It is distressing to hear the ease at which campaigning group the Christian Voice has bullied Waterstones to cancel a gay poet’s signing.
Patrick Jones was due to sign copies of his new poetry collection Darkness is Where the Stars Are in Waterstones’ Cardiff branch, but the event was called off at the last minute due to complaints by Stephen Green’s homophobic Christian organisation about his perceived anti-religious sentiment in the poems.
The Christian Voice’s actions can hardly be called a campaign. It was little more than an expression of disgust for the event and the book, but Waterstones simply folded. You can’t expect them to go to war in defence of a book signing, true, but the threat of a little inconvenience and placard waving can’t be all it takes to stifle free speech. Jones, displaying significantly more bravery than Waterstones, stood outside to sign books for the fans that had turned up.
Biggotted bullies like the Christian voice need to be stood up to in defence of free speech. Waterstones’ actions set a worrying precedent; will all their future events be subject to cancellation at the merest hint of a fuss? Green and his cronies will no doubt be there the next time anyone they dislike is due to make an appearance. Given the demise of the independent bookseller, Waterstones have more of a responsibility than ever to defend free speech.
As for Green, he should be directed towards John Stuart Mill’s defence of free speech in On Liberty. Mill says that we should meets arguments we disagree with with reasoned debate, not censorship. Or is Green worried that his beliefs aren’t up to the challenge?