Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Freedom and limits

By Martín Bonfil Olivera

Published in Milenio Diario, January 13, 2010

Maybe gay marriages are, as stated by that arbiter of morals, catholic bishop Onésimo Cepeda, "a stupidity" (Milenio Diario, December 23). But if it is so, it's a stupidity homosexuals, as any other citizen, have a right to commit.

And maybe, as stated by journalist Carlos Marín (Milenio Diario, January 8), this guy Esteban Arce "has the right to express his homophobia"… but to do so in public, as main host to a popular TV show and "leader of opinion" (this shows the current sad cultural level of the average Mexican TV watcher) is wrong, because it violates other people's rights.

Yes, free speech (from which free press is derived) is vital in every true democracy. But it's not more important than other rights. It has, necessarily, limits: teaching people how to commit suicide or to make Molotov bombs, or to promote the use of drugs, violence, killing black people… or to discriminate is not allowed. If a TV host's expressed the opinion that blacks or indians are inferior, he or she would commit the same mistake and would deserve to be criticized. First of all, because it's false, but also because it's discriminatory.

Esteban Arce misinforms his audience: he expresses as true opinions contrary to current scientific knowledge, which shows that homosexual behavior is natural (it is clearly shown by Luis González de Alba in his column from last Sunday; Milenio Diario, January 10), and "normal", in the sense that it is not "sick", and that children raised by same-sex couples are also normal (i.e. not. "sick").

Why should we prefer criteria based on scientific knowledge to criteria based on religious dogma? Among other things, because they are verifiable, and have been verified: they work. Besides, they can be corrected if errors are found, in sharp contrast to the church's "truths". That's why the Mexican Constitution (third article) makes it mandatory that education be based "in the results of scientific progress", and demands that teaching be kept "completely separated from any religious doctrine".

What is sought is not to give "privileges" to certain minorities, but to guarantee that all and every citizen has the same rights. And for good reasons. The church can tear its garments on it, but religious freedom also has its limits (also, for good reasons, in this case historical ones): it cannot interfere in politics, since the Constitution prohibits it (article 130). The government obligation is to secure the rights of everyone, and to maintain the required separation of church and state. People will need to keep a watchful eye to make sure this happens.

(translated by Adrián Robles Benavides)

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