Much has been said lately about attempts to legislate against hate speech.

ISIS and its odious compatriots are pushing a particularly narrow and violet version of fundamentalist Islam. Whether by accident or design, their atrocities tend to associate decent, law abiding Muslims in the west with the horrors we hear of perpetrated in the name of Allah.

The politically correct rush in to tell these people that we don’t blame them, and in that I feel they show a real generosity in spirit. But they overshoot, clamping down on any legitimate criticism of Islam.

Therein lies the real danger: this attempt to silence critics pushes people into corners. It attacks the very heart of what we are, creating a “them vs us” mentality as people with legitimate fears have their voice removed.

There’s a real irony here. Just as some tend to label all Muslims negatively due to the actions of a few, so do others lump the critics of Islam into a single, monolithic group of haters. This is neither fair nor wise.

Hate speech laws don’t change hearts. They just push the discord deeper down, where it can fester. And even those who have a reasonable objection are marginalized as their voice is being legislated away (as an aside, I think this accounts for much of Donald Trump’s recent election as President. A creeping sense of political correctness has inclined many to push back the polls).

This is not what liberal democracy is about. Freedom of speech goes hand in hand with freedom of religion and conscience. Everything must be open to critique, and those examined have the right to response. It is neither unreasonable nor Islamophobic to ask Muslims who have come to live among us to give assurances that they now share our values.

Aristotle told us a city is a unity of unlikes. True diversity must allow for differences of opinion: and that is what I feel is threatened by hate speech laws. They negatively affect other, more fundamental constitutional rights. Yes, some feelings may get hurt; freedom is messy. That’s the price we pay for living in the west.

As a Christian, I believe Jesus is the way to God, but freedom to choose or reject Christ is implicit in that belief. As a citizen, I must support Muslims’ right to practice their faith peacefully, even if I disagree with its view of God. We’re supposed to be civilized about our differences, and ours is an age where common courtesy is in short supply. People need to exercise good manners and do careful investigation before criticizing.

The freedom to critically examine creeds and lifestyles must be maintained, as does the right to respond in civilized discourse. Labelling a critic an Islamophobe, homophobe, Christianophobe or any other label is just name calling and does far more harm than good. It splinters the freedoms we cherish, and in the end nobody wins.