From the beginning of time, people have believed to some degree or other that the world is flat. This is a view that is scientifically incorrect, and provably false, but there are no laws against holding it, or expressing it.
The reason for this is that it is so obviously false to say that the world is flat that there is no need for a law to prevent the falsehood being uttered.
As a rule, throughout history, Governments have never tried to ban ideas that were wrong from being expressed. Laws against speech have almost always been reserved for the dangerous truths, not dangerous falsehoods. There has never been any effort, in any time or place, to ban people from saying that the world is flat. There have been several instances of people being banned – and indeed severely punished – for saying that it is round.
Today the Irish Government will publish a law on hate speech. The Minister for Justice says that she has “worked hard to strike a balance in this Bill in protecting the right to free speech with protection of vulnerable and minority communities from dangerous hate speech.”
There are many who now openly argue that it is dangerous hate speech to simply state this truth: A man cannot become a woman. Not via hormones. Not via surgery. Not via the apparent magic of “gender self-identity”, whereby it is believed that gender can be changed simply through the power of the spoken word: I say I am a woman, therefore I am.
Indeed, “gender identity” is specifically listed as a “protected characteristic” in the new law. In other words, if you speak the truth too loudly, or too unkindly, you may well be charged as a criminal.
The intent of this is entirely clear: It is to make you more squeamish than many of you already are about saying something which almost every human being since time began has known to be true – that men and women are different, not interchangeable. This new law is no different in ultimate intent to the laws against heresy promulgated by both sides during Europe’s reformation: There is a state religion, and to publicly question it is criminal. The intention is to create a chilling effect – to make you think carefully of the consequences to yourself before you speak what you know to be true.
At Gript Media, we will ignore this new law in its entirety. Journalists have a higher calling than simply sticking to the law in all circumstances: It is our duty to tell you what is happening, and to write things that are true. It is not our job to obey the laws when those laws are designed to suppress legitimate ideas and information.
It is also not our job to refrain from giving offense: If the truth is upsetting to people, and preventing upset is our job, then there are very many stories that journalists would never cover at all, including many murders or criminal cases or matters of public controversy. What offends you is your affair. Our job is to provide information and perspectives. If the Government of the day wishes to prosecute us, or anybody else, for that, well we’d sooner join Enoch Burke than have politicians dictate to us what our readers may read.
The tragedy today is not that media organs are being silenced from reporting the truth, or offering certain opinions. The truth is that any media organisation that censors itself on the instruction of the Government is not doing its job. If a law is the basis for not publishing certain opinions, then the publication may choose to be innocent of a crime, at the cost of being guilty of moral cowardice. No; the tragedy is that many ordinary people will feel less safe today. Conversations will retreat from the public square to the private, shared only amongst trusted friend groups, or around family dinner tables.
In the marriage referendum of 2015, the entertainer and public figure Rory O’Neill, better known as Panti Bliss, took to a stage in Dublin to deliver a “noble call”: O’Neill spoke movingly of the challenges of being a gay man growing up in a repressive Ireland. He used one phrase, repeatedly: That in public, he would often “check himself”. That he would not say certain things, or dress in a particular way, or behave in a certain way, for fear of drawing the wrath of society, and the law, on himself.
It is worth noting that this – making you “check yourself” – is the very specific intent of the new law being introduced today which, ironically, likely has Mr. O’Neill’s wholehearted support.
Truth and what you are allowed to say are not the same thing. The Government, and those who support this legislation, may genuinely believe that they are doing a good thing by protecting the feelings of those who – despite having the power to enact laws silencing their critics – feel marginalised in Irish society.
But who, truly, has more power in Irish society? The Trans Man, or the woman who feels that womanhood is mocked by biological men claiming to have experienced their first period? Who has more power – the male athlete who begins competing as a woman and gets applauded by the great and the good, or the woman athlete who now feels she has no chance to compete fairly, and is denounced as a transphobe?
At no stage in human history have the powerless been able to pass laws shutting up their oppressors. That has, simply, never happened. It is not what is happening here. That is why this outlet, at least, will pay no heed to this new law. Bully others as you might wish, but the truth remains the truth.