A secular columnist has called for the same people who backed a secular anti-Islam speaker after she was banned from a University to support a pastor who is set to stand trial for criticising Islam.
Writing in the Belfast Telegraph, Fionola Meredith criticised Warwick Students’ Union for initially banning Maryam Namazie because she might offend Muslims. A public backlash led to the ban being reversed.
But she said that Pastor James McConnell deserves the same support. He is set to stand trial on 14 December for describing Islam as ‘satanic’ during a church service.
She disagrees with Pastor McConnell’s comments, but said he has “the right to hold those views – however extreme others may think them – and to state them publicly” without the threat of prosecution.
“If you believe in Maryam Namazie’s right to criticise Islam – and I do – then you believe in Jim McConnell’s right to criticise Islam. And vice versa”, she added.
“…if you truly believe in free speech, it’s not just about supporting the rights of people you happen to agree with – that’s called selective tolerance”Fionola Meredith
Meredith wrote that the concept of political correctness is not about “promoting respect for others” but is “rapidly being turned into a weapon of intolerance to silence those whose views or actions don’t chime with a liberal-fascist agenda”.
“This isn’t about protecting the vulnerable and the marginalised. It’s not about ‘duty of care’. In fact, it’s censorship masquerading as enlightenment. If in doubt, ban it: that’s the prevailing credo”, she commented.
She concluded: “Here’s the thing, if you truly believe in free speech, it’s not just about supporting the rights of people you happen to agree with – that’s called selective tolerance, and it’s the worst sort of smug hypocrisy.”
Pastor McConnell is being prosecuted under the Communications Act 2003 for his statements in a sermon which was made available online.
Freedom of expression
McConnell’s lawyers have requested that the proceedings be thrown out of court because of a possible abuse of process.
The National Secular Society (NSS) has said that taking the case against James McConnell is “palpably harmful to religious freedom and the fundamental right to freedom of expression”.