A pastor of a church in Newquay, Cornwall has been told not offend the LGBT+ community to avoid breaking the law. Christian Concern report that Josh Williamson ‘was warned by police to keep his views in a ‘safe environment’ after being targeted by a wave of anti-Christian abuse – including threats of violence and calls for his church to be burnt down.’ You can read the full Christian Concern report here.
Now, this post isn’t about the rights and wrongs of either Josh Williamson’s views nor that of the organisers of Cornwall Pride. Others can debate the merits or otherwise of their respective views if they like. Rather, this is yet another post in the long-running saga of the erosion of free speech and expression.
It is worth noticing that Mr Williamson – though personally pleased that Cornwall Pride was not going ahead this year – had taken no personal action to stop the event from going ahead. Though he may be pleased that the event isn’t taking place for the reasons he states, he also seems to be of the view that the organisers of Cornwall Pride are perfectly entitled to their views (and to express them) on LGBT+ issues and concerning the Christian religion.
By contrast, the organisers of Cornwall Pride seem intent on seeking to make Mr Williamson’s views (and expressions of them) unutterable by law. Worse, far from merely expressing a different opinion to him, they seem prepared to incite and encourage physical violence and damage against him and his church. It is interesting that the Cornwall Live website quotes one of the organisers of Cornwall Pride who states: ‘I respect everyone’s right to practice their religion whatever that may be but these views are not a part of it’. That is to say, the organisers of Cornwall Pride are more than happy for people to be religious and hold religious views so long as those religious views do not disagree with anything I happen to think myself. Which is, in point of fact, not to believe in the freedom of religion at all but to insist on conformity to all your views, whatever they may be.
Perhaps most concerningly of all, the police seem more than happy to allow direct and clear statements advocating violence to stand unchallenged whilst Mr Williamson is approached by them simply for stating an opinion that included no threats of violence or evidence of an intent to incite anybody else to violence. The police seem more than willing to investigate Mr Williamson for a comment on Facebook that merely quotes the Bible and expresses a view that it is not possible to be gay and Christian simultaneously whereas they tell Mr Williamson that actual threats of violence will not be investigated and that he ought not to offend people if he doesn’t like them threatening him in that way.
The offending comment that the Cornwall Live website refer to was this:
Now, you may not like Mr Williamson’s position. You are free not to like it. You might not agree with him. You are free to do that too. You may even want to reply to his comment and tell him what you think about his position. More freedom to do this still. But what should be concerning to everybody – whether you agree with this Facebook comment or not – is that Mr Williamson is being physically threatened for stating his view and the police seem content not only to allow it to happen but to also expend their apparently scant resources investigating him for voicing an opinion. You do not have to share his views to find that extremely concerning.
What is more, it would seem that not only was the mere utterance of Mr Williamson’s views deemed problematic, but when he agreed to meet with the organisers of Cornwall Pride to discuss his views – at their behest – this was then used as a ploy to actively seek to smear him further. Which tells me that those who are claiming to be offended at the supposedly horrible things he has said (and, as far as I can see, he wasn’t being horrible in expressing his view; he merely stated it) were not as offended as they claim. Rather, they were actively seeking out ways to damage somebody who had – when all is said and done – merely stated a view that he was specifically asked to give. He neither expressed any hated toward LGBT+ people nor did he call for any action to be taken against them. He merely stated, quoting the Bible, the 2000 year old teaching of just about every stripe of church and the position that is still (just about) the official teaching of the state church.
Of course, those who don’t like the 2000 year old teaching of the church have already made clear that they don’t like it by not belonging to any church that holds to it. That is, of course, their prerogative. But what they should not be able to do is to censor that teaching. Nor should the police be coercing people into abiding by state orthodoxy. Nor should that be determined by a single pressure group to the detriment of others who would disagree. Nor should actual threats of violence be allowed to pass simply because the police and those in government are sympathetic to the cause of those threatening such things whilst words and actions with which they do not sympathise – with no malice or threat of violence to be found in them – be a cause for any police involvement.
I have said it plenty of times before. You can search ‘free speech’ on this blog to see where else I have applied this same line of thought. But the only grounds that any of us have that we will be free to say what we like and express the opinions we hold is when we allow the views and opinions of those with whom we differ to be heard too. If we want to avoid only being allowed to say the things that the government of the day – in concert with the police – decide that we can say, we have to stand up for others to say what they like too, even if we find it deeply offensive. As I said before, you do not have to agree or like Mr Williamson’s views and opinions to see how deeply dangerous and problematic this sort of thing is. Sadly, such police action and recourse to legal action merely because of words spoken is happening with far more frequency than it ever should and I find that deeply worrying.