On yesterday's edition of Newstalk's The Right Hook programme, George Hook won a victory for common sense, and for the real meaning of free speech.
Hook was speaking to Senator Ivana Bacik about the protest organised by LGBT Noise objecting to RTE's apology and financial settlement with a number of people, including representatives of the Iona Institute, over an incident on the
Saturday Night Show in which they were labelled ‘homophobes’.
Hook started by asking Bacik to offer her definition of homophobia
“Homophobia is expressing opinions or expressing views that are discriminatory or disrespectful or that in some way discriminate against individuals because of their sexuality, because they are gay, essentially, because they are lesbian or gay or bisexual indeed.
So to be homophobic, to express those views of course can take many different forms. I mean the most extreme form is that we see people who are beaten up because they are gay, and that can and does still happen, we see very extreme forms of homophobic laws in other countries, as in Russia currently, and in Uganda where people are criminalised for homosexuality.”
She went on to say that by apologising, RTE were censoring legitimate debate.
"Terrible stuff, and as a proponent of gay marriage I am appalled. But are you not entitled to your good name in this country anymore?
It seems to me the only censorship here is done by you, and LGBT (Noise) and Averil Power, who are trying to say that people can libel you and you shouldn't take action!"
He went on:
"Are you also suggesting that the members of the Iona Institute and John Waters do not have a right to their good name? I tell you, if someone called me homophobic on television, I'd sue his ass off... I am entitled to my good name! As is every citizen of the land... that's why we have libel!
There are words like 'racist' and 'homophobic' and all these emotive words that are simply flung at people, and of course you have no defence.
Contrary to what you're saying, we should have a very strong legal system about taking people's good name with impunity!"
Senator Bacik responded “No one has ever stifled the language of the Iona Institute, you know, they've been very vocal always...”
To which Hook replied: "But they've never libelled anybody! You can be as voluble as you like, as noisy as you like, as long as you do it within the law!"
That last sentence cuts to the heart of things. This whole debate revolves around the difference between arguments and insults. Trying to stop anyone from making their case, whether they are passionate advocates of same-sex marriage or equally passionate opponents, is censorship.
But keeping insults out of debates, and assuming good faith on behalf of our opponents can only facilitate free speech. If a gay person cannot go on air without being the target of anti-gay slurs, his arguments won't get heard. He'll be frozen out.
Similarly, if a person who believes that the idea of children being raised by a mother and a father is an ideal worth protecting can't state that belief without being called homophobic – the same word that Senator Bacik used to describe the regimes in Russia and Uganda – then their perspective will be frozen out in turn. Words have meanings, and those meanings cannot be changed just because someone wants them to change.
Now, maybe Senator Bacik and the protesters want that perspective frozen out. But as George Hook puts it, that's not defending free speech. It's censorship by another name.