Freedom of Speech
In Paris on December 10, 1948, The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) ‘as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.’ Among its 30 articles were the following:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Last week a number of UK venues cancelled upcoming appearances by the American evangelist Franklin Graham. It seems that the spirit of the UDHR is not so universal after all. Strangely, free speech is now unwelcome in our 21st century context. A declaration meant to bind all peoples in shared values and common aspirations is set aside. So, we must conclude that only some speech is free and only certain religious views may be freely held.
The Free Church of Scotland affirms its support of freedom of speech and freedom of religion. We affirm these rights and condemn the cancellations not because Franklin Graham is preaching the Christian message but because these freedoms are fundamental to a free society and a free people.
We affirm George Orwell’s assertion, ‘If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.’ Let us resolve to honour our national commitment to these universal human rights regardless of who is speaking or which particular religion is being commended.