Does free speech give you the right to gratuitously insult?

“The problem with defending free speech is that if you go to bat for the dead and heroic cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo, you also have to defend Hollywood’s right to make jokes about killing the leader of North Korea and a daft heavy metal band’s right to insult a chunk of the public simply because they feel like it,” said Philip Matthews in an opinion piece published in the Christchurch newspaper The Press in February.

He  was commenting on an item included in a display of T shirts in the Canterbury Museum.

The exhibition even came as a shock to its creator, Dani Filth, founding member, lyricist and lead screamer of Cradle of Filth.

“Oh my gosh yes,” Filth said  in a recent interview on the phone from his home in Suffolk.

“I still find it very confusing, strange and weird that they decided to put it in an exhibition in a museum in New Zealand.”

“We had no idea,” he says.

Filth is now 41 years old.

The T-shirt was made when he was 19.

“The premise behind the shirt, remember we were young, … it was more of an anarchic thing more than anything else.”

“The religious side of it was obviously there to stir up a bit of controversy at the time but when those shirts were first introduced we were just a small band starting out.”

In the interview he paused for a moment before uttering the word “silly”.

The T shirt was described in RollingStone as the most controversial shirt in rock history.

It contained blasphemous statements and offensive imagery.

On February 17th, an unidentified woman stormed into an exhibition of T-shirts at the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, New Zealand, and proceeded to black out the perspex barrier covering the display with spray paint.

At the time of the exhibition Catholic blogger Brendan Malone said in a blog post that Canterbury Museum’s decision to hold the exhibition was “irresponsible” and would “result in unnecessary harm” to the public.

Catholic Bishop Barry Jones also criticised the controversial t-shirt. “Anglican and Roman Catholic nuns enjoy wide respect and the misogynistic message on the t-shirt is appalling,” he said.

Family First planned to lay a complaint with police about the “highly offensive” display.

“The museum should show some respect to the many families who will be horrified and offended by this and remove the offensive material,” national director Bob McCoskrie said.

“Sinking to these low levels is an insult to many families.”

Canterbury Museum director Anthony Wright said the shirt was a small part of a large exhibition examining the garment’s place in popular culture.

‘When you do a show like this you deal with the edges of our culture and society. There are inevitably going to be some items and themes that are going to be offensive to some.”

“It’s there because it is a valid part of an overall story about a whole cultural movement. We want to tell the whole story without unduly censoring things.”

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News category: New Zealand.

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