Some changes are subtle but significant. Lately, we’ve begun to see evidence of an important change— one which will hopefully alarm both social conservatives and traditional libertarians equally.
We all suspect that Canada— indeed the entire Anglosphere— is experiencing an erosion in free speech rights. Yet, there is an aspect of this trend that points to additional trouble; yesterday’s political prudes, some of whom were admittedly conservative, have been replaced by today’s social engineers.
The implications for public speech are considerable.
By now, we should all have heard Canadians like Professor Jordan Peterson state that he will not be goaded or manipulated into using transgendered terminology— pronouns like Zir, or Xie, or Yos. But have we made any connection between this professor’s concern and the political pressure recently applied to an Orthodox Jewish school in London, England?
Today, a new (more insidious) political leverage is being applied to freedom of expression, not on the basis of what one has said, but on the basis of what one isn’t saying.
Among the progressivists, Jordan Peterson is not merely a rogue for what he has articulated; now, his refusal to articulate any contrived pronoun is enough to make his critics grind their teeth.
Silence is not just deafening; apparently, it is now politically insulting— a sign of subversive non-compliance to those who wish for more coercive capacity in law.
Recently, a private Orthodox Jewish school for girls failed its inspection by OFSTED— the British Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills— not for what it did, but for what it didn’t. Namely, the School wasn’t celebrating the LGBT in the way the left-leaning government bureaucracy thought proper. In OFSTED’s own words, these Jewish girls were, “shielded from learning about certain differences between people, such as sexual orientation”.
Shielding children is now politically incorrect. The school, which was applauded for other aspects of its organization and teaching, failed its inspection not on the basis of what it said or did, but on the basis of its perceived silence: its unenthusiastic lack of LGBT affirmation.
Thus, protection, especially if it's sexually conservative sheltering, is now a public affront. A private school dare not “shield” its young pupils from the worldliness of the world, even when its own faith requires it.
Today, institutions are politically damned by the faintness of their p.c.-praise. Saying nothing at all is simply too much. In ecclesiastical terms, the LGBT movement is so publicly insecure that, having triumphed over its detractors regarding any overt “sins of commission”, it now chases after any perceived “sins of omission”.
This may be one reason why LGBT organizers continue to make a political point in Steinbach, Manitoba— not for any specific civic culpability, but (quite arguably) to chide Steinbach for not being as sycophantically enthusiastic as Toronto or Vancouver.
In like fashion, Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker whose case will come before the Supreme Court of the United States this fall, is not being sued for any actual incident against his gay clientele. Indeed, he served them regularly and honourably. Rather, Phillips is hoping not to have to write, “Happy Same Sex Wedding” (or words to that effect) on the top of any cake of his own design. Alberta once saw a Christian named Stephen Boissoin legally sued for what he did write. Jack Phillips is now being sued for what he didn’t.
Interestingly, for reasons of his Christian faith, Phillips has also refused to produce Halloween cakes, but, curiously, no Wiccan group has yet charged him with religious discrimination.
In short, then, Jack is hoping that the State won’t compel him to write what he doesn’t believe, express what he finds inexpressible, or endorse what he finds personally unacceptable— basic conscientious needs that were never intended to be dispensed as though mere privileges.
Creating a similar kind of crisis, the State of Illinois passed legislation this winter requiring even pro-life pregnancy care centres to inform their patients of abortion. This kind of legislative effort is rather like decreeing that all Imams inform their prospective Muslim-converts of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It cuts to the core, as it cuts against the grain.
In effect, these Illinois pro-life clinics have now had even their own silence coerced. The State is forcing them to advertise on behalf of their nemesis— in this case, an “ethic” they find repulsive.
Political parallels exist in Canada. This situation is not unlike the pro-life Ontario doctors who don’t want to advocate for assisted suicide by policies demanding they inform their patients. Meanwhile, in both these jurisdictions, “progressivists” have interpreted private non-participation as a kind of public offence, even though conscientiously coercive policy is largely foreign to classical liberal society. Not surprisingly, therefore, pro-life health workers in both Ontario and Illinois are taking their respective cases to court.
The implications are more weighty than one might believe.
Should their cases fail, it will matter less anymore whether a person is peaceful or passive in protest. In today’s politics, private pacifism is treated as though it were dangerous public aggression. Strangely, neither speech nor silence is safe anymore. And, without more explicit leadership from legislators and our Supreme Courts, future conscientious objectors will increasingly be “hanged” for one as easily as the other.
In 2017, I never thought I’d be arguing for a constitutional “freedom of silence” alongside our supposed “freedom of speech”. And yet, here we are. Eerily, quite possibly the worst scenarios lie ahead. For what do we suppose happens to a society when all honourable forms of passive resistance are dismissed, delegitimized, or are coerced by law into complete compliance?
Social conservatives and libertarians, be warned!