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Monica Doumit: Victory for Lyle Shelton is a win for all our families

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Former Australian Christian Lobby managing director Lyle Shelton’s three-year defence against drag queens’ hate speech accusations shows why we need to fight for free speech. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Former Australian Christian Lobby managing director Lyle Shelton’s three-year defence against drag queens’ hate speech accusations shows why we need to fight for free speech. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

How much is free speech worth to you? How much would you pay to defend your right to say something that doesn’t fit the prevailing orthodoxy?

I imagine we all like to think that we would stand up to defend our freedom of speech, especially our right to speak the truth, whatever the cost.

For many of us, our resolve on this matter won’t be tested and we will never find out how much we are willing to put at risk in order to speak the truth in a world that increasingly uses anti-discrimination complaints and lawfare to keep us silent.

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Lyle Shelton has spent the past three years having his metal tested on speaking truth in the public square.

The former managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby, the face of the ‘no’ campaign in the 2017 marriage plebiscite and now the head of the Family First party, Lyle is a true warrior and a dear friend.

Back in 2020, Lyle objected to Brisbane City Council running of “Drag Queen Story Time,” a very strange form of indoctri-tainment that puts drag queens in public libraries to read stories to kids.

He created several social media posts about the event, writing things such as: “Drag queens are dangerous role models for children” and detailing the adult entertainment profile of each of the proposed performers at the event. He objected to the spreading of “radical sexual expressionism and gender confusion to children everywhere.”

Lyle was sued by the two drag queens scheduled to perform. They alleged that the posts vilified those who identify as transgender. Vilification isn’t simply insulting or offending a person: it is an allegation of hate speech.

The two drag queens asked for three things in response to their claim: they wanted the posts taken down, they wanted an apology, and they wanted $20,000.

Lyle refused to remove the posts, apologise or pay any money, and so the case headed to the Queensland Human Rights Commission to see if the parties could come to some type of agreement. They couldn’t, so the case proceeded to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal for a hearing.

It took Lyle three years to defend the claim but, in a decision handed down last week, the Tribunal found in Lyle’s favour.

The costs of the claim – in excess of $200,000 – were funded largely by people who donated around $100 each to help.

If Lyle and his lawyers and those who assisted him financially and otherwise were just looking at the immediate challenge, then giving in to the drag queen complainants would have been a serious option. It costs nothing, financially at least, to delete a few social media posts and apologise to people who say they have been offended by your words. I also think that had Lyle had agreed to the deletion and the apology, the $20,000 claim could have been negotiated down to something lower during the Queensland Human Rights Commission process. Even if the amount couldn’t be lowered, paying the $20,000 is much more cost effective than the $200,000 in legal fees, not to mention the amount of time spent on the case and the worry and stress it would have caused him and his family.

But Lyle, his family and those defending him weren’t looking just at the here and now. They were thinking about the next time someone decided they didn’t like what Lyle said. And the next time. And the time after that. Claims would have kept coming until Lyle couldn’t afford to speak the truth anymore (which is usually the goal of activists who use anti-discrimination laws as a sword, rather than a shield.)

Those defending the claim also weren’t thinking just about Lyle. They were thinking about me and you and our families and the generations to come after us. They knew that it is always important to stand up for the right to speak the truth, but especially when it is under attack. As Lyle said following the decision, “No Australian should ever again be dragged through a three-year legal process costing hundreds of thousands of dollars for engaging in important public debate about the welfare of children. In a free society debate should be met with debate, not taxpayer-funded legal action designed to silence and punish a fellow citizen.”

Lyle and his team fought back so, please God, we won’t have to. God bless them.

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