Dear Mr Tomkins,

You write:

“TALK OF RIGHTS ONLY GETS US so far before it starts to get a bit incoherent. We all believe in the right to free speech, and we all believe in the right to freedom of religion. But if your religion involves holding certain things sacred and protecting them from abuse, and my speech abuses them, then we have a problem. Unless we have the right to the logically impossible (which is logically impossible), then different rights contradict each other.”

There is an easy way to solve the contradiction you perceive between rights, without it being incoherent. That is to say that our rights (with regard to freedom of religion, speech, and anything else) are rights only insofar as they do not enfringe on the rights of others. This is the ONLY coherent way to look at rights, and the only rational way.

You anticipate this answer and respond, “You could say that we have a right to freedom of religion only so far as it doesn’t affect anybody else. But this is to turn religion into a drug for personal use only – possession may be alright but don’t get caught dealing.” You have failed here to grasp the inherent nature of religion; indeed the very nature of humanity. That nature IS ‘personal’ – individual. You or I have not been forced into intellectual compliance with the statutes of a religion by someone else – we have made conscious, rational choices as two INDIVIDUALS with regard to religion, voluntarily. Your answer therefore makes little sense when applied to the discussion – this approach to rights does not ‘turn religion’ into anything that it is not already.

Our current political system, in this case, thankfully supports your rational ability to think for yourself, not as a collective, but as an individual – it upholds your natural rights. You can abstain from doing some things and deliberately practice others so long as those practices do not infringe on the rights of another. Similar natural rights (some would say God-ordained rights) extend this rational ability to make our own decisions, demanding of our politics that we be permitted by others to do WHATEVER we please, so long as that right does not infringe on others’ same rights. (To do so would be logically contradictory – ie. if a right exists to prevent others from stopping you from doing a certain thing, then that right also prevents you from stopping others from doing another thing.)

The only reason you say talk of rights is incoherent is that you have misunderstood a necessary fundamental of rights. The right to freedom of religion does not contain the right to infringe on other rights! When we say that someone is free to practice their religion we are not saying that they are free to do whatever their particular brand of wackiness says they should do – we are saying that, insofar as their religious practice does not enfringe on the rights of others, they should be able to do the things that constitute the practices of that religion. We say that of all other rights: like freedom of speech. (In the case of freedom of speech, our speech alone should never be the subject of coercion because nothing I say to you can infringe on any of your rights.)

If one doesn’t like what someone says on television, they are free to turn it off, in the same way that the television producers are free to air it. As for your example of the BBC producing a show disclaiming that the Holocaust ever happened: it would certainly be offensive, but offense is purely a matter of the will and we are all equally capable of offending with or without a broadcast sanction. I may despise the things that others say at times, but I would fight for their right to say it. And yes; that includes saying what we regard as ‘blasphemous’ things, whether it be on television or in a school locker room. It is their right to be blasphemous if they wish…. freewill has been an obvious plan on the part of God from the beginning, as our history will testify. One man’s blasphemy may be another man’s salvation!

Even if I did not believe that the rights described above are a God-ordained, moral fundamental of humanity demanded by the individual rationality of each human being (which I do), I would still prescribe such a system as the best, most logical, most coherent way of cooperating with each other. In contrast to this, the content of your article leaves humankind with no rights, no coherent means by which to establish when one can force another to do (or not to do) something and when one cannot, and the vision of a never-ending communal assault of constant petitions to lawmakers imposing our standards on each other, perpetually and indefinitely, in a multitude of different ways.

Forgive me, but I simply think there’s a better way.

Best regards,

John Wright