There's nothing funny about demoting people for things they say to friends on Facebook

If you believe in reason and debate as an instrument of civilisation, stand up for the right to tell people what they do not want to hear

Share

Did you hear the one about the bloke who said he was against gay marriage in a Facebook message? He was demoted from his job and ended up taking his employer to court.

Except it isn't a joke. Adrian Smith, 55, allegedly had a 40 per cent pay cut after saying a gay wedding held in Church was an “equality too far”. Trafford Housing Trust, for whom Smith works, says he breached their Code of Conduct.

We must have a horrifically debased view of liberty to think this a reasonable use of police or legislative time. George Orwell got it right when he said that liberty, if it means anything, is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. Manchester County Court is now engaged in a legal process because somebody said something in a Facebook message that some other people might find offensive. Well, I’m sick of people saying they’re offended when they ought to grow up and shut up instead.

Mr Smith is wrong about same-sex marriage, as we have forcefully argued on independentvoices.com. In fact we set up a petition in favour of it, which thousands of you have signed. Extending marriage to same-sex couples would strengthen, not weaken, a precious institution. But it is incumbent on those of us who believe in reason and debate as an instrument of civilisation to give air to views we don't like. And it is wholly consistent to believe, as I do, in legalising same-sex marriage while being a strong defender of free speech.

To oppose the right of Mr Smith to vent his views on Facebook in this way is a kind of state-sponsored madness, for three reasons. First, as with all censorship, it casts the rest of us as potential victims, unable to cope with things we don't like, like children forced to confront chores or broccoli. But we’re adults, and being adult means putting up with things you don’t like, such as Christians who want to stop gays being married.

Second, it is impracticable. Do we really want the State to busy itself patrolling social networks, for views that may hurt the emotionally meek? Third, it suggests a kind of historical myopia, in which we disregard the lessons of centuries and promote the very authoritarianism that led to such suffering and barbarism everywhere it was practised. Freedom is precious, and more easily removed than granted. It should therefore not be removed so unthinkingly.

I have no idea how productive an employee Mr Smith is, or the detail of his career. But modest opinions alone are no warrant for a demotion, and reacting hysterically to your opponents is the sort of behaviour we expect from Archbishops, not housing associations.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Technical Software Consultant (Excel, VBA, SQL, JAVA, Oracle)

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: You will not be expected to hav...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The leak of Jennifer Lawrence's nude photos isn't her fault. But try telling that to the internet's idiots

Grace Dent
US first lady Michelle Obama (2nd L) and her mother Marian Robinson (L) share a light moment with Chinese President Xi Jinping (2nd R) and his wife Peng Liyuan  

Europe now lags behind the US and China on climate change. It should take the lead once more

Joss Garman
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor