I don’t know about you, but I passionately believe in free speech. I strongly feel that it is one of our most important rights, and it is one that I would willingly go to the barricades to defend, but when does discussion, debate, and even downright argument spill over into something much more sinister? And what does this mean for those of us that campaign and stand up for the rights of some of the weakest in our community, including some who cannot speak up for themselves?
Maybe you have experienced this too, particularly recently, as it seems to be an increasing trend of our times for people who disagree with something or someone to refuse discussion and debate in favour of trying to silence the voice of the person they disagree with; to try to claim a position of authority which refuses to accept or engage with any other views than their own.
Those of you that are regular readers of my blog will know that I often include my autistic son, James, in what I write about. His and our story continues to help many families who are on a journey a bit like ours, and overwhelmingly the comments we receive from readers are positive and encouraging. We do, however, also get comments that are quite the opposite; that challenge not only what is written but my right to have an opinion or to write about it at all.
For example, some in the autistic community (but only a small minority, by no means all, most are wonderful), maintain that as a parent of an autistic child I have absolutely no right to share his, and our family’s, story. People that have never met James, have never met our family, make assumptions about us as parents, decide whether we are actually autistic ourselves or not, and then pass harsh and unbending judgement about our lack of a right to share our story. Now I have absolutely no problem at all with debate and discussion with people who disagree with me, that’s healthy and helps us all to learn from each other and to grow together, but to condemn someone to silence for having a different viewpoint to your own, based largely on unfounded assumptions and unfair prejudices, seems to take this over the line into what could be received as controlling and dangerously oppressive behaviour.
It’s not just in relation to my blog that I experience this kind of attitude. As someone who has given his life to defending children and young people who can sometimes struggle to defend themselves, standing up for them and helping their voices to be heard, I also take an interest in the rights of unborn children too. For this I have been told that as a male I have absolutely no valid opinion in this conversation, no voice, and that to be anything other than firmly pro-choice makes me a misogynistic, sexist dinosaur. Whether I am or not (I hope that my track record suggests that I am not, but that is for people who actually know me to decide), to refuse me my right to an opinion, or the right to express it, seems to be taking this into very dark and dangerous territory indeed.
We’ve seen examples in the fairly recent past both from around the world and more locally where the crushing of free speech and the promotion of a single approved ideology that has to be accepted by all has led to terrible oppression and horrendous consequences for anyone with a different viewpoint, especially free-thinking liberal minded people.
Maybe you have experienced this kind of silencing yourself? Maybe you have been told what you must believe, or what you must say or not say? Maybe that has been by people in the disability community, or by professionals, or by other parents, or by family or friends? Maybe you have been able to stand your ground, or perhaps you’ve found it to be just too hard and have given in? If that is you, remember that you do not stand alone, you do not fight alone, your voice matters as much as anyone else’s and it deserves and needs to be heard. There are many of us that are right there with you.
I am so encouraged by these words, spread throughout the Bible, which remind us that God himself defends the weak and vulnerable:
“Speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves. Speak up for the rights of all those who are poor. Speak up and judge fairly. Speak up for the rights of those who are poor and needy.” Proverbs 31:8-9
“Stand up for the weak and for children whose fathers have died. Protect the rights of people who are poor or treated badly.” Psalm 82:3
“The Lord has shown you what is good. He has told you what he requires of you. You must act with justice. You must love to show mercy. And you must be humble as you live in the sight of your God.” Micah 6:8
“In everything, do to others what you would want them to do to you.” Matthew 7:12a
And as we think about people that disagree with us, that might throw bigoted hatred and abuse at us, that might try to silence us, let us be reminded of these words from Paul to the church at Ephesus, words that show us how we should be towards everyone:
“Get rid of all hard feelings, anger and rage. Stop all fighting and lying. Don’t have anything to do with any kind of hatred. Be kind and tender to one another. Forgive one another, just as God forgave you because of what Christ has done.” Ephesians 4:31-32
So, I’ll keep on speaking out, keep on sharing our stories, keep on defending and campaigning for those I feel called to serve, and will respond to the hatred with kindness, to the anger with compassion, to the oppressors with forgiveness. I encourage you all to do the same, let’s all stand together in love…
The Additional Needs Blogfather
27th March 2019
Who Will Fight For The Rights Of Less Able Autistics Like My Son
The Additional Needs Battle
Photo: © nhpoliticalbuzz.org