There is now in the public mind, it seems, a right to not be offended and a right to take offence at just about anything with which you might disagree. A friend who recently left hospital after major surgery shared a disturbing account of how far this nonsense has gone.
After surgery she was put in a room by herself and, to aid her recovery and keep up her spirits, she played Christian music on a loop. She also had a prominently placed text to remind her that, “they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
A nurse attending her lost no time in declaring, “I find that deeply offensive!” referring to the music and text. If she had said the music was too loud, it might have been understandable. If there had been complaints from other patients (she was alone in a room remember) it might have seemed reasonable to comment. If she had said the music was not to her personal taste it would have been a step too far but forgivable. But the only reason to comment it seems was that the person who had been charged with the care and welfare of a patient after major surgery somehow found Christian music “offensive.”
Where do these ideas come from? Where do people find the justification to insist others shut up if those people don't like what others are saying? How does playing Christian music become “offensive” and where on earth does a nurse get the notion that her right to not be offended by something so innocuous overrides her duty of care?
What if your home was burgled and the police made no secret of their being offended by your having a Bible on the coffee table? What if a doctor appeared reluctant to treat you because of a cross on your lapel? What if your employer penalised you for having firm Christian views?
Well, the last has already happened. In a remarkable and worrying case, a man from Bolton, England had his salary reduced by forty percent and was demoted because of comments he made on his Facebook page in his own private time. He won a breach of contract case against Trafford Housing Trust.
The trust argued he broke its code of conduct by expressing religious or political views which might upset co-workers. Astonishingly, they appear to have extended this policy to views expressed outside work, which brings us to the bizarre position where an opinion expressed by a private citizen, in his own time, to a limited number of people on Facebook is cause for discipline because it might, just might be seen by some co-workers who might, just might be upset by what they read and whose lives might, just might be blighted by a point of view??
Reading the trust’s official response two things stand out for me. The first is the way they have still sought to smear the name of Adrian Smith by opaque references to his “previous disciplinary record.” Has he been warned before for having and expressing traditional Christian views? They don’t say but the suggestions is put in the reader’s mind that this must be a thoroughly unsavoury character.
The second is in the way they seek to put themselves, by contrast, in a good light and to make Mr Smith appear awkward and un-cooperative. They state, “We had tried to come to a settlement with Mr Smith, which would have resulted in him receiving ten times the amount he will receive, but he chose to reject this offer." But Mr Smith made it clear that this was not about money but about an important principle. In a statement after the hearing at London's High Court he said:
"Something has poisoned the atmosphere in Britain, where an honest man like me can be punished for making perfectly polite remarks about the importance of marriage.
"I am fearful that, if marriage is redefined, there will be more cases like mine - and if the law of marriage changes people like me may not win in court."
He added: "Does the Prime Minister want to create a society where people like me, people who believe in traditional marriage, are treated as outcasts?"
You can hear his statement read out here.
Speaking of men of principle, it is ironic that Peter Tatchell, the prominent gay rights campaigner, has called the council's actions “excessive.” The irony is not that even Peter Tatchell thinks these actions excessive but in the fact that it is his activities and the activities of others like him over the years that has planted in the public mind this notion of a right to not be offended.
He and others have consistently taken up a position of apparently unassailable “Outrage!” at anything and anyone who disagrees with their view of the world. It is those people who win the argument by refusing to have the argument, who take up the victors position without having engaged in the battle for right and truth, and who shout down anyone daring to challenge or contradict – it is from these the idea of a right to not be offended comes.
Besieged by the hysterical voices of libertarians, council officials, employers, private businesses and others find it best to parrot what they hear than to risk giving offence to the bullies. Our society is being redefined under our noses and any and every voice raised in protest is shouted down, characterised as reactionary and prejudiced, and good is called evil while evil is called good – even when it comes to the caring professions it seems.
I am reminded of the words of George Orwell: “Liberty is the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear.” Our liberties are being eroded and we need to raise our voices before our voices are silenced and everyone the loser for it.