Free speech is an essential ingredient of any democratic society. For freedom of expression to mean anything, it must include the right to offend others. You have the right to attack my religious beliefs, political beliefs, lifestyle, sexuality and so on. You even have the right to use intemperate language, should you so wish. I have the same right to criticise the views and lifestyles of others. I may have found the caricatures of Mohammed in the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, to have been tasteless, but I defend the right of the magazine to publish them and, like most people, was appalled at the cold blooded murder of some of its staff. Likewise, I defend the right of those who opposed the introduction of same sex marriage to express their views, distasteful as I find them.
Should there be any limits to freedom of expression? Many libertarians would answer: no. I disagree with them. In even the most democratic of societies, there have been such limits. For example, we have libel and slander laws that help prevent people from spreading lies about us.
More importantly, in Scotland we have legislation outlawing “hate crimes” committed against people on the basis of their race, religion, sexuality, transgender identity and disability. Included in activities that can be hate crimes are harassment, hate mail and inciting others to commit a crime. Similar legislation is in place elsewhere in the UK.
Recently hate preacher Anjem Choudary was imprisoned after being found guilty of inciting violence and promoting the aims of IS. One of the murderers of Fuslier Lee Rigby in 2013 was inspired by Choudary.
Another hate preacher, this time one who claims to be a Christian, is planning a tour of the UK, spreading his homophobic and misogynist views. Pastor Angus Buchan, originally a farmer in Zambia, now lives in South Africa where he set up his evangelical church Shalom Ministeries. He also runs Mighty Men conferences. Following an invite from the Hope Church in the Borders, he was due to speak at the Volunteer Hall in Galasheils. Following pressure from LGBT groups, women’s groups and Scottish Borders Rape Crisis the invitation to him has been withdrawn.
Although he claims to “love” us, he believes we are sinful. He also believes we can be “cured” by prayer. Anyone who thinks this type of “prayer” is harmless and not abusive should read Scottish Makar Jackie Kay’s memoir “Red Dust Road”. Adopted shortly after her birth, she describes the search for her birth parents. Her biological father in Nigeria had become a fundamentalist preacher and when she went to visit him, she became almost a prisoner as he prayed at her, trying to drive her homosexuality out of her. Jackie Kay has turned this into a positive by writing about it in both her prose and her poetry. But there is little doubt that sort of “prayer” is a form of emotional abuse, particularly given the high rates of self harm among young LGBT people.
It is only a short step from such “prayers” to the sort of institutional abuse that occurred in this country well into the 1960s, when we were forced into mental institutions (often as an alternative to prison) where we were given electric shocks or chemical poisons or psychoactive drugs like LSD (or a combination) in order to “cure” us. We have recently witnessed some awful homophobic crimes, including the deaths at a gay club in Florida. Do we really want pastors like Buchan to offer comfort and support to those who want rid of us?
His views on gender are, if anything, even worse. He believes men should be heads of households and that women should obey them. He argues that fathers should have the right to discipline their children as they see fit, regardless of what mothers think. Indeed, he tells women they should not contradict their fathers and husbands. Such statements serve to encourage both child abuse and domestic violence. In Scotland, most forms of corporal punishment of children have been banned since 2003. Smacking children on their heads, shaking them and using an implement such as a cane or belt are all criminal offences. Yet Buchan believes it is okay for fathers to use violence against their children.
His exhortation on women to obey men also promotes abuse. In 2014-15, there were almost 60,000 incidents of domestic abuse reported to police in Scotland. Given that far too many women suffer domestic abuse in silence for years before reporting it (and many never report it) the actual incidence of such abuse is likely to be much higher. By telling men they are heads of their households and have the right to obedience and by instructing women to obey their husbands and fathers, Buchan is advocating abuse.
It is therefore good news that Buchan has been told he cannot use a publicly owned building in Galasheils for his meeting. I also think we should congratulate Hope Church in the Borders for rescinding its invitation to Buchan. This would not have been achieved without the campaigning efforts of LGBT and women’s groups and Scottish Borders Rape Crisis.