Hate speech & religious liberty

Hate speech image

Chaos reigned in parliament before the South African president’s latest state of the nation address.

The Chief Whip of the opposition rose to state why his party could not remain to listen to the president, but the ruling party benches drowned him out with a loud and angry chorus of “racist”. Is this an acceptable expression or is it a form of hate speech?

Just weeks ago a crowd of gay activists gathered outside the largest church in Soweto to protest a recent sermon censoring homosexuality. Was such a sermon ‘hate speech’, or was the protest an attempt to curtail religious liberty?

Gay ‘rights’ are a contentious issue in many countries around the world but in South Africa activists are gaining traction and attention by aligning themselves as victims of hate speech. Two things appear to me to have sponsored the current emphasis on ‘hate speech’:

  1. A number of racially prejudicial remarks in the social media, and,
  2. The ruling party’s opportunism in using this as an election campaign theme.

What then are gay rights, hate speech, and freedom of religion and expression, and how do these function together? I am neither a lawyer nor a lawmaker but as a Christian thought-leader, I do have opinions on these important issues.

In 2013 the Freedom of Expression Institute published ‘Hate speech and freedom of expression’ and I am drawing on this as a primary source for this article. Our Constitution with its Bill of Rights is the foundation for all rights and freedoms in South Africa. In 2000 parliament passed the ‘equality bill’ and there are two other concerning draconian bills nearing finalisation, but all such acts of parliament must conform to the provisions of the national constitution.

So what does the constitution state concerning these matters?

It states that Freedom of Expression cannot extend to expressions that enlist, among other things, ‘advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion and that constitutes incitement to cause harm’. The two parts of this are advocacy of hatred and incitement to cause harm. In terms of this, preaching against the practice of homosexuality surely cannot be anything other than a form of free expression. Section 15 of the Bill of Rights protects freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief, or opinion. Therefore, a preacher is within his rights to state what he believes the Bible teaches and to voice his opinion based on this belief. But, it is one thing to preach on a biblical interpretation of a practice and quite another to make damaging statements concerning the individuals or groups that are deemed to violate the preacher’s beliefs.

At present I know of no officially accepted definition of hate speech but the following serves well: ’speech or expression which is capable of instilling or inciting hatred of, or prejudice towards, a person or group of people on a specified ground including race, nationality, ethnicity, country of origin, ethno-religious identity, religion, sexuality, gender identity or gender.’ Once again, the key phrase is ’speech or expression which is capable of instilling or inciting hatred of, or prejudice towards, a person or group of people’.

Surely we, as Christians, can and should separate our strongly held opinions of what we consider to be unbiblical practices from derogatory, insulting and demeaning personal or group references?

The national constitution also gives us the right to freedom of association and so we can stipulate membership criteria of our church associations and so on, based on our biblical beliefs and not on our prejudice against individuals.

Jesus said, “Whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council…” (Matthew 5:22 ESV). It is wrong to insult other people or to incite others to be insulting, however, the Lord Jesus used the expression “I tell you the truth” countless times and we are called to emulate Him as truth-tellers. But, the truth we tell must be a thoughtful, love-inspired, and Jesus-centred interpretation of the Bible. “God hates you” or any expression of that is biblically untrue. On the other hand, “What you are doing is unbiblical and I cannot accept it” is surely acceptable and not hateful.

We are in for interesting and troubling times because broader and more activist-inspired definitions of religious liberty and hate speech are emerging all the time and are at the point of being enshrined in legislation.

It will probably take years and much money to challenge and overturn these official bills, and during that time, Christian leaders will no doubt suffer persecution. There is no way of avoiding this in the short to medium term. Hebrews 12:14 states, ’Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord’. The scriptures instruct us to live in peace AND to be holy, separated to God, so short of compromise there is no persecution-free resolution to this tension.

GotQuestions.org has made this statement that I endorse;

Our goal is to speak the truth in love. We do not hate Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Catholics, Mormons, or Jehovah’s Witnesses. Rather, we simply believe that these groups are making some serious theological and biblical errors. We do not hate homosexuals, adulterers, pornographers, transsexuals, or fornicators. Rather, we simply believe that those who commit such acts are making immoral and ungodly decisions. Telling someone that he/she is in the wrong is not hateful. In reality, refusing to tell someone the truth is what is truly hateful. Declaring the speaking of truth, presented respectfully, to be hate speech, is, in fact, the ultimate demonstration of hate.

 

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One Response

  1. This is one of the most sensitive topics that any Preacher can tackle, and it seems as if it should be one of the roads less travelled and avoided for fear of being “burnt on the cross” by the media and proponents of Gay and Lesbian Rights group. You have handled this topic extremely well, and I agree with you on your views, which are balanced and “diplomatic” (my opinion).

    Freedom of association has ensured that a lot of “Gay and Lesbian” churches are blossoming in the country. My personal views; we are free to choose but we are not free from the consequences of our choice, be it Straight or otherwise, and believe that the Holy Scriptures are not be doctored and watered down because of fear of stepping on someone else’ sexual preference which contradicts the scripture. Yes, let us never shy away from the “Loving Truth” for fear of prosecution. Paul in 2Tim3:1, said ‘In the last day difficult times will come, where people will be lovers of self, proud,…unholy, lovers of pleasure’ and ‘having the appearance of godliness but denying its power’ (vs 5), and people following their sensuality, and the way of the Truth being blasphemed (2Peter 2:2)

    Paul in the letter to Timothy sums up my view and attitude as a Christian, ‘All scripture is inspired by God, and profitable for teaching, correction, and for righteousness…’(2Tim3:16); my opinion matters not, my freedom of speech matter not, my sexual preferences and orientation matters not as it is God’s Word that is being violated. If the Gay and Lesbian “Christian” can live with that, then I am Ok also. Then again, doesn’t the bible declare” If we say we fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth?”(1John 1:6). Someone said “The bible is not a bag of trail mix, where you pick out the pieces you like and ignore the rest” because they give you an allergic reaction.

    I agree with you, we are also entering times where the Church of Christ will be liberal, universal, impotent, powerless, “sugar –coaters” of truth, fearers of man and not God. These are the days where the Church of Christ and true Christians will be prosecuted for their beliefs as inspired by the Holy Scriptures. The Church of Christ will be managed, legislated and controlled by infidels in the guise of “freedom of association, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc”, and the voices of the godly men will be silenced for fear of prosecution and being stigmatised.

    When Christ comes, will He find us standing tall and firm in our Faith, or we will be like reeds, bending with every “breeze” that comes to test our faith?

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