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Censorship is Rarely the Way to Deal with Prejudice

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It can be tempting to celebrate when a bigoted advertising campaign is banned or pulled, but censorship is rarely an effective tool to fight prejudice.

Fundamentalist Christian groups who recently had their "NOT GAY. EX-GAY. POST-GAY AND PROUD" adverts pulled from a planned campaign on the side of London buses, clearly peddle a message based on hatred and ignorance that wouldn't stand up to close scrutiny. Banning their ads, however ridiculous and offensive they are risks adding fuel to their fire and making them into martyrs.

Defeating the arguments of people who believe that sexuality is a choice and claim to have have cures for being gay is not difficult. On occasions when this kind of argument is thrust into the mainstream arena, it is the duty of right thinking individuals and commentators to dispel such myths and fight against bigotry that tries to hide behind a the cloak of faith.

In contrast to the brilliantly simple and to the point "SOME PEOPLE ARE GAY. GET OVER IT!" slogan which Stonewall have been using for some time now, the parody from The Core Issues Trust and Anglican Mainstream is clunky, cumbersome and at the heart of it - a dreadful slogan. Clearly, in this case, bigotry has interfered with the creative juices of those who penned it!

It should be remembered, that censorship is often a tool utilised by fundamentalist groups who do not want their beliefs and assumptions to be challenged. Groups such as Christian Voice, who basically function as the mouthpiece for one man called Stephen Green, have become notorious for protesting against plays and cultural events that they find unacceptable. Most notably, they forced Stewart Lee and Richard Thomas' musical 'Jerry Springer - The Opera' into financial ruin after a concerted campaign. All this because they were unable to handle the satirical treatment of their beliefs. In honesty, the show was harmless fun and would have been easily ignored.

Having spent four years of my life in Stoke-on-Trent, a city which was until recently a stronghold of the British National Party, I have seen first hand the damage that can be done by trying to ban or censor hateful statements and messages. Lots of very well meaning anti-fascists locally argued for no-platform policies at the university and loudly proclaimed that activists and members of other parties shouldn't share a platform with them. In most cases that I witnessed, this approach was counter-productive. Making the BNP appear as martyrs and outsider figures made them easier for some people to identify with. Engage them in debate and they fall to pieces, shooting themselves in the foot shortly after opening their mouths.

It isn't good enough to defend censorship merely because something is offensive. On occasion being offended can help wake an individual up from complacency. It is also worth noting that offence is extremely fluid and we all have different thresholds.

Personally, I would rather that homophobic slogans weren't circulating around the bus lanes of London but I certainly don't revel in the banning of the ads. The extensive media coverage and attention that The Core Issues Trust and Anglican Mainstream have gained from this episode is far greater than if the ads had just gone ahead.

Fighting prejudice with reasoned debate should be the default position for all liberal and open minded people. Being overjoyed at censorship strays dangerously close to revelling in the kind of tactics preferred by the very groups whose bigotry many of us oppose.