More on the sky falling in

So, to give a specific example of the kind of worried reaction to the Andrew Bolt conviction by some Christians. I received a forwarded email from the Saltshakers organisation who had this to say:

The Judgement returned in the Andrew Bolt case, which found he had breached the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) because of his comments about some aborigines, highlights the immense DANGER of the Federal law, which allows anyone who feels they have been ‘offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated’ on the basis of their race or ethnic identity to take a case in the Federal Court.

It is true that a racial descrimination act opens the door for vexatious claims of offence by people who simply don’t like what someone else is saying. However to suggest that this is an IMMENSE DANGER is to seriously overstate the problem. In particular, in this case the judge made it very clear that it wasn’t just a case of  someone’s feelings being hurt, but rather that any reasonable person would be offended, humiliated and intimidated both by  what Bolt wrote and how he wrote it. I have to say it feels a little like Saltshakers is talking up the problem here to give themselves a reason to exist.

Of greater concern than the exaggeration of free speech though, is where the letter heads next. It seems that saltshakers not only thinks that Andrew Bolt has a right to say what he said, they actually agree with what he said.

…the dangerous principle now established largely arises because one group of people are able to claim special ‘rights’ based on a small link to aboriginality…

….Australia should treat ALL its citizens equally. Our nation provides support for people who are in special circumstances, such as unemployment, poverty, disability and so on. However, this support should be based on well-established criteria that includes all Australians. All people should be treated equally – not just those of certain ethnic, religious or cultural identities.

These paragraphs seems to completely missunderstand the case. The whole point was that the judge found that those who brought the case did not have a ‘small link’ to Aboriginality, they had a deep and unavoidable link to their Aboriginal identity.

Further, I can’t see how this case in any way undermines the equality of Australians. Surely we all deserve protection from powerful voices who want to humiliate us and intimidate us into changing our identity or our culture with false and deliberate mockery.

As I said earlier I would have thought that Christians would be rejoicing that we have a law that protects the weak and the vulnerable from the scorn and mockery of the powerful, and it concerns me that Saltshakers is so worried about theoretical danger to our rights as Christians that it is willing to jump into bed with the Bolts and Newscorps of this world.

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3 Responses to More on the sky falling in

  1. Gordon Cheng says:

    You’ve taken a narrow view of this specific legislation as applied to this specific case, Andrew, as you’re entitled to do. But the judiciary, although independent, is not alone. So it would be good to at least consider the possibilities inherent within the broader view.

    Neil Foster is a help:

    http://www.facebook.com/notes/neil-james-foster/implications-of-the-andrew-bolt-case-for-freedom-of-speech-for-christians/10150328493938457

    I have no idea whether you can follow that link, the way facebook is operating these days, so let me at least quote some of Neil’s suitably cautious material:

    “So, will the decision in the Bolt case have any impact on Christian freedom of speech? It has to be said that it is possible. By reading the defence of “reasonable and in good faith” very narrowly, the scope for legitimate debate and comment may be reduced. If a Christian wants to make a public statement, for example, that homosexual behaviour (like all other sexual activity outside marriage) is sinful and wrong, there is a possibility that this might offend some people. Still, the hurdle is very high- there has to be an incitement of “hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of” a person or community on the ground of homosexuality. If a Christian is reflecting the way that the Bible approaches the issue, they ought not to be encouraging hatred of the persons concerned, or contempt or ridicule. But the Catch the Fire case illustrates that this hurdle might be crossed in some cases on sensitive issues.”

    There’s plenty more of a suitably technical nature. But the situation is serious enough that we shouldn’t be quoting the nutters to prove that the weirdos are right, or the weirdos to prove that the nutters are right (depending on which side of the debate you find yourself). To express alarm over the decision is not the same as ‘jumping into bed with the Bolts and Newscorps of the world.’ Is it?

    • apricho says:

      Thanks for that material Gordon – unfortunately the link doesn’t work because it seems like some well thought through comments.

      Seems to me that Neil is saying there is no cause for alarm, although there is a possibility that the scope for comment and debate may be reduced. As he says, the way that the scope for debate is reduced is a way that should not effect Christians who would not want to be debating or commenting in any of the ways criticised in this judgement.

      The problem I have is that if the dominant or only way that Christians respond to this is with alarm it suggests that we are much more concerned with a possible threat to our own rights than we are with justice for the powerless and marginalised. And unless it is made clear otherwise, it also suggests by association that we support Andrew Bolt and his comments about the insincerity of fair skinned Aboriginees.

      I take your point about quoting the nutters to prove the wierdos, but my quotes came from the only comments about the case that have been distributed to ministers in my denomination, so I don’t think they’re that way out.

  2. Laetitia says:

    I wondered where your concerns about hand-wringing Christians came from as I haven’t heard anything of the sort. Of course, being in hospital, then in Melbourne (where the only news as far as they were concerned was the AFL) without an internet connection could have had something to do with it. 🙂

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