The Dissemination of Thought

Just because it's in print doesn't mean it's intelligent…

When should free speech and personal beliefs take a back seat to the greater good?

with 26 comments

In 2012 Australia, you can affirm anything you like, even if it’s unjust, narrow-minded or based on a belief that may be less than sound. Unfortunately, there’s no rule that dictates free speech needs to be well thought out and factual. When this is considered in the context of the free speech of a private citizen versus that of an elected official, it raises a pertinent question: should the personal beliefs of politicians take a back seat in order to champion the causes of the people who elected them, even if the causes don’t align with their individual faith or opinions? Should free speech apply to politicians while they are acting on behalf of the greater population?

A great many words have been, and will be, written about tennis champion Margaret Court’s views on homosexuality, especially in the lead-up to the Australian Open. Gay rights activists are planning on using the arena that bears her name as a quasi protest site during the event, and have called for it to be renamed because of her outspoken opinion. I’m sorry ladies and gentlemen of the protesting persuasion, but she’s entitled to express her views, however ludicrous and bigoted they may be.

I’m an advocate for equality and same-sex marriage. I’ve written numerous pieces centering on the subjects, but I think Margaret Court should be allowed to speak. I believe her opinions are that of a narrowed-minded zealot and based on irrational religious beliefs, but I also assert that she is entitled to have and air them. Does hearing her purport that same-sex marriage would “legitimise what God calls abominable sexual practices” anger me and make me want to smack my head against a wall? Absolutely, but it’s her individual point of view. I’ve got mine. You’ve got yours. While I’d relish the opportunity to debate our differences of opinion, I learnt a long time ago that arguing with any sort of fanatic is futile: trying to have a rational, intellectual discussion with someone who isn’t flexible in their beliefs or accepting of facts and new ideas is never going to work. That said, providing we don’t incite hatred or endanger public safety with our opinions, we should be free to express them, whether privately or publicly, without fear of condemnation or reprisal.

There has been limited media coverage about the annual neo-Nazi Hammered Music Festival, most of which has focused on why this hate-filled, disgusting celebration of white pride is allowed to take place. As abhorrent as this event may be, it’s being held on private property, presumably out of sight and earshot of those who don’t want to hear it. Whether you wish you acknowledge the fact or not, attendees and performers are just as entitled as the rest of us to think and believe what they want. They aren’t spewing propaganda or spouting their preposterous views to the masses, and they aren’t airing their personal opinions publicly, unlike many who use the spotlight to constantly reiterate their beliefs.

Margaret Court has used her celebrity to broadcast her beliefs and faith, as well as raise the profile of her church, but is there really a problem with this? While some of her statements, including the affirmation that homosexuality is a choice, may be insensitive and not based on fact, she is free to say it. She’s not provoking violence or abuse against the gay community, and she is not acting on behalf of a group, nor is she an elected official.

What if Margaret Court was in a public position of power? What if she was a Member of Parliament? What about Premier of Western Australia? If she was Prime Minister, should she be free to express her deepest and most closely held beliefs while in that position? In my opinion, no. Someone who has been entrusted to act on behalf of a large, diverse group needs to be able to forgo their personal agenda and take their narrow-minded views, be they religious or not, out of the equation when making decisions that impact the community as a whole.


In Australian politics, there are currently several high-profile elected individuals with very strong religious views who have no qualms about letting these beliefs guide them while acting in their official capacities on behalf of the Australian people. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, a practising Catholic, was quoted in December 2009 in the Herald Sun as saying, “I think it would be impossible to have a good general education without at least some serious familiarity with the Bible and with the teachings of Christianity.” While he has, on several occasions, suggested that politicians should not rely on religion to justify decisions or a specific point of view, his comments make it clear that his faith plays a very strong part in his thought process and rationale. Independent MP Bob Katter is on the record as stating that marriage equality is a stupid idea that “deserves to be laughed at and ridiculed”. I’m not disputing that they have the right to harbour these beliefs, where’s the line at which the personal views of politicians are required to take a back seat to a more broad-minded, progressive and socially acceptable perspective that’s representative of the views of their constituents?

Tony Abbott and Bob Katter are not alone in expressing their dogmatic views while acting on behalf of the people. In 2011, John Murphy, Labor MP for the seat of Reid in western Sydney, kicked the political hornet’s nest when he advised members of the Australian Labor Party who support same-sex marriage to ”join the Greens”. Is this petulant “my way or the highway” approach reflective of the attitude of his electorate? I think not. One person’s obstinate, black or white view should not be allowed to take precedence over the collective view of the almost 90,000 constituents in the electorate of Reid.

It may sound ridiculous and incredibly hypocritical to promote free speech in one paragraph and then suggest in the next that elected officials need to look past their own personal views in order to take a stance that, while not aligning with their own beliefs, fairly reflects what the community stands for and wishes to see achieved. Perhaps there is an element of hypocrisy to it, but politicians need to recognise that we have entrusted them to be our collective voice, and for this voice to be clearly heard, they have to look at the big picture, which often falls outside the line of sight that their bigoted or conservative blinkers allow.

For Australia to transform into a genuinely modern and forward-thinking society, we need to be led by free thinkers who can accept that personal religious views have don’t have a place in 21st century politics. We need strong leaders who make decisions based on fact and community sentiment, and who don’t feel compelled to constantly promulgate their individual beliefs and agendas; they need to remember that as a politician, they are the mouthpiece for twenty-two million voices, not just one. If our current politicians are unable to separate state from the church, mosque or synagogue, they need to step aside and make room for people who can.

When it comes to a group of individuals who have been empowered to represent the people and make untainted, logical choices based on fact for benefit of the collective group, there are occasions where free speech and faith are going to have to ride shotgun.

26 Responses

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  1. Extremely well-said. The same goes for elected officials here in America. I am astounded on a daily basis when I hear contenders for the Republican nomination whore themselves out to religious denominations that only represent a scant part of our population, and then explain their choice to align with these groups by saying that they are openly a member. When you enter the public sector by means of election, you should give a part of yourself up.

    the waiting

    January 15, 2012 at 10:36

    • I’m expecting to be called a hypocrite, but I feel it’s a valid point. If you have been entrusted to represent 1,000,000 people, your view and voice need to be that of 1,000,000 individuals, not just one. If you aren’t prepared to accept this compromise, you don’t deserve to be there.

      Thank you for your contribution to the discussion, and welcome to The Dissemination of Thought.


      January 15, 2012 at 11:02

  2. Best thing you have ever written. Brilliant wordsmith you are.


    January 15, 2012 at 11:53

  3. Culture by definition is an abstract ‘structural ordering’ of social (as opposed to primal) behavior. Add the fact that cultural ‘beliefs’ effectively define the limits of one’s point of view, and you have the basis for a evolving, abstract ‘idiocracy’ which provides the ‘context’ for what’s being argued here.

    A few thousand years ago (so far as we know) there were no Christians, Jews, Islamists, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. In fact there are at least a few people still living today who are totally unaware that such beliefs exist, and have no knowledge (much less understanding) of all the conflict and mayhem ‘collectively’ generated as a result. Yet despite that, they’ve somehow miraculously (and no doubt quite pleasantly) ‘survived’ these countless thousands of years in total ignorance of the millions of people–somehow just out of their view–who have created and ‘en-swarmed’ themselves in such a crazy-making, god-fearing, cultural mindset.

    In other words, if you stand back a little, this is what you might see… Which corresponds with the following: “Beliefs form the boundaries that limit one’s view. Remove them, and be amazed at what you can then see…and do.” – Queng We

    P.S. What do you suppose those ‘little people’ would think of same-sex marriage…or even marriage at all, for that matter? Not to mention the incomprehensible vagaries associated with ‘politics.’ 😉

    William Lawson

    January 15, 2012 at 13:23

    • That’s an enlightening and very apt quote.

      To answer your question, I think those people would take one look at our developed, “sophisticated” society and disappear back into isolation, never to be seen again.

      Welcome to TDoT, and thank you for participating in this somewhat controversial discussion.


      January 15, 2012 at 14:00

  4. As much I don’t want to agree, you are right. I don’t want Margaret Court or the Hammered Music Festival to have their say, but they are entitled to it I suppose.
    And to concur with The Waiting’s reply above- I’m so tired of the religious fanaticism in American Politics.
    Well done.


    January 15, 2012 at 13:59

    • I feel the same way: I think their views are bigoted, loathsome and unfounded, but I have to concede that they are entitled to have them.


      January 15, 2012 at 14:19

  5. If I wasn’t following you already, I would have after reading this piece. I don’t know the ins and outs of how it works in Australia, but my opinion here in the US has always been to majorly decrease those in the service jobs of the upper-level government and have their benefits structured to where they only get them after so many years. My thought process is that if they had to actually work for their pensions and extensive benefits, they might actually do what the people ask of them and not what they personally believe or profit from. Of course no plan is fool proof. With that said, there is also still major issues with the people in society because they, themselves, do not put aside their religious beliefs to think of what is good for the country. Meh. I could rant on and on and write my own blog of a comment here, but I won’t.
    Anyway, thanks for being awesome and well-rounded!


    January 15, 2012 at 19:14

    • There’s definitely a lack of big picture thinkers in politics, which is, to my mind, the polar opposite of what’s required.

      To be honest, I limit my intake of politics to the absolute minimum these days, purely because I find it so frustrating.

      You should rant. Ranting is fun.


      January 15, 2012 at 19:41

  6. Hear! Hear! No speech is free, there are always consequences 🙂


    January 15, 2012 at 20:20

  7. While I don’t think that they should let their personal views colour the way they act in Parliament, this is what humans do. The vast majority will let their background, upbringing, personal prejudices, etc sway the way they conduct their business. While I try not to, I catch myself doing this often enough (and that is just the times I pick up on it).

    I would rather that an elected official spoke up so that I knew what views they held so I could make a choice not to vote for them. I would hope that they would not let it sway them, but as you point out with Tony Abbott people generally revert to type when confronted with a choice that is not black and white.

    At that point I would like to know they hold a view that is closer to mine and not a complete opposite. I then just have to hope that a majority of people feel the same as me and that is why whoever got voted in in the first place.

    MInd you, I particularly hate people try to play all sides ala Julia Gillards “I’m an athiest (although I don’t think she has ever used the word herself), but I think belief in God rocks” act. Seems too much not wanting to piss anyone off than actually what her own opinion is.


    January 15, 2012 at 20:21

    • “I would rather that an elected official spoke up so that I knew what views they held so I could make a choice not to vote for them.”

      I agree, but with the two-party preferred system, the whoring that goes on between the parties and independents after the votes are cast somewhat negates one’s ability to really vote for “who they want” in power.

      You make a very valid point: the only thing worse than a politician who lets faith and personal beliefs narrow their field of view is one who sits on the popularity fence and stands for nothing at all.


      January 15, 2012 at 21:03

  8. It surprises me that Australia’s politicians are not more conservative in expressing their views. I had assumed they would be at par with Canadians as comments as such, generally speaking – are not tolerated from politicians by the general public. On the other hand in some respects i do believe it is taken to extreme in my country, and we have become an anal retentive society fearsome of expressing our opinions and being labelled as “bigots.” ie. Can’t we just call a christmas tree a christmas tree and have it in front of city hall? Is a minora a candelabra? (fuck sakes)
    “Legitimise what God calls abominable sexual practices” – when I hear things like this it makes my skin crawl and I have the insessant desire to punch someone in the eye. These are the people that think “god” is a white-bearded man floating around on a cloud in the sky. Adam and Eve populating the planet? Snakes and apples? Is Greek Mythology any less believable? Jesus was a great, compassionate and accepting man of ALL people – Can we not just leave it at that, follow his example, and call it a day?

    Cakes McCain

    January 15, 2012 at 20:50

    • It shouldn’t be tolerated, but it is.

      I’m not even remotely religious, but as far as I’m concerned, a Christmas tree will always be a Christmas tree. What the fuck is a holiday tree? What’s next? A “non-specific faith festive season bush”?

      “These are the people that think “god” is a white-bearded man floating around on a cloud in the sky.”

      Is it possible that Santa Claus is God?


      January 15, 2012 at 21:14

      • Religion and misinformation are dangerous… These people who are going to hide behind religion and express their opinions should read the bible in it’s entirety with a clear, logical, sane perspective.
        Wow… brilliant observation, he could be.. I think only the “godly” could fit through those tiny chimneys.

        Cakes McCain

        January 15, 2012 at 21:31

      • He’s got 11 months of downtime after December, so why not moonlight as a deity?


        January 15, 2012 at 21:36

  9. Ok so your right in that whilst we don’t like a lot if what others have to say, they have a right to their say just as we do. Having said that nobody has the right to tell others what to think and do. Sadly elected officials and “famous” people were left off this memo and all feel their station in life entitles them “save us all from ourselves”. Personally i would love to go into politics and do some good, however party endorsement means towing the party line. Full stop. Sad but true that governments do not govern, so much a rule and bully for their own personal gain. Top piece!!


    January 15, 2012 at 21:42

  10. Awesome post. The most important point is that elected government was elected NOT for their personal beliefs, practices, lives, etc. (which is why I could care less about a politician having an affair, or whether or not he’s a particular religion)…but because we felt them capable of representing the interest of their voters. Nothing is worse than a politician who stands by his/her morals when it doesn’t reflect the morals of the people. Totally agree with you on this!!

    Heather Christena Schmidt

    January 16, 2012 at 01:04

    • Exactly. In the above case of John Murphy, he was swearing black and blue that there wasn’t overwhelming support for marriage equality and was calling for a referendum on the issue, even after an Australian Labor Party branch president publicly admitted that his views were “not representative” of his electorate. How can someone who is apparently acting on behalf of a much larger group hear what the group wants and then totally disregard it, purely because it didn’t align with their narrow-minded personal views?


      January 16, 2012 at 08:55

  11. I don’t think your views are conflicting or hypocritical at all. The reason for this is that I see (and support) the protesters against the views Margaret Court expressed not as people that try to silence her but as a group of people that complain against bigotry and intolerance. They have the right to do that and to be honest our world would be a much worse place if people like them did not exist.

    In the matter of politicians, I have a life-long hate for all “professional” politicians. My gut reaction is: a politician who hides their personal views in order to get elected is a liar and doesn’t deserve a single vote. Unfortunately my views are rather naive on the matter, as my ideal elected official is one that never lies and fights for the betterment of the people and I have yet to find one like this. I think this definition is probably in contradictory terms with the definition of politics.

    Therefore, if a politician has hidden their personal beliefs in order to get elected then I agree with you they should not be allowed to air these beliefs publicly. If however they were open from the beginning then it becomes a matter of freedom of speech. Only though if they were elected based on these beliefs.

    Natalie Alner

    January 16, 2012 at 03:42

    • You touch on a great point. The protesters do have every right to demonstrate, but genuine freedom of expression means that Margaret Court also has every right to air her views, providing she isn’t inciting violence or hatred. As ridiculous as I believe her opinions are, it would be hypocritical for same-sex marriage advocates to fight to have their perspectives heard, while at the same time demanding that anyone whose views differ not be free to speak.

      Thank you for participating in the discussion, and welcome to The Dissemination of Thought.


      January 16, 2012 at 09:15

  12. Organized religion scares the bejesus out of me. Mostly for the fact that it’s become so politicized. Believe what you want but when you start legislating in accordance with how YOU believe is exactly the point where you’ve lost me. Stand for something but realize you are there to do a job and that is to serve the public at large, not a small portion that screams louder than the rest of us.

    Adrienne schmadrienne

    January 17, 2012 at 00:34

    • I couldn’t have said it better myself. When you are representing a group, your decisions need to reflect the wishes of the majority.

      The issues of equality and same-sex marriage, in their simplest form, are issues of discrimination. When you dictate that 2 people can’t get married because of their sexual orientation, you aren’t trying to save the world from being overtaken by an army of homosexual zombies, you’re just discriminating against fellow human beings.


      January 17, 2012 at 08:12

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