“Everybody has a right to their opinion.”
Not even close.
This is a cliché that people like to use to avoid a confrontation. One simply says, ‘everybody has a right to their opinion,’ and the disputants torn and walk away. It is falls in the same category as ‘we agree to disagree.’
Yet, clearly, there are a number of opinions that people do not have a right to have.
Consider this opinion. “I should put a bullet through your head.”
Do I have a right to that opinion?
The response I usually get to this example is, “Yes, you have a right to that opinion. You just don’t have a right to act on it.”
Well then, in my opinion, I DO have a right to act on the former opinion. Do I have a right to THIS opinion?
Clearly, I do not.
Actually, the second opinion is embedded in the first. The opinion, “I should put a bullet through your head,” is an opinion that I should perform a particular action. It is a contradiction for a person to say that he should do something that he has no right to do. This is no different than saying that he should do something that he should not do.
The principle here is that a person has no right to the opinion that one or more other people should suffer harm.
Nor do we have a right to any opinion that contributes to harming others, even if it is not an opinion that others should suffer harm. Consider the case of a rapist who says, “In my opinion, I did her a favor.” This is not an opinion that another should suffer harm. This is an opinion that one’s own actions were beneficial to another, when it was not. People do not have a right to these types of opinions either.
There are a number of areas where we recognize that a person does not have a right to an opinion. In the case of a trial, members of the jury have no right to the opinion that the accused is guilty. They are to assume that the accused is innocent, unless guilt is proved beyond a reasonable doubt. That is to say, the opinion that no harm may be done is free. The opinion that harm may be done has to be earned.
I would argue that this obligation to presume innocence unless guilt is proved is binding on the public as well. A person’s life can be ruined simply by accusing him of a crime, because the public thinks that they have a right to presume that any person who is accused of a crime must be guilty.
The opinion that one may blow oneself up in a crowded restaurant, fly airplanes into skyscrapers, execute cartoonists, execute somebody who converts to another religion, execute anybody for that matter, pass anti-gay legislation, take away another person’s right to decide what to do with their own body, teach children that classmates who do not share their religion are not true Americans . . . these examples follow the first rule. These are examples of opinions that a person must earn a right to have, and not have by default.
Furthermore, if religion is a sufficient foundation for any of these opinions, then it is sufficient foundation for all of them. If there is one opinion in this list that religion does not justify, then it does not justify any of them. We are either justified in permitting all harm to others justified by religious commandment, or no harms can be so justified. Religion is either ‘proof beyond a reasonable doubt’ that another be harmed, or it is not.
However, this essay concerns far more than religious disputes. It concerns all matters of political disputes where a person says, “everybody has a right to their opinion,” or “let’s just agree to disagree.”
In these cases, look for who has the opinion that others may be harmed in some way. Look for the person who is denigrating another, taking away their freedom, destroying their property, damaging their health, or killing others.
When a person advocating harm finds himself on the defensive, and he tries to block an attack by saying, ‘everybody has a right to his opinion,’
Say, “No way! No person has a right to an opinion, if it is the opinion that others may be harmed, or an opinion that one may do things that cause harm to others.”
Bring up the example of the person who has the opinion that he may shoot the speaker, or the rapist whose opinion is that he does his victim a favor. Then ask him again if he thinks that everybody has a right to his opinion.
When he says ‘no,’ tell him, as the person who is advocating harm to others, that it is now his turn to earn his right to his opinion. And, if applicable, religious commandments earn him nothing.