Enjoy speaking your mind and sharing your views while you can — because soon enough the rights to freedom of speech, conscience, and religious belief look set to disappear from Australia.
And it will certainly happen if the corporate guardians of public morality have their way following the grilling given to Wallaby Israel Folau after he expressed a view on Instagram about homosexuality.
In addition to being a sport superstar, Izzy is also a devout Christian belonging to the Assemblies of God – a Christian church known for its conservative doctrines and literal interpretations of the Bible.
So it’s surely no surprise he holds some very traditional Christian beliefs about sin, heaven and hell, and homosexuality. Christian theologians have been wrestling with the same questions for centuries.
Note that Izzy did not say gay people should be beaten up or pushed off tall buildings — a belief some of the radical Islamists so beloved of the Left espouse, and practice. Folau expressed his view that they should repent in this life to avoid God’s eternal punishment in the next — that is, being sent to hell.
Recent figures show less than 30% of Australians actually believe in hell. Even the Pope doubts there’s a physical place with fire and brimstone.
You can agree or disagree with Izzy. But either way, if Australia is a genuinely free country, he should be free to express his genuinely held religious beliefs.
And if we are a genuinely tolerant country, we will let Izzy say what he thinks even though many of us may strongly disagree with what he says. Remember: tolerating views you agree with is easy.
We often confuse tolerance with ‘respect’. But real tolerance means putting up with the opinions of others that you think are not simply wrong – or even abhorrent and repellent.
After all, we clearly expect Izzy to tolerate all the views bluntly expressed by his many critics, including corporate sponsors such as Qantas and ASICS, who accuse him of homophobia, and worse.
Obviously, when he answered the Instagram question, Izzy wasn’t representing the views of Rugby Australia, or ASIC, or Qantas. Only a fool would have failed to see they were his personal views.
Yet now there appears to be a concerted push to silence Izzy and force him to keep his religious beliefs to himself. But why should he keep quiet? After all, Alan Joyce doesn’t keep his views to himself.
But corporate sponsors are getting ready to use their hefty financial clout to silence the opinions of anyone in the organisations they support with whom they happen to disagree.
Increasingly, sponsors are no longer content to fund and support organisations that bring pleasure to millions of Aussies. They also want to control the way each of us thinks and speaks.
And the fury that rages on social media the moment any new social norm is transgressed, however slightly, means we are all continually caught in a one-way ratchet towards greater intolerance.
Qantas is well known for taking a strong position on key social issues such as marriage equality. The week before Mardi Gras, for example, in-flight passengers were treated to rainbow-coloured ‘Pride cookies’.
When it’s even got to the point where the Flying Kangaroo is politicising the meagre inflight food it serves up, freedom of speech has clearly become as much about what we do as about what we say.
Freedom of speech means sometimes people will say things – or serve us cookies – that others find disagreeable. And if we truly value such freedom, we will stop trying to silence those who offend us.
We are gradually, but inexorably, tipping towards a new kind of totalitarianism where any controversial or awkward opinion is silenced, and all dissent is crushed into submission.
But it is very dangerous when we only want people to say things that we agree with, and force them to remain silent otherwise — on pain of humiliation, rage, and extreme vilification on social media.
If we want to defend a genuinely diverse, multicultural society, we must stand up now for the right to freedom of religion, conscience, and speech for all Australians. Whoever they are and whatever they believe.
Now is the time to stop this dangerous slide towards tyranny and intolerance. If we delay too long, it will be too late for us, and we will all be muzzled for good.
Peter Kurti is a Senior Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies, and author of The Tyranny of Tolerance: Threats to Religious Freedom in Australia