by a Blog Reader
This past week, a Maltese priest was found guilty of speaking aloud his thoughts of whether it’s worse to be gay or possessed by the devil. To Fr David Muscat, an intellectual, this was a question that touched on Catholic doctrine. Never shy of tackling controversial questions, his comments offended some. Good for him, I say. However, at the behest of a couple of Labour MPs and the gay lobby, the police marched him to court where Madam Justice Edwina Grima slapped him last week with a six-month suspended sentence for what she described as offensive comments against homosexuals. Later that evening, Fr Muscat in a presentation about a Fatima book, recalled how as a little boy, he was made to wave the Maltese flag by the Education Department to welcome Romania’s Mrs. Ceaușescu, a politician with fraudulent academic credentials and a barbaric human rights record, for her honorary doctorate at the University of Malta. What a fitting 40th anniversary of the Ceaușescu event, for the priest to be thumbed down once again by the Maltese authorities into forced expression.
The Criminal Code criminalises the use of words which are offensive against individuals or groups “on the basis of… sexual orientation… or religious views.” So, what happens when religious views conflict with sexual orientation, as they did? The Grima ruling established sexual orientation as trumping over religious views. However, there is no legal basis for this. This is simply her arbitrary choice where the law gave her none. Earlier the Archbishop of Malta expressed unhappiness over the way Fr Muscat expressed his views too. However, the law nowhere lays down that the archbishop’s religious views trump over Fr Muscat’s religious views.
Penalizing someone for offensive comments violates common sense and democratic debate. The SimonMercieca blog has a Facebook page where readers express disapproval through emoji and comments to almost every article. The offended readers keep coming back since their dual right to offend and be offended is safeguarded by the blog. On the SimonMercieca blog itself, an occasional article concludes with a negative comment penned in Australian Maltese by reader Saviour Stivala who misses no chance to offend others. Here is his comment to an article about the appalling living conditions of foreign workers in Malta: “Tant everybody and his dog qed jaqbel ma drinu li il-kap u tmexijja tal pneeeeee ma umiex jitilfu okkazjoni ta ritrat ma drinu u hu propja bniedem tan-nejk tajtx kemm hu ferhan issa.” The blog safeguards his right to offend and be offended which could be therapeutic for him in a lonely world.
My point is that it’s impossible to write an article or a comment at the end of an article or go on the radio without offending someone. It’s one thing to speak one-on-one over a glass of beer where the speaker can adjust the message to the listener’s sensibilities. However, it’s impossible to speak to 20,000 readers without offending some of them. Justice Grima’s punishment reflects her ignorance of how common and inevitable it is to cause offence in the mass media. Her sentence has caused great offence to those of us who value free speech, including speech we disagree with. Her prison sentence has also offended those who adhere to Fr. Muscat’s religious views. Under the Criminal Code, giving offense is criminal behaviour. But common sense and constitutional rights have to intervene at some point in the interpretation of the law or else the vicious cycle of punishing people for offensive views will eventually imprison each one of us including the good Justice, and, if they were still alive, Mother Theresa, Dun George Preca, Mahatma Gandhi and every other do-gooder whose religious views at some point must have offended someone, somewhere.
The law under which Fr Muscat was crucified violated his constitutional right to free speech, free exercise of religion and equal protection under the law. Punitive laws pushed on us by pervert lobbies are increasingly being used arbitrarily, in discriminatory fashion, to curtail free thought and expression. Woe to you if you speak to me offensively, Elena Ceaușescu warned at her trial, “I am… the chairwoman of the Academy of Sciences. You cannot talk to me in such a way!” It got worse within minutes for Mrs. Ceaușescu. When the right to offend is suppressed, it resurfaces with a vengeance. Chip away the public’s right to expression at your own risk.
Elena Ceaușescu may not have even had time for her last meal from Café Cordina