Freedom of Speech: Does not justify being a douche

A recent exchange of… let’s call them opinions… on my Facebook page got me thinking about the concept of free speech.

The short-form background is that I shared an article about the Salvation Army’s clear anti-gay agenda, and alluded to the fact that I will not and do not support this organization.  A Facebook… let’s say acquaintance… of mine then openly endorsed ol’ Sally Ann’s platform.  Upon clarifying this… opinion, I promptly deleted the comments.  I did not think Facebook was the appropriate forum to engage in such a debate nor did I want my profile associated with that kind of sentiment. 

Of course, my censorship of my profile was met in protest: “well, so much for freedom of speech!”

I deleted the protest, too.


The answer is two-fold: (1) Because the term “freedom of speech” is not actually a legitimate cover for racist, sexist or otherwise hateful remarks; and (2) because my personal profile doesn’t apply to this concept, even if it were valid.

Trusty Wikipedia tells me that “freedom of speech” generally is “the concept of the inherent human right to voice one’s opinion publicly without fear of censorship or punishment”.

Well, let me tell you, had I left that comment up there much longer, punishment certainly would have ensued.  I received a handful of texts and others messages about it by the time I’d even noticed it.

On top of the blanket notion of freedom of speech, is the Canadian definition.  The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees each citizen the freedom of thought, belief, expression, opinion and media.  But there’s a BUT: subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

Read that last part again in case you’re not following.  “Reasonable limits prescribed by law.”

To elaborate, no, in Canada you actually are not entitled to spew any inane thing that pops into your head.  You can’t publish false information.  You can’t incite genocide.  You can’t promote hatred against other people based on their race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnic origin. 

We do not have an absolutist, American-style, First Amendment freedom of speech where even hate speech is generally permitted.  Certain types of speech have consequences under our Criminal Code.

Of course, let us pause for the obligatory Voltaire quote: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  Reciting this almost seems mandatory in discussions about freedom of speech does it not?  (Irony.)  However, in social situations, good sense and common courtesy should dictate that just because you can say something doesn’t always mean you should.  Lincoln is credited with saying “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

This brings me to the other almost cliché point to be made in the course of this discussion, which is that you still cannot “falsely [shout] fire in a crowded theatre”.  That’s Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., an American Supreme Court Justice who is long deceased.  On the American notion of free speech, it means there are still limits to speech that is dangerous, reckless, malicious or false, and that serves no conceivable useful purpose.  So no, you can’t incite riots below the border, either, and you can still be sued for slander and defamation.

So can you say whatever you want up here in the Great White North?  No, technically you cannot.  I imagine (hope) you can still say most of the things you want to say; we’re just asking that you keep your bigotry to yourself – talkin’ to you, Ms. Coulter.  We distinguish between discourse and discrimination.  This means that you certainly can walk around town with your unfavourable, controversial, or questionable ideas on a sandwich board if you like; you just can’t promote hatred or contempt towards others while doing so.  Given that Canadians are renowned for politeness, and tend to follow the British way of doing things, this really shouldn’t surprise anyone.

And while some of our neighbours to the south bemoan and ridicule our lack of a no-holds-barred freedom of speech policy, I can only smile as f-bombs and nudity abound on CBC on your average weeknight (warning: this may be hyperbole), while their censors block out “Goddamn”.

Do I think the Canadian fine print leaves us better off?  Hells yes.  I honestly do not believe I have missed out on any significant truths or revelations by being deprived of certain Holocaust-denying treatises and whatnot.  Yet, despite our free speech “restrictions”, I am still aware of these fringe groups and their general platforms, so obviously they’re not that restricted. 

Of course I’m not looking to silence differing opinions, but we need rational thought, discussion and discourse to be productive.  You may not (likely won’t) change anyone’s mind when debating those big-ticket, über-controversial issues, but if you stick to rational, logical arguments and information you might just learn something or teach someone.  Blind, short-sighted, shallow statements that stem from nothing but hate, prejudice and misinformation, however, can be left to the wayside.

The bottom line here?  “Freedom of speech” doesn’t actually apply the way certain folks wish/think it did, especially in Canada, so I’d really like to stop seeing the concept abused; it’s not a free pass for douchebaggery.

Additionally, the only jurisdiction my Facebook profile is under is the Law of Me, so I’ll censor as I see fit.  Being that my blog here has less of an association with my personal life and identity, I will let more things fly in the comments section, so I encourage you to test boundaries.  Unless you’re posting spam, that is – talking to you homeopathic medicine peddlers.

No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.
-Also Voltaire

About ThatJenK
Writing from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. 90% pictures of my dogs; 10% miscellaneous opinions nobody asked for.

8 Responses to Freedom of Speech: Does not justify being a douche

  1. Dear Jenk,
    While we do not agree on other topics, I wholeheartedly support you on this one! Very well written and thoughful!

  2. Jessica says:

    It would appear that those who try to activate their right to free speech are typically those people who prefer to use such freedoms to incite hatred (exceptions to every rule notwithstanding).
    I’ll take my “free speech avec restrictions” and instead activate my right as a free Canadian to politely ignore whackadoodle conspiracy theories by cracking open a beer and turning up the hockey game.
    If you want to incite hatred in my vicinity, however, I’ll exercise my freedoms all over your arse.

  3. Shawna says:

    Again, very well said Jen. And I agree with your position. I chose a long time ago to not engage in controversial conversations on Facebook, but that does not mean that I don’t have an opinion.

    Going back to your original post on the Salvation Army, I’m glad you shared it with us. I still get very riled up when the rights of homosexuals are suppressed. And I especially get angered when Christian organizations try to force their religious position on people by whatever means possible, and threatening to close soup kitchens is beyond me. Making one group of people suffer in order to support a position with regard to a different group of people is not very Christian of them. Argh!

  4. nikki says:

    we can argue about this like adults, no need for name-calling. if you don’t want debates on FB, then don’t post there. surely you can’t think everyone is going to agree with your opinions. i wasn’t promoting hatred and neither does the SA. they make their services available to all people regardless of sexual orientation and they do not ask about sexual orientation when hiring. there is no scriptural support for the demeaning or mistreating of anyone for his/her sexual orientation and they oppose any such abuse. as far as i can tell they don’t offer benefits to the straight partners of staffers either, unless they are legally married. they are pro-family, not anti-gay. i hate when people try and push they’re opinions without thinking about the consequences. think about all the good that they do and without donations and volunteers they won’t be able to help anyone, straight or gay.

    • thatjenk says:

      Salvation Army (US) Official Statement re Homosexuality:

      The Salvation Army holds a positive view of human sexuality. Where a man and a woman love each other, sexual intimacy is understood as a gift of God to be enjoyed within the context of heterosexual marriage. However, in the Christian view, sexual intimacy is not essential to a healthy, full, and rich life. Apart from marriage, the scriptural standard is celibacy.

      Sexual attraction to the same sex is a matter of profound complexity. Whatever the causes may be, attempts to deny its reality or to marginalize those of a same-sex orientation have not been helpful. The Salvation Army does not consider same-sex orientation blameworthy in itself. Homosexual conduct, like heterosexual conduct, requires individual responsibility and must be guided by the light of scriptural teaching.

      Scripture forbids sexual intimacy between members of the same sex. The Salvation Army believes, therefore, that Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life. There is no scriptural support for same-sex unions as equal to, or as an alternative to, heterosexual marriage.

      Likewise, there is no scriptural support for demeaning or mistreating anyone for reason of his or her sexual orientation. The Salvation Army opposes any such abuse.

      In keeping with these convictions, the services of The Salvation Army are available to all who qualify, without regard to sexual orientation. The fellowship of Salvation Army worship is open to all sincere seekers of faith in Christ, and membership in The Salvation Army church body is open to all who confess Christ as Savior and who accept and abide by The Salvation Army’s doctrine and discipline.

      Scriptures: Genesis 2:23-24; Leviticus 18:22; Mark 2:16-17; Romans 1:26-27; Romans 5:8; I Corinthians 6:9-11; I Corinthians 13; Galatians 6:1-2; I Thessalonians 4:1-8; I Thessalonians 5:14-15; I Timothy 1:15-16; Jude 7

  5. Anna says:

    Jen, I also agree with you on this one. I too will delete comments
    from Facebook I deem inappropriate. If I don’t want it attached to my
    name, it’s gone. End of story.
    By posting something on Facebook, one is generally not asking for a
    “debate”. I would hope that if someone did feel compelled to post an
    objection online that they would do so thoughtfully, articulately and
    leave out any discriminatory or prejudical opinions. One would think
    this goes with out saying.
    It seem to me that the majority of posts on my Facebook that I have
    found to be offensive were carelessly written, with obvious little
    thought for consequence. What I believe these people do not
    understand is this: When you post something online, it is not just you
    sitting in your basement typing aimlessly into a computer. You are,
    essentially, shouting at a room of potentially hundreds of virtual
    strangers. This being the case, I’d want to be damn sure that
    anything I do say or post is the best reflection of me and my beliefs.
    And if I something does cross my path that’s hateful or ugly? Delete.
    Then delete the person. Or at the very least, block them from
    commenting. Idiots exist, but that doesn’t mean that I have to listen
    to what they say.
    As for the Salvation Army? There are so many other non-profit
    organizations out there worth supporting. Any organization that does
    not support or condone someone’s lifestyle based on something so
    ridiculous as sexual orientation is no friend of mine. So this
    season, and next, and next, my money will go elsewhere. I do not
    support ignorance and intolerance or those who stand for it. And I
    will proudly attach that to my name!

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