The Rights of Error
There is an old doctrine originally attributed to the medieval Catholic Church: Error non habet ius—“Error has no rights.” It is particularly associated with the “Syllabus of Errors,” Pope Pius IX’s 1864 broadside against political liberalism, freedom of conscience and the separation of church and state. The argument is that the common good requires the suppression of false ideas that might lead people into error. I mean, if an idea is wrong, how can it claim any right to be tolerated?
This view had already been undermined by less dogmatic thinkers like the American Catholic Orestes Brownson, who coined the rejoinder, “Error has no rights, but the man who errs has equal rights with him who errs not.” The whole doctrine was ultimately abandoned in the Second Vatican Council with the backing of Bishop Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II.
Yet somehow “error has no rights” has ended up being the ruling principle of both sides in our current culture war.