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Free expression means CRITICISM, too!

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Fri, Oct 1, 2010
Editor: Some religious and political figures in this country seem to think that their religion and politics should be exempt from scrutiny and criticism. In a sinful world, criticism is needed to expose and curb many evils and to advance new ideas and progress. Just think about the innovations we have today as opposed to former years. Cable TV, the aeroplane, the computer, the light bulb – just to name a few.{{more}}

In relation to government, consider the founding fathers of America who were determined to show the King of England that he was not given the God-given mandate to be sovereign ruler over American citizens. Under the inspiration of God, they developed a pro-rights and freedoms governmental structure – Republicanism. This was a direct criticism of the monarchical system with kings ruling at their whim and fancy, transgressing people’s rights. A reading of the Declaration of Independence of 1776 reveals how strongly this system was criticized by the freedom seeking American fathers.

How about the SVG Constitution Bill 2009? Do you know it would have been easier for parliament to pass laws (anti-freedoms policies too!) without consulting the people had the Bill been passed? Just imagine if this bill was not critically analyzed to the point where the majority of Vincentians voted a resounding NO.

Think about the Reformers of the 15th Century and beyond who criticized the Roman Catholic Church which murdered many of its critics in the Dark Ages under the name of “heresy”. They openly showed their disapproval of the church which was teaching (and still does) people to depend upon and to worship man (the Pope) instead of YHWH-God. What a darker world this would be without critical voices!

Yet in this 21st Century, in our country SVG, persons are called “religious bigots”, “opportunists”, “backward”, “Ralph haters”, “badminded”…when they criticize certain religious teachings and government policies. ‘Tis true that we are no longer living in the period of the Dark Ages, but sadly we have persons with Dark Age mentality.

It is important to note that freedom to criticize is one of the two patterns that Freedom of Expression can take. Freedom of Expression is a natural God-given freedom and in exercising it, we may either commend or criticize. We may express things that are NEW in contrast to all things, things that are SIMILAR to all things or things that are OPPOSED to all things. Some people think that we should only express ideas that are similar or in agreement with them. So, they use fear tactics or they trample upon the God-endowed freedoms of their critics by using libel and slander.

However outspoken or passionate a person may be in expressing their

opinion, their rights and freedoms should not be violated – their character should not be maligned, they should not be persecuted by other citizens or government. Surely, we know no one (critics etc) has the right to lie about or to defame another person in pursuit of freedom of expression. You are free to disagree with me, but not free to lie about me. This is why the law of God commands, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” Exodus 20:16. This is why, though the constitution of SVG guarantees freedom of expression (Sec. 10), one cannot slander and libel

or defame another’s character without penalty.

In speaking about free speech (which includes freedom to criticize) Robert Hargreaves said “…The battle of ideas must always be fought in conditions of free speech. Any set of beliefs, whether secular or religious, works best through the power of persuasion. There should be no room in a pluralist society for totalitarian ideologies, which through indoctrination and coercion seek to exclude all dissent. However much the opinions of others are deplored, debate must never be curtailed by laws which undermine the liberty to disagree peacefully about eternal verities. Free speech entails the freedom to be provocative – to say things that cause offence, to insult the opinions of others, to impart information others may wish to suppress, to voice views others may hate. It also entails the duty to be tolerant of those who voice such views, however much one personally disagrees with them.” A History of Free Speech(2002) pg 305,311.

If the above mentioned principles are embedded in our consciousness, we would have a society with more responsible citizens who have greater respect for the God-ordained rights and freedoms of their fellowmen. May freedom of expression reign in our country! May the critical voices continue, UNHINDERED in our blessed land!

Ann-Marie Ballantyne
[email protected]

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