Most of us like the idea of freedom of speech very much.
It’s enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and is the cornerstone of Western democracy.
We like human rights. And we also like Western democracy. They seem to serve us well.
But it appears we are only fierce defenders of freedom of speech under one condition: If that speech happens to perfectly reflect what we think. Then – and only then – is it worth fighting for.
It all began when an 18-year-old woman named Madeline, who was raised Christian, decided to put a Facebook filter on one of her profile pictures. The filter read “It’s OK to vote ‘No'”, regarding the same-sex marriage plebiscite.
Madeline was employed by a woman named Madlin Sims, who runs Canberra-based entertainment company, Capital Kids Parties.
Sims’ brother, a friend of Madeline, alerted the business owner to the filter on Madeline’s Facebook page, and then asked directly if she would take it down.
Madeline refused, and says she calmly explained her ‘no’ vote was consistent with her religious beliefs. Sims, conversely, says Madeline was aggressive and “verbally attacked” her brother. As it stands, there is no evidence for either claim.
Following their disagreement, Sims made the decision to terminate Madeline’s employment with Capital Kids Parties, and informed her via a Facebook message.
After Madeline’s dismissal, Sims posted on Facebook: “Today I fired a staff member who made it public knowledge they feel ‘it’s okay to vote no’. Advertising your desire to vote no for SSM is, in my eyes, hate speech…
POST CONTINUES BELOW: Mia Freedman, Holly Wainwright and I discuss whether it was fair for Madeline to lose her job on Mamamia Out Loud.
“As a business owner, I can’t have somebody who publicly represents my business posting hate speech online.”
Sims argued it’s bad for business, she doesn’t like “shit morals,” and she doesn’t want homophobes working for her, “especially in an environment with children”.
“It’s not okay to vote no,” she said. “It’s not okay to be homophobic.”
Since being fired, and having her dismissal plastered across the homepages of every media publication in the country, Madeline has agreed that she was very wrong, the religion she has adhered to for 18 years is clearly outdated and homophobic, and thanks to all the time she’s had to sit and reflect, she will now be voting ‘Yes’.
Except, of course, that is not at all how the business of changing minds works.
Today, Madeline told Triple J’s Hack, “I have been raised a Christian my whole life and in the bible God clearly states that a man and a man, and a woman and a woman, are not to be together.