J.K. Rowling Defends “Offensive and Bigoted” Donald Trump’s Freedom of Speech
Last night at the Pen Literary Gala in New York, J.K. Rowling received the 2016 PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award in recognition of her fight against censorship and “inequality on both a local and global level.” During her acceptance speech, though, the author surprised some listeners by defending an unlikely figure: Donald Trump.
The author’s audience initially clapped when she mentioned a 2015 petition — which garnered nearly 500,000 signatures but was ultimately rejected — that called on the British government to deny Trump entry into the U.K. after he declared that Muslims should be banned from entering the U.S. Instead of expressing her support for the measure, however, Rowling held up her finger and said, “Just a moment.”
Rowling urged listeners to refuse censorship and protect freedom of expression, even when — or especially when — we disagree with what’s being said. “Now I find almost everything Mr. Trump says objectionable. I consider him offensive and bigoted,” the author said, “but he has my full support to come to my country and be offensive and bigoted there.” While she wholeheartedly disagrees with Trump’s views, Rowling defended the candidate’s right to express them. “His freedom to speak,” Rowling said, “protects my freedom to call him a bigot” — and to compare him to Voldemort.
As The Guardian reports, Rowling criticized unfair demands that “unwelcome and inconvenient voices be removed from public discourse.” “If you seek the removal of freedoms from an opponent simply on the grounds that they have offended you, you have crossed a line to stand alongside tyrants who imprison, torture, and kill on exactly the same justifications,” Rowling said in her speech.
PEN America, a literary organization that champions freedom of expression, presents the PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award each year to “a critically acclaimed author whose work embodies its mission to oppose repression in any form and to champion the best of humanity.” Previous winners include, Salman Rushdie, Toni Morrison, and Margaret Atwood.
According to PEN, Rowling received the award this year “for the extraordinary inspiration her books have provided to generations of readers and writers globally”:
“Since her rise from single mother to literary superstar, J.K. Rowling has used her talents and stature as a writer to fight inequality on both a local and global level. Herself the frequent object of censorship in schools and libraries across the globe, as well as online targeting, Rowling has emerged as a vocal proponent of free expression and access to literature and ideas for children, as well as incarcerated people, the learning-disabled, and women and girls worldwide.”