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Our View: The education ministry should be the champion of freedom of expression

Demo 02 (1)
Photo: Christos Theodorides

The controversial artworks by the head teacher of a state secondary school, apart from causing offence to the Church leadership, have also put the education ministry in a bit of fix over the stand it should take. After a barrage of criticism on social media, with people demanding the head teacher’s sacking or his arrest, the education ministry said the paintings had caused great upset among students, parents and public opinion.

It issued the following statement: “Neither the freedom of expression, nor the freedom of artistic creation could, when it comes to an official in the field of education, and especially in a school, justify the offence caused to public sentiment and the propagation of messages that cultivate a sense of contempt or possibly a climate of intolerance within the student community.”

Admittedly, it was tricky matter, given the occupation of the offending artist, but the education ministry should not have tried to set limits to freedom of expression and artistic creation. It was, in effect, encouraging the climate of intolerance that it claimed it wanted to be avoided. It was also implying that freedom of expression should not be exercised if it caused offence to a section of the population, which is not a very liberal position to take.

The education ministry should be the champion of freedom of expression and artistic freedom, regardless of who the artist is. If the head teacher in this instance, was violating the terms and conditions of his employment, by posting his artwork on social media, he should face disciplinary action. The ministry has launched an investigation, presumably, to establish whether disciplinary offences had been committed – perhaps a public employee is not permitted to pursue artistic interests or to be anti-religion.

The Church reaction was to be expected, claiming the head teacher had failed as an educator. An educator, through their personality and example should shape the youth’s ethos and deliver them to society with complete personalities, that respect themselves and others, the history and customs of their people said the Archbishopric in a statement. It is a point of view the Archbishopric had every right to make, as the artworks became a public issue and the faithful were perfectly entitled to criticise the disrespect shown.

This is what happens in a free and open society. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression as long as they are not inciting hatred or violence against people. This is what the education ministry should have said in its statement and there would not have been a demonstration outside the ministry on Friday afternoon in support of the head teacher, claiming the government suppressing freedom of expression.


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