The Times view on limiting free speech: Rowling is Right 10.06.20

The original piece is here.

JK Rowling has enriched the lives of hundreds of millions of readers with her fantasy novels of Harry Potter. The sole reason her literary success does not make her a billionaire is that she donates a large proportion of her fortune to charity. Yet even if she were a less generous person and lacked talent as a writer, she would be justified in conscientiously stating opinions on issues of public interest without being deterred by fear of causing offence.

Rowling posted on social media at the weekend a gently mocking comment about an article that referred to “people who menstruate”, rather than to women. She was swiftly condemned by transgender activists for her supposedly “transphobic” remark. The criticism was joined by the actor Daniel Radcliffe, who as a child starred as Harry Potter in the film series based on Rowling’s books. Radcliffe said: “To all the people who now feel that their experience of the books has been tarnished or diminished, I am deeply sorry for the pain these comments have caused you.”

Though ostensibly emollient, Radcliffe voiced a pernicious principle verging on emotional blackmail. Free speech challenges people’s deeply held convictions. That is the point of it and is how knowledge advances. There would be no purpose in expressing an opinion if it merely confirmed widespread convictions and social mores.

Rowling’s insistence that sex differences are real rather than mutable was acutely perceived and wittily expressed, but even if she had been wrong, Radcliffe would have no grounds for seeking to assuage the pain of her critics. Once a society allows that people who feel emotional anguish are entitled to apology and moral restitution, there is no limit to the abridgment of free speech it will allow in the name of compassion. Radcliffe should think again. His comments are, to coin a phrase, offensive and hurtful to those who cherish liberty.