Causing Offense

A week ago today, the World Atheist Convention in Dublin adopted the Declaration on Secularism and the Place of Religion in Public Life.

On the whole, I can't find too many overt issues with the document. I think a lot of the things it talks about (no religious tests for public office, freedom to practice religion as long as one is respecting the rights of others in doing so) are at least in U.S. law in writing, although whether they're accorded to in practice is a harder question (and not one I feel like addressing here). I am concerned that the document encourages a negative view of religion in general, which runs headlong into a prior concern of mine, but as long as its opening provision regarding the freedom to practice religion is also held to, that should be a non-issue.

What does concern me a little more is part 1, section (c). In full:
Freedom of expression should be limited only by the need to respect the rights and freedoms of others. There should be no right 'not to be offended' in law. All blasphemy laws, whether explicit or implicit, should be repealed and should not be enacted.
Come now, what's the problem with that? Of course there shouldn't be a law against offending people, right? Well, again, as long as this is held to as written, I have no problem with it. In this case, though, I believe that taking this provision too far will happen, or more accurately, has already happened. I think people are starting to believe that there should be no right not to be offended at all.

The concept of "political correctness" is not usually treated with any respect. I feel like the responsibility of not taking offense is usually pushed onto the people who have a problem with the language being used. But I ask you: when someone comes up to you and says "I was offended by your use of <some word> in this context, and I'd appreciate it if you could find a better term to use"... what do you say? What can you say?

Or, put differently: I am not the government, and your right to say what you please does not stop me (or anyone else) from asking others to stop and think before speaking. Even if there is no law against causing offense, all people have a right to be treated with respect and dignity, and intentionally causing offense because you can't suffer the unendurable agony of actually having to think about the language you're using? Isn't what I'd call respectful.

No comments:

Post a Comment