Free speech, yes, but must it be so loud?
Harry Perry, of Leicester Secular Society, has his own say on the city's modern speakers' corner
A reprint of a 1958 article in the Mercury referred to a Sunday morning Speakers' Corner, in the Market Place. Orators from different persuasions would regale onlookers with their particular truth – even some from Leicester Secular Society. And all without artificial amplification.
Speakers' Corner has long since ended, but I ventured into the city centre on a sunny Saturday to see how free speech is faring today.
The first encounter was by the Haymarket – seven Christians singing in Chinese to the accompaniment of a chap on a fiddle.
It was easy on the ear so I stopped to listen for a minute. This brought me to the attention of the choir and a chorister broke away to offer me … eternal salvation. I explained I was an atheist and way beyond redemption.
Next stop was a Muslim stall near the Clock Tower. The African chap here was keen to debate. I struggled to hear, being hampered by the PA system blaring out behind me.
I think he explained he didn't belong to a mosque, believing them all to be wrong in their telling of Mohammed's message. We soon got to the inevitable, "how did the universe start?"
For the sake of argument I said "The Big Bang". He said: "Yes, and that's what Allah told Mohammed, too"!
My eyebrows rose of their own accord. Pulling out his well-thumbed Koran he flicked to the relevant verse… which refers to the Earth appearing in a puff of smoke.
"There, he said, the Big Bang."
"A puff of smoke is hardly the Big Bang," I replied, and left to give my undivided attention to the Christians with the PA system.
I was offered another leaflet promising forgiveness and was told the group was made up of "Charismatics and Pentecostals". My new friend was unfazed by my declaration of atheism and invited me to a meeting. I declined, and dreaded to think what their PA system must be like within the confines of a closed room.
As I passed the Big TV on my way home I thought its manager could take a leaf out of the evangelists' book. It can be heard for only about 40 yards, while the evangelical sound waves travel far down High Street. Indeed, if loudness was any guide to truth they'd have a head start on the skyway to Heaven for sure.
What a wonderful thing free speech is – but guys, there is no correlation between volume and veracity, so why not turn the amp down – or dump it altogether?
Harry Perry is president of Leicester Secular Society