Does Freedom of Speech have limits?
There is currently a campaign to have a book removed from sale on Amazon and itunes that advocates the practice of hitting children, as a method of training their behaviour. It’s a campaign I got behind quite early on, because I believe that there are limits to freedom of speech; I believe that we shouldn’t be able to publish, endorse, advertise or promote any teachings/training or practices which could cause harm to any sector of our population, but particularly the most vulnerable groups in our population. This includes children.
There has been overwhelming support of the campaign, and I am relieved and reassured that attention is now being paid to the issue at the highest levels: within Government. However, amongst the support, there are also voices calling for freedom of speech and citing censorship as the reason for this book not to be removed from sale.
Absolutely everyone is entitled to opinion, and to have that opinion respected regardless of whether we agree with it. This post is in no way aimed to change the hearts and minds of those want to see this book remain, but it got me thinking….
I spent quite some time replying to the blog post of Sally Whittle – blogger extraordinaire and founder of the MAD blog awards. She is a big influencer with over 10,000 followers on twitter alone. She writes an insightful blog about her experiences as a parent with younger daughter, Flea. It’s one I regularly follow and consistently enjoy. Unfortunately, after posting twice (and a whole evening writing said impassioned posts) neither post was published*. So I decided at that point that I would write again. This time, for my own blog.
The main arguments around censorship seemed to rest on whether something was illegal (incites violence) in which case it should be removed, or offensive (rude and annoying) in which case it should stay. Whilst I can appreciate the views regarding censorship and freedom of speech, I would like to put forward an argument to suggest a significant grey area in the distinction between what is illegal and what is offensive.
We thankfully now live in a culture where it is no longer acceptable to say anything to anyone and hide behind freedom of speech, without having to accept responsibility for the effects of our own actions on the other person. It is not acceptable to suggest that it is down to the other person as to how they hear it, and whether they deem it offensive. We exist in relationships, and are influenced by culture and power.
It is for reasons of culture and power, that I do not think it is not sufficient to dichotomize what is either illegal or just rude. I think there needs to be careful consideration as to the influence, impact, and potential risk of any spoken or written words. Particularly where those words are regarding vulnerable members of society.
“To Train Up a Child” has sold over 670,000 copies since its release. Three children have sadly lost their lives from abuse at the hands of their parents, all of whom claim to have been following the teachings of the Pearls and their book: Lydia Schatz, Sean Paddock and Hana Williams . Whilst i accept that the book is not responsible for those children’s deaths, it adds weight to the argument that “inciting violence” is subjective.
We should consider that the market of parents who believe in corporal punishment, and would be interested in buying such a book and practicing its principles, are also likely be a subset of parents who struggle with empathy for their children’s feelings and experiences. Although the Pearls clearly state that one should not “switch” (spank /beat) in anger, this subset of parents are exactly who would be most vulnerable to react in anger if their child is not obedient / passive / quiet enough for them. The influence of the book is only strengthened by frequent references to religious callings. So we have one side with power, and another with vulnerability.
I am glad that our country increasingly rejects racial and religious hatred (although we have some way to go, I admit); that we educate our children about equality and diversity in a way that our parents didn’t. We are changing because we have been able to recognise that our beliefs were wrong, hurtful, and yes, even abusive. Our culture is still changing through education. However, it is also supported through the establishment of strict boundaries about what is acceptable and lawful / unlawful behaviour, because there will always be a subgroup for whom education holds little value. For our children, I am glad that we have this power.
What I want for our children, our children’s children, and beyond, is to see a change in our culture so that we come to acknowledge that smacking our children creates in them feelings of shame, betrayal, and bewilderment that someone they love could hurt them – just the same feelings an adult would experience if they were beaten by someone they loved and looked to for protection. I want us to celebrate that children have the same right to protection and nurturance as we seek for ourselves. I also want to reinforce the weighty responsibility we have in society to recognise that how our children are raised has significant and wide-ranging impact on their ongoing health, development, and integration.
So, would I call to have a book removed that advocates smacking of children?; a book that has influenced the parenting of over 670,000 parents already; a book that influenced the parenting of parents who went on to kill the child they were supposed to protect; a book that uses religion to justify it’s teaching and strengthen its influence? Damn right I would. I would do it for my children, for your children, and for all the children yet to be born, whom we might still raise in a culture where children have the same value as adults, and can trust in the same protection.
* My post was eventually published by Sally in the early hours of this morning She told me that it somehow found its way to her ‘spam’ box. There are several ironies that I could draw on this, whilst discussing censorship, but I’ll leave you to create your own!