societies, where everyone knows what the rules of behaviour are. I need hardly point out that contemporary Australian society is no such place.

Again ironically, in the world we’ve built for ourselves, liberty only truly flourishes under laws that protect us at the precise point where your freedom to be a bigot impacts on my freedom to live free of being bastardized and emotionally injured for things over which I’ve no control—like race, gender, ethnicity, and sexual preferences.

Perhaps the follicle-challenged Brandis might get the point if we all called him, say, “slap-head, baldy locks, chrome-dome, cueball, or skullet”? No doubt he’d put on a bold front, and say ‘sticks and stones’. But somewhere in his hard heart, it would hurt, knowing there’s sod-all he can do about being a fat, bald, little pudding.

And that, kids, is exactly why we shouldn’t do it.


Rob MacPherson

Rob MacPherson

Reverend Rob MacPherson is Minister of the Unitarian Church of SA. Follow Rob on Twitter @saunitarians

Comments (1)

  • TomKent

    09 May 2014 at 16:43 |
    Wow! You rock, Pastor Rob!


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