On January 7, 2015, radical Islamist gunmen entered the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and killed twelve employees including several cartoonists. The magazine had published several cartoons over the years of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and the radical Islamists were there to exact revenge for the cartoons that they claim were disparaging to their faith. These attacks set off a conversation around the world about free speech and if there are limits to what can or should be said.
On his most recent papal trip to the Philippines, Pope Francis was asked for his thoughts on freedom of speech and freedom of expression and the question was put to him should there be limits. In answer to the question he joked with his spokespersons saying that if he said some “bad words” about his mother he should expect a punch. This was a good illustration of the point he was trying to make.
“One should not use freedom of expression to provoke or offend others deliberately, and we should not be surprised when they react to such taunts.” Now I don’t think His Holiness was making an excuse for the terrorists who murdered the employees of Charlie Hebdo, but I believe what he was saying is that with freedom comes immense responsibility.
There are some very fundamental human rights of which freedom of religion and freedom of speech top the list. As an American I hold these freedoms sacred and would be willing to sacrifice everything, including my life, to guard these freedoms. Wars have been fought over these very same freedoms and, I hate to admit it, will continue to be fought. I believe that the securing of these freedoms is so fundamental to human life that is has become a national security issue for the United States as well as a moral imperative. But this is not easy to achieve.
In response to the events of last year in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City, a group of protesters chained themselves to barrels filled with cement on two major roadways in and out of Boston. This “stunt” snarled traffic and prevented at least one ambulance, with a critically injured person on board, from reaching the hospital. Now, I fully support anyone’s right to protest – after all America was founded on protest – however, that right and freedom to protest comes with responsibility. The person trying to get to work to put food on their table, or the patient in the back of ambulance trying to get to hospital, had very little to do with the events that were being protested, and in my belief the protesters did more harm than good to their cause. Does your freedom give you the right to impinge on my freedom?
It has been said that your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins. Placing another life in jeopardy and preventing hard-working people from being able to get to work is over the top and all that stunt did was put more lives at risk. Freedom was dealt a blow on that highway last week – a blow it may never recover from.
We are so blessed in America that we live a relatively free life compared to others in this world we live in. But the responsibility that is attached to that freedom can be staggering at times. We need to exercise that freedom with caution. As Pope Francis said in the quote I used at the start of this essay, “One should not use freedom of expression to provoke or offend others deliberately.” Now I will admit there is a fine line between what I might think is offensive and someone else might think is offense, but ask yourself this question: What is the purpose of saying what I am going to say or doing what I am going to do? Is it to cause harm and bring someone down or it is it for educational purposes? Pointing out where someone or something is wrong is fine but we can carry that too far. I am a Christian and I make no apologies for that. I believe that Jesus Christ is the ONLY way and that unless you are a follower of Him, then you are lost. To me that is an undeniable truth – if that offends you, well I guess that is just too bad. I do not say this to degrade your faith, or lack of faith, or your religion. I say this because I believe it to be the truth. I will not kill you if you don’t agree, but at the same time I will not apologize for it.
In the end it all comes down to our motivation. What do we hope to gain by what we do or say? The magazine Charlie Hebdo is a magazine based on satire and that involves poking fun at things – everything, as a matter of fact. They have a right to print what they wish to print and you have a right to be upset about it, but when your right to be upset causes you to kill someone that is when you have crossed the line.