Compelled speech and behaviour: a case in point

I mentioned a few days ago that I was concerned that we were moving away from a situation of permissiveness that allows room for conscientious objection toward a position of compelled speech and action. I made this point in a post centred on John Bercow’s stated view that LGBT+ rights should trump those of faith. Today, the Telegraph report that a doctor was terminated as a DWP health assessor for refusing to use particular pronouns.

The paper report:

Dr David Mackereth has worked for 26 years as an NHS doctor but was told he could not be employed as a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) disability assessor if he refused to identify patients as being of a sex that they did not see themselves as.

Dr Mackereth argues, ‘I’m not attacking the transgender movement. But, I’m defending my right to freedom of speech, and freedom of belief. I don’t believe I should be compelled to use a specific pronoun. I am not setting out to upset anyone. But, if upsetting someone can lead to doctors being sacked then, as a society we have to examine where we are going.’

The issue centred on Dr Mackereth’s use of pronouns. It was made clear that all reports must refer to the client by the particular pronoun by which they identified themselves. Dr Mackereth states, ‘I said that I had a problem with this. I believe that gender is defined by biology and genetics. And that as a Christian the Bible teaches us that God made humans male or female.’ The tutor reported his comments to the DWP and received an email from the agency that would have hired him out. The agency stated that Dr Mackereth could undertake training regarding their policy but the DWP had undertaken advice from lawyers and were ‘adamant that any report or contact with clients should refer to them in their chosen sex otherwise it could be considered to be harassment as defined by the 2010 Equality Act.’ The doctor stated that he could not go along with this and his contract was thus terminated.

It is interesting that this is precisely the issue that led to problems for Jordan Peterson in Canda.

Peterson objected not to transgenderism itself (though has elsewhere stated a similar view on the reality of sex and gender to Dr Mackereth) but was infuriated by the issue of compelled speech.

It is apparent that Dr Mackereth’s assessment is essentially correct:

By stating what has been believed by mankind for centuries – namely that gender and sex are determined at birth – you can come under ferocious attack.

If we are no longer allowed to say that you believe sex and gender are the same and are determined at birth, everyone who holds my views can be sacked on the spot under this Act. I’m not an isolated case.

Whatever your view on the transgender movement, this should be a point of concern for us all. It is quite right that – so far as it doesn’t impinge on the common rights of others – we ought to defend personal liberty to speak and act, but to compel individuals to speak and act in ways that contravene their conscience is a major problem. It permits the governing authorities to determine which words and ideas are legitimate and which will be deemed unsayable.

From a Christian point of view, it would be my view that whether to use somebody’s preferred pronouns falls into the category of ‘wisdom’. Whilst there are much clearer principles on how we should view this issue as a whole (Dr Mackereth outlining the basic points above), there isn’t a definitive Biblical imperative on pronouns and there is a case to be made in either direction about whether we do or don’t use them.

It would be my view that individuals should be free to call themselves what they will. The problem is when we begin insisting that others must identify those individuals in that way too. We simply have no right to insist upon that. Just as individuals should not be compelled to use particular pronouns (whether we consider it rude or otherwise for them not to) we similarly can’t (or, at least, shouldn’t) stop people referring to themselves by whatever pronouns they wish either. The wider issues tend to centre around what accommodation should be made for those who identify themselves according to any given gender, but that is outside of the scope of this particular post.

Whether you agree with that position or not, we should find the insistence upon compelled speech – regardless of the specific area in which it is being compelled – to be extremely troubling indeed. If we can compel speech on pronouns, there is no telling what else we may compel in future. Certain legislation is widely drawn that very little is potentially out of bounds if somebody feels hurt, offended or targeted by your words (regardless of whether that was intended or not). If you hold any views on anything strongly, this should be a matter of concern for you. It may not be long before your views are deemed unsayable and your conscience forced to break by promoting views you reject.

It may not bother you now, whilst Christians are being forced to say and do things with which you agree, but don’t think you will be exempt. Unless we fight for the principle now, we may just find there is no principle to which we can appeal when the views we hold suddenly come under the spotlight.