The Times of London is reporting that Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, is proposing the replacement of Britain’s blasphemy laws with restrictions of what he calls “cruel and thoughtless speech.” Read the article: here. While I don’t particularly like cruel and thoughtless speech, I have a fundamental problem with the legislation of speech codes. I especially am not fond of the seeming low standard that he is advocating:
“The legal provision should keep before our eyes the general risks of debasing public controversy by thoughtless and, even if unintentionally, cruel styles of speaking and acting…”
A couple of thoughts:
- Controversy is always “debased” to some degree when it becomes public. While I appreciate the input and influence of experts and the intelligentsia, who have a certain technical ways of speaking and writing, it is important that those outside of the guild be invited to participate in the controversy. To people like Williams, an academic theologian, this impulse may well be counter-intuitive. However, it is the basis of a liberal democracy.
- Intention is significant. Williams seems to be saying that, regardless of intent, speech that is deemed “cruel” or “thoughtless” by someone (the article doesn’t specify if he means “the person on the street” or the person/group about whom the speech is made) should be punished under this legislation.
- At the same time, he seems to have the effect of such speech in mind. It is speech that has the effect of silencing further speech that would be subject to the legislation. How does one measure this?
(Via: The Reformed Pastor)