Free Speech Versus Respect

The Secretary-General strongly believes that freedom of expression should be exercised responsibly and in a way that respects all religious beliefs” – Marie Okabe, spokeswoman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Two years ago the Secretary General of the UN Kofi Annan: “believes that the freedom of the press should always be exercised in a way that fully respects the religious beliefs and tenets of all religions.”

So, what if my religion demands that I disrespect other religions? What if my faith necessitates a lack of respect for other faiths? If you respect my faith, doesn’t that mean I’m allowed to do whatever my faith expects of me, even if that means disrespecting others? This is, of course, a paradox.

Implicit in statements like these are several politically-correct assumptions:

1.     That everybody’s beliefs must be respected

2.     That offending somebody is virtually a crime in and of itself

3.     That freedom and responsibility can conflict

Dealing with the latter two first: freedom and responsibility do not conflict – ever. Rights are moral principles sanctioning your freedom of thought and action in a social context. All Rights are corollaries of your Right to Life. Human beings must be free to think and do anything they believe is in their self-interest – with one constraint: that they do not violate the rights of others. Freedom of speech, of expression, is a means of human flourishing. The Right to free speech never conflicts with anybody else’s Rights – because no one has the right to NOT be offended by the words of others – no such Right exists. Rights merely mean that no one can use force against you, because the use of force negates morality.

On a similar subject, Leitmotif says: “When one claims that rights come with responsibilities, one is implying that one’s practice of a right could potentially conflict with the practice of another man’s rights. This is patently false. The moment someone has stepped outside the boundaries of one’s rights and has violated another man’s rights, his actions have initiated force and have become illegitimate. Insofar as this has not occurred, every man is free–without limits–to exercise his rights.”

Speaking about the pathetic Teddy-bear row that erupted back in November last year, I said: “If I want to say that Islam is an evil plagiarisation of the ramblings of ignorant primitive Jews, and not worth the paper it was written, that’s my right.

Just as nobody has the right to do whatever they want on your property, so you have no right to tell them what to do on theirs or anybody else’s.

Remember, the legitimate rights of human beings do not conflict. If there is a conflict, then one party must not be claiming legitimate rights. Since freedom of speech is an undeniable necessary individual right, those who claim that it must be exercised with restraint are contradicting themselves – and are claiming illegitimate rights. “Limited free speech” is a contradiction in terms.

Offending somebody is therefore not a crime. It may be immoral, if it’s irrational however. But the immoral is not the illegal.

Finally, not everyone’s beliefs should be respected. To say otherwise is an egregiously nonsensical claim, and blatant contradiction. To quote myself here: “Moral subjectivism is an offshoot of relativism in general, another symptom of which is the insipid multiculturalism. Relativism in general holds that all opinions or cultures are of equal value. This is flat wrong: if one holds the opinion X that “all opinions are of equal value or merit” then my opinion that X is rubbish is to be taken with equal merit as X itself! Therefore the truth of X would require that we reject it. Therefore X is either false or rubbish.”

Not all cultures are of equal merit. Some cultures are backward, ignorant, superstitious, and just plain stupid. Some are blatantly evil. And if you disagree with me and think I am being offensive, then YOU are evil. Why? Because you have no moral standard from which to draw conclusions. Being a moral person means being intellectually honest and never equivocating on matters of truth or ethics.

The exact opposites of this are such ridiculous notions like political-correctness, fear of offending beliefs, and multiculturalism. The above comments from the UN Secretary General embody this attitude perfectly. But this is to be expected: morality is an individual matter, yet multiculturalism is based on soul-destroying collectivism, which organisations like the United Nations (or any democratic arrangement) exemplify.

The moral distinction is clear: you are either a criminal or you are not. You are either within your rights, in which case you act freely, or you have initiated force, in which case you should be reined in. You either practice your rights legitimately–in which case, no one has a business telling you that you should be responsible in the practice of your legitimate rights–or you have stepped outside the boundaries protected by your rights and you are now a criminal.” – Leitmotif.

The comments from Ban Ki-moon are immoral are irresponsible. Free speech is non-negotiable, because individual rights are non-negotiable, because humans have a Right to Life. To deny total freedom to human beings is to deny the Right to Life. It’s as simple and as clear-cut as that.

22 Responses to “Free Speech Versus Respect”

  1. Winslie Gomez Says:

    If you desire an argument and confrontation then your method is brilliant. But if you want then to convince then that they may be “wrong” then it does not seem to be the best tack (as in sailing).

    The final objective is your choice.

    Your premise is brutally honest and I could not disagree with you. However I could not equally condemn Ban Ki-moon for voicing his views because he is exercising his Rights.

    The little that I can remember of Dale Carnegie’s “how to wing friends and influence people” says something like:
    Become genuinely interested in other people
    Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
    Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.
    Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires.

    Having said all that a free world means you have the right to express yourself. 🙂

  2. evanescent Says:

    Winslie, it’s in my rational self-interest to be nice to people, and sympathetic. But don’t confuse empathy and kindness and generosity with moral equivocation.

    I’m not condemning Ban Ki-moon for exercising his rights. I’m condemning his moral subjectivism.

  3. Winslie Gomez Says:


    BKM has to take a global stance, that’s his “crows nest” perspective. He needs to get people to talk to each other.

    Multiculturalism is no longer the buzz word it was, especially for us here in UK after the July 7th bombing.
    I should add, I am a Black person in UK. (thus my subjective view)

  4. evanescent Says:

    Hi Winslie, I think communication between people should be encouraged – but it is two ways. You cannot ask somebody to respect the culture of others whilst at the same time disrespecting the most fundamental, and in fact the ONLY rights that exist: those of the individual.

    Just earlier I was having a conversation with friends about the merits of conscription or national service, and those in favour argue that it teaches young people respect. But it is also a heinous violation of rights. You cannot teach people respect by disrespectful means.

    The only way that people will effectively communicate is if they do so from a common ground, and the common ground that must be reached before ANY discourse can take place is: reason. As long as some reject rationality, communication is impossible. Those who call for curtailing free speech are being irrational, so their cause is self-defeating.

    I also live in the UK too, Wins.

  5. Winslie Gomez Says:

    Sorry if I mistook you for cousins across the pond. You sounded like a Huckabee supporter, there I went and said it.

    The topic you have chosen is a tough one because it is possible to argue for both perspectives; for & against.
    In a way I am glad to see strident tones coming from UK, so don’t mind me, keep on with your conviction.

  6. Jennifer Says:

    I’m reminded of this quote: “We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.” H. L. Mencken

    I agree that freedom of speech should not be curtailed to prevent people being offended. It is possible to respect someone while thinking (and saying) their religious beliefs are ridiculous. Obviously there’s a difference between an objective, rational and polite critique of religion and a rude tirade, but the former should certainly be allowed and encouraged even when some find it offensive. Perhaps especially then.

    It’s an interesting topic. 🙂

  7. Burgess Laughlin Says:

    With the word “respect,” moral-relativists commit the fallacy of equivocation, just as they have equivocated on the term “tolerance.”

    Politically, I can respect the view, rightfully expressed, of even the most irrational religionists. At the same time, I can have no respect, as a personal evaluation, for those views.

    Likewise, politically, I support tolerance for all religions, as peaceful enterprises. At the same time, as an evaluation expressed aloud, I have no tolerance for beliefs based on mysticism, which includes all religions, by definition.

    In each case, for “respect” and “tolerance,” the same word is being used in two senses. The UN Secretary Generals are cashing in on the ambiguity of the terms. They hope to hook us into going along with the illegitimate use by dangling the bait of the legitimate use of the terms.

  8. evanescent Says:

    Nicely put Burgess, well said!

  9. Stephen Thomas Says:

    Most certainly. Rand was one of the first reasons I rejected atheism years ago.

    As far as the note, absolutely. The law of non-contradiction is not just a philosophy regarding logic, it also is found in all branches of philosophy, including justified ethics and morality. This means that it is /impossible/ for one to have the right to violate another right, meaning that freedom and responsibility can never contradict.

  10. Ralph Says:

    Freedom of speech means that occasionally you may be insulted.

  11. Teddy D Says:

    I agree with the original post and most of the responses to it. Some points I would stress include the following: The right to Free speech does not guarantee a receptive audience. In fact, it does not guarantee any listeners whatsoever, much less listeners who will respond with reasonable or constructive feedback. Nor should it. As for “respect”: it is reasonable to require of me that I respect one’s right to free speech. However, the content of one’s ideas is a separate issue: respect for those ideas may simply not be merited.

    The point of my post is that there are a few “gray” areas and the topic of Free Speech could benefit from some expansion. “Gray” should not be taken to imply moral ambiguity: its just that my communication skills are not up to the task of answering some of the opponents of Free Speech. Maybe those of you who see the issue a little more clearly can help?

    1. Speech may be free but the forum to express it is not. Nor should it be. If I respond to a post with an unpopular view, or with an irrational and hateful rant, the webmaster may choose to remove my post. This is obviously fair. In fact, an editor is free to block or remove posts for any reason – or no reason at all – and still remain within his rights. It is entirely proper that the owner or provider of any media retains the right to withhold access to that media as he chooses. The same applies any form of media (radio, television, newspapers, etc.) My concern: Those with views to express may claim that the concept of Free Speech itself is flawed when they find themselves without an audience, when, due to financial or ideological reasons, they are unable gain access to any popular forum. How to answer this type of opponent of free speech?

    2. What of views that are expressly “violent” or “dangerous”? I know – that’s not a particularly clear description and an example is in required: Suppose a religious leader condemns a person (or an entire people) for holding views against his faith. The religious leader posts a proclamation that calls upon his followers to seek that person’s destruction. i.e.: Salman Rushdie – those more informed than myself could probably come up with many other examples. (As a side point, its interesting to note that Rushdie is condemned for exercising his right to free speech – and then those religious leaders who condemn him use the same right to promote his murder.) Obviously such a proclamation is immoral but how to integrate that into the concept of free speech?

    Opponents of free speech have used such examples to attack it. Can someone please help identify ways to answer them? Thanks.

  12. John Torch Says:

    The Freedom of Speech should never be regulated in my eyes. That is what is great about the United States, but it looks like day after day more of our freedoms are being taken away.

    We shouldn’t have any restrictions on information available to the public. You wouldn’t see any censorship on our site, thats for damn sure!

  13. evanescent Says:

    Teddy said:

    As a side point, its interesting to note that Rushdie is condemned for exercising his right to free speech – and then those religious leaders who condemn him use the same right to promote his murder.

    Teddy – the right to free speech does not include the threat of force. Force, the use and/or threat of it is a violation of rights, and there can be no right to violate a right.

    Those who advocate violence or the use of physical force are stepping outside their legal and moral Rights and should be restrained.

    I agree with everything else you said.

    John said:

    You wouldn’t see any censorship on our site, thats for damn sure!

    John, censorship can only be performed by government. In a free society, all property is private which means that the proprietor can do whatever they want with their own property, which includes limiting the speech of those who use it.

    The government however is the only organisation that can use physical force to restrain an individual’s freedom.

    Only the government can censor information. Whatever you choose to do on your website, you cannot “censor” anyone. Censorship does not mean that one must give a forum to any nutjob who chooses to use your property as a means of self-expression.

  14. Stella Says:

    1. Speech may be free but the forum to express it is not. Nor should it be. If I respond to a post with an unpopular view, or with an irrational and hateful rant, the webmaster may choose to remove my post. This is obviously fair. In fact, an editor is free to block or remove posts for any reason – or no reason at all – and still remain within his rights. It is entirely proper that the owner or provider of any media retains the right to withhold access to that media as he chooses. The same applies any form of media (radio, television, newspapers, etc.) My concern: Those with views to express may claim that the concept of Free Speech itself is flawed when they find themselves without an audience, when, due to financial or ideological reasons, they are unable gain access to any popular forum. How to answer this type of opponent of free speech?

    The answer is: Free speech means no one may force you to keep quiet or to say what you don’t mean. Those who claim a newspaper editor must publish columns espousing views he opposes, in the name of “free speech,” are actually violating the EDITOR’S right to free speech: They want to force him to print something he disagrees with. Similarly, the owner of a website does not have to allow every Tom, Dick, and Harry to post; he is not obliged to use HIS space to broadcast views he does not hold. “Free speech” means that opponents of a particular media outlet have the option of saying whatever they like in response, in their own space and at their own expense — not that the media outlet must be forced to print its own rebuttal.

  15. Teddy D Says:

    Evanescent, I see your point. I was having problems equating the act posting a hostile proclamation promoting violence and the similar act of threatening someone with violence. In hindsight, I see that both acts involve force and should properly be condemned as violations of rights. Seems obvious in retrospect. Thanks for clearing this one up.

    Stella, I see your point – demanding access to someone else’s property (newspaper, website, etc.) is a violation of the owner’s rights. Another issue that seems obvious, at least in hindsight. Thanks for your comments – the issue is now more clear to me.

  16. Elisheva Levin Says:

    I agree with the post. Sometimes wording something strongly is important an important and effective way of getting the message across. It was done here quite effectively. In my eyes, it would not have been as effective if using the “Win Friends and Influence People” approach.

    When I read the comments about respect, I was thinking about good manners. I teach my children good manners towards people they may dislike and/or disagree with. Good manners are an important tool for existing in a free society. But they are not imposed from without–they come from within. One may not respect the point of view expressed peacibly by another, but one can choose to deal with it using good manners or one may simply ignore it. There are also times when good manners are not called for, for example, when someone initiates force against you. Then a forcible response is required. Therefore, I teach my children to use good manners, but also to defend themselves against bullies.

    IMNSHO–the words and tactics of Kofi Annan are from the bully pulpit and ought to responded to forthrightly rather than politely.

  17. Teddy D. Says:

    Freedom of Speech does not protect the speaker from rebuttal – constructive and well-reasoned or otherwise. “Polite and respectful” or otherwise. Yes, if you have a point (or a counter-point) to make, your views are more effectively expressed if you treat the subject-matter with respect and deal with your opponent fairly. In fact, this is a reasonable approach to take in all of your dealings with others, whether you agree with them or not. But Ki-moon’s statement attempts to tie this principle of general good-will to the principle of Freedom of Speech – which undermines both. In effect, it is saying that freedom of expression is a given as long one refrains from offending anybody. Such a view negates both Freedom and Respect: i.e.: if Freedom is to be sacrificed to Respect, the result is the destruction of both.

    Freedom of speech is an absolute whereas Ki-moon’s statement is more of a value-judgement: this distinction should be made clear. I agree with the original post that claims such a statement is irresponsible. Some of the follow-up posts suggest that his statement is protected under the principle of free speech. As a private citizen, Ki-moon’s statements are protected but this is not the case: his “value-judgement” is in fact, a statement of policy made by a government official. Are such policy statements actually protected by the principle of free speech?

  18. evanescent Says:

    Hi Teddy, Ayn Rand answers that question better than I could:

    “Under a proper social system, a private individual is legally free to take any action he pleases (so long as he does not violate the rights of others), while a government official is bound by law in his every official act. A private individual may do anything except that which is legally forbidden; a government official may do nothing except that which is legally permitted.” – The Nature of Government, TVOS

    Therefore, any statement that a government official takes should be consonant with his specific limited tasks at hand. A government official who comes out and states “We will take punitive decisive action against anybody who violates the law” is fully authorised to do so. If the official then says “We would ask that certain people be careful what they say lest they offend some ethnic group”, he has stepped outside his remit as a government official, and beyond his legitimate powers, and needs to be castigated.

  19. Teddy D. Says:

    Thanks Evanescent – that identifies the issue quite clearly.

    I don’t suppose you know if Ki-moon has ever been called upon to retract or amend his statement? On the surface, it may seem to be an inconsequential issue but I don’t believe it is: when public officials improperly use their offices to promote dangerous and contradictory ideas, we’re all in trouble. Tying “freedom” and “respect” together into a “package-deal” is one way to attack both concepts, whether or not such an attack was the intention. (“Package-deal” – Ayn Rand’s phrase, not mine. Please excuse me if I’m using it incorrectly.) Statements from government officials should be made with care to avoid setting the stage for having a personal opinion evolve into govenment policy.

  20. evanescent Says:

    Hi Teddy,

    unfortunately, because the government has so much interference in our personal lives, government and government officials think nothing about issuing opinions and suggestions about what would she do and even think.

    A perfect example of this is the healthcare system. Because government pays for healthcare, it thinks it can and should dictate what people should spend their money on and how they should live their lives. In a free market, this would be a personal matter for the individual and any healthcare company that chose to deal with them.

  21. Tony V Says:

    I came across this site in my research on free speech. I am a university student of Canada who has received an acceptance to study in the UK. To my knowledge, certain issues have arisen (or so I’ve been informed) that I would have to curtail my freedom of speech with respect to religion??? Is this true? If I come to UK, will I be under Shariah law or British common law? Can I opt out of Shariah or will there be consequences?

    Also, with respect to the post above on “force”, if muslims find out I’m an atheist (a freethinker, a secular humanist), will I be killed?

    I’m not joking but I’ve heard so many horror stories and its hard to distinguish them from urban myths, let alone the ethos which surrounds the UK landscape. And, is the capital called Londonistan or London?

    I heard your airports have arabic writing and prayer rooms? Is this true – have you become Saudi Arabia’s puppet for the Islamisation of Europe? Am I obligated to take part in prayer or can I nod my head in disgust, pick my luggage and leave as I didn’t see that?

    Although I wouldn’t go out of my way to insult muslims, but if I somehow get cornered in a conversation with a muslim (or christian) in a public space and I tell them their religion is evil and that the bulk of atrocities and violence has been in done in the name of their religions, will the British government protect my rights as a commonwealth citizen in case either party decides to use force to shut me up?

    If I wear a t-shirt depicting theo van gogh or am caught with any of these books : golden compasss, the satanic verses, letters to a christian nation, the god delusion, etc, will I be flogged or stoned?

    Will I be jailed for talking against the teachings of quran or the bible or the jewish talmud?

    Can I be proud to eat a beef hamburger in a predominantly hindu neighbourhood or will they put up a fuss and have me throw it out?

    Can I eat pork chops in my dorm room’s kitchen or will muslims pick up a stink and have me dispose of it?

    If I find there is nothing wrong with a girl not covering her hair, can I request or comment on the very attractive girls who wear such islamic garments to take them off as they are not in a mosque but in a public space such as a library or university classroom?

    I’m seriously contemplating whether I should take my post in UK or take my acceptance in France or Germany for my M.P.A.

    I respect cultures of countries whose governments espouse democracy, free speech and the like. I am against communism, theocracy or other totalitarian regimes.

    Can I request NON-hahal or kosher meat at the grocery store or am I forced to eat meat prepared by theists?

  22. evanescent Says:

    Hi Tony

    you make some very good points.

    The truth is, it is not as bad here in England as what you’ve apparently heard, although I don’t live anywhere near London where the problems you mentioned do exist. It’s the same in all major cities I suppose, but some cities are worse than others for this ridiculous political correctness; it’s probably because they’re more multicultural, which breeds the evil attitude of multiculturalism.

    Incidentally, I notice that you exclude democracy from the things you’re against. I should point out that democracy is just another form of total rule which doesn’t respect individual rights. Democracy might be an improvement on communism, fascism, and a theocracy, but it is still immoral.

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