Paul Golding, the former leader of Britain First, was jailed for eight weeks today amongst the inevitable claims of restricting freedom of speech. He had admitted to breaching a High Court injunction prohibiting him from entering any mosque in England and Wales without permission.
The Britain First site has reported this as “shocking news” saying that Mr. Golding confronted a ‘hate preacher who said it is okay for Muslims to keep sex slaves’. The alleged hate speech was not evidenced and neither was the specifics about sex slaves. Later in the piece, Britain First alleges (again with no evidence) that the prison is ‘dominated by Muslim gangs’ and that ‘corrupt leftwing authorities have thrown Paul to the wolves in a bid to destroy him’. This might be just a little paranoid – but one aspect does interest me. Not in the post itself, but in the Twitter reaction to it, is a comment worth thinking about.
Totally wrong.what happened to free speach (sic)
Regardless of the spelling, grammar and punctuation, the defense of freedom of speech is worth considering; especially from the Christian perspective.
Biblical Freedom of Speech
Freedom of speech was frowned upon and punished in biblical times. So, we can’t look directly to the bible for a ready quote to tell us what to do and how to behave. But the principles that apply can be found in two passages – the first is John 13:34.
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
Define ‘One Another’
What is meant by “one another” is explained when Jesus is questioned in Luke 10:29-37.
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”. In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have’. Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him”.
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise”.
Jesus chose the Samaritan with a purpose. Samaritans claimed that they were the true Israel, descendants of the “Ten Lost Tribes” taken into Assyrian captivity. They claimed that their version of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) was the original and that the Jews had a falsified text produced by Ezra during the Babylonian exile. Both Jewish and Samaritan religious leaders taught that it was wrong to have any contact with the opposite group. Neither was to enter each other’s territories or even to speak to one another. During the New Testament period, Josephus reported violent confrontations between Jews and Samaritans. It would be the equivalent of using a Palestinian as the hero in a Jewish story today, or a Republican Catholic hero in a Protestant Unionist story, or a Muslim hero in a Britain First rally speech. It was that inflammatory.
The Priest, The Levite and the Liberal Elite?
Notice in this story that the “pillars of the community”, the people that we should trust, are used as a foil to prove the point about the Samaritan. We need to take care here – these are not analogous to what might be dismissed as ‘the liberal elite’ today. These are people that you would look to for guidance and inspiration – Margaret Thatcher for Conservatives, Jesus for Christians, Nelson Mandela for black South Africans, Nigel Farage for UKIP members and, perhaps, Paul Golding for members of Britain First. Jesus doesn’t use these people to demean or to discredit, but simply to provide a counterpoint – neighbourliness doesn’t come from those that you feel ‘comfortable’ with, but from those that are willing to do things for you, regardless of what you think of them.
Some things are just right
The second passage is Matthew 13:24-29
Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them.
The lesson from this story is that the good and the bad should coexist. That they should be judged at the harvest: we shouldn’t try to make our judgments before that point.
A Christian view of ‘Freedom of Speech’
If we put these together, it is quite clear that if we want freedom of speech, we must do it in the context of love – love even for those that we have been taught to hate. More than that, we need to allow the weeds to grow amongst the corn. So those who claim to fight under the Christian banner need to remember that tolerance is part of the message that we are taught.
So, is Britain First right about freedom of speech? Probably they are in that it is important – but there are two elements that they seem to miss. One is that freedom of speech is for everyone – the Muslim and Christian, the right and left wing, the right and the wrong – and all this should be listened to in an environment of love. The second is that judgment isn’t for us, but for God – so ‘confronting’ people is out.