Freedom Of Speech


Benjamin_Franklin_freedom_of_speech_quoteFreedom of speech has become increasingly complicated. For one thing, the US Supreme Court ruled back in the mid-1900s that “speech” included things like burning the American flag. In other words, acts of protest were repositioned as speech.

Hence, the people here in SoCal protesting the August 2014 shooting in Ferguson had freedom of “speech” to block traffic by walking down the middle of some streets. Not freeways, though. Their freedom of “speech” had some limits.

A few weeks ago, freedom of speech was front and center because of the supposed North Korean threats to Sony and movie theaters that would release The Interview. This film purportedly was about two reporters who were recruited to assassinate North Korea’s leader.

It strikes me now that The Interview joked about doing what the Islamic terrorists actually did in France. Be that as it may, actors and directors and pretty much anyone in Hollywood were up in arms about the “censorship” North Korea was trying to impose on the US movie industry.

Of course those cries would be far different if the film depicted North Koreans coming to the US to assassinate President Obama. I suspect Homeland Security would have been heavily involved in squashing such a project—which probably would not have been called censorship.

Most recently, of course, has been the horrific murder of the French cartoonists/satirists which has stirred great support for freedom of speech. These individuals had the right to say what they wanted, no matter how vile. Here’s one characterization of their work:

you are underestimating the vulgarity of Charlie Hebdo. It goes beyond “offensive and immature”, the cartoons you describe are only the shallow end of the cesspool that is this publication. I grew up in France, I love the country and it’s people, and while I would defend to the death their right to do what they choose to do, I would never go as far as saying “I am Charlie”. Even for solidarity purposes. They are vile, divisive and go out of their way to insult matters of faith in ways that are just simply sick and deranged. (JMerkh’s comment to Chip MacGregor’s blog post “Je Suis Charlie”)

This latest wrinkle in the freedom of speech issue, then, has to do with whether offensive speech should still be free.

While we claim here in the US that the French satirists had the write to spoof and mock to their vile, insulting content, we don’t practice that same kind of free speech. If in doubt, think back to Donald Sterling who spoke in the privacy of his own home in a way that offended others and suffered the consequences for it.

University of California campuses and others across the country are famous for banning speech that is deemed offensive. Speakers have been dis-invited, funding has been cut off, student papers have been shut down.

NYTimes columnist David Brooks elaborated on this point in his article “I Am Not Charlie Hedbo”:

Public reaction to the attack in Paris has revealed that there are a lot of people who are quick to lionize those who offend the views of Islamist terrorists in France but who are a lot less tolerant toward those who offend their own views at home.

One example of this fact is the recent firing of the Atlanta fire chief Kevin Cochran. Cochran’s crime? He published a book that carried a few lines strongly condemning homosexuality, along with other sexual sins. First the mayor suspended Cochran and required him to take sensitivity training. At the end of his suspension, however, he was fired.

The mayor explained the decision:

I appreciate Chief Cochran’s service as fire chief. His personal religious beliefs are not an issue at all, despite the number of comments and emails I have been receiving on a daily basis. The city and my administration stand firmly in support of the right of religious freedom, freedom of speech and the right to freely observe their faith.” (“The Mayor of Atlanta Declares War on Religious Freedom”; for more information, see the Atlanta Sun Times)

George_Washington_freedom_of_speech_quoteSo the mayor affirms his belief in freedom of speech and yet fired Cochran for what he said.

I’ll say again: freedom of speech has become increasingly complicated. We’ve allowed public figures to be maligned in the name of free speech and pornography to run rampant under the same banner.

But the fire chief can’t say homosexuality is sin.

In fact in the US we’ve created a forbidden category called “hate speech” which apparently trumps the US Constitution’s protection of speech. Hate speech, you see, is not allowed.

And who determines what hate speech is?

Another of the free speech complications I mentioned.

Of course, if people didn’t malign others or say vile things about a particular religion or people group, then this topic would be moot. Free speech could be free because people regulated their own speech by determining if it is offensive and harmful to others. At the same time, groups and individuals could be a bit more forbearing rather than thin-skinned when someone directs criticism their way.

Are there really no ways of satirizing without being “sick and deranged”? Can we no longer state our religious beliefs without someone becoming offended?

The problem is clearly on both ends—speakers who have no filters for what comes out of their mouths, and hearers who assume an insult at the slightest hint of disagreement.

We’ve come a long way from the adage I was taught as a child: if you can’t say something nice, don’t talk at all is my advice.

Critique—which is the point of satire—doesn’t fall into the category of “nice,” but neither does it have to be offensive.

I wonder if there’s any hope that civilized people can once again discuss issues without rancor and name calling. It seems as if “to express an opinion” means “to offend others who see things differently.”

That certainly seems to be what the mayor of Atlanta thought.

I think we need two changes: 1) a renewal of free speech as opposed to a demand for politically correct speech and 2) a recommitment to civil discourse instead of slinging insults and engaging in vile and deranged satire.

Free Speech Dumped, So Bring On The Light


FedEx_Trucks_AlaskaThe NBA commissioner has ruled. Donald Sterling, owner of the LA Clippers, will be fined 2.5 million dollars and banned from NBA basketball. What’s more, the other team owners are being encouraged to vote him out as the owner of the Clippers. Apparently, they have the power to do so according to their constitution.

Never mind that Sterling made his racist comments in a private conversation without the knowledge that he was being taped. The commissioner responded to that fact by saying, The remarks are public now and they express what he thinks.

So there you have it. If someone says something offensive in private, he can be punished.

I cry over this. I hate that an eighty-year-old real estate mogul and sports team owner has horrible, racist attitudes. How many people has he hurt over the years with his money and power and influence? Even one is too many.

I also hate that this case of racism in high profile places sets a precedent for punishing speech because it is offensive to society. Truly, most people may not realize it, but free speech died today.

It’s horrible, I think, that something so clearly wrong—racist comments—should be at issue. But agreeing with or hating what Sterling said is not the issue. Free speech says the person holding a minority view has the right to voice his opinion. But apparently not any more.

I also hate the fact that this high profile case involving racist language has taken front stage. People died in a string of tornadoes in the Midwest and multiple people have lost their homes. A young man walked into an Atlanta area FedEx and started shooting, eventually killing himself. This just days after a boy in England stabbed his teacher to death.

Ukraine is facing the possibility of civil war, the Middle East peace deadline expired, an explosion in Syria killed dozens, gunmen stormed the Libyan parliament, over a hundred people have died in Saudi Arabi of the Mers (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) coronavirus, and the Yemen army initiated an offensive against al-Qaeda.

All I can think is, how dark is the world, how much people need the light.

The light is not a list of moral imperatives. It’s not a return to the values of our Constitution. It’s not even a love-your-neighbor campaign.

The Light is the Light of the world. And Christians have been called into that light, called to proclaim that light

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9)

Believers have been called out of darkness, but even more, we’ve been rescued from it:

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1:13-14)

Every person we know is either in the domain of darkness or the kingdom of light. There is no neutral territory. Everyone in the domain of darkness needs to be rescued. Granted, it is God who does the rescuing, but remarkably He earmarks those of us in His kingdom to be a part of the process. Here are ways God uses believers.

  • We can all pray—that God will send more workers into the harvest, for one. But also that He would open the spiritually blind eyes of those who do not know Him.
  • We can live life in a countercultural way that pleases Jesus.
  • We can be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give a defense of the hope that is in us.
  • We can go into the world and make disciples, starting next door, down the block, across the street.
  • We can support those who take up the mantle of missionary and move to the inner city or to a country in the 10/40 window or wherever God calls.

Above all, it’s time for Christians to step up, not to hunker down. It’s tempting to duck when battle rages around us. And make no mistake—we are in a battle:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:12)

But we are equipped, and we have our marching orders:

Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. (Eph. 6:13)

Yes, free speech has been dumped today, but more’s at stake—the eternal destiny of . . . well, everyone we know. So while it’s yet day, we’d best be about our real business.

Racism And Free Speech


ClipersDonald T. Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, has allegedly been taped during a conversation with his mistress in which he made numerous racist statements. At issue, apparently was his mistress posting pictures with various African-Americans as well as her attending Clippers games in the company of African-Americans. According to a tape played on TV’s TMZ program, Sterling wanted her to take the pictures down and not to come to games with African-Americans.

According to the US Constitution, Sterling has a right to say he doesn’t want his mistress to post pictures of African-Americans or to attend games in their company. But in the aftermath of this TMZ reveal, sportscasters and players and any number of people have called for sanctions from the NBA for his comments and, more drastically, for him to be denied the right to own an NBA franchise.

I thought the whole “free speech” right protected people from just such reprisal.

Mind you, I have no way of knowing if Donald Sterling harbors hatred for a race of people. He is of Jewish ethnicity, as I understand, which doesn’t mean he is or is not opposed to others because of their race. But supposing he were, does the majority of society, which agrees that racism is wrong, therefore have the right to punish him for stating his views, to the point of wresting his property from him?

This is a serious issue. It’s easy to make Donald Sterling a target, especially if you live in the LA area as I do. He’s sabotaged his own sports team any number of times by his questionable decisions and his unwillingness to pay the going salary for top level players. To learn that he has a mistress, that he said inappropriate, racial things to her, and that these things were taped, doesn’t seem surprising. Rather, it’s Donald Sterling being Donald Sterling—someone who goes his own way without regard to others, who is greedy, offensive, selfish, and mean spirited.

So, is society allowed to withhold the rights of greedy, offensive, selfish, mean-spirited people? Is it OK to revoke his First Amendment rights because he’s a jerk with racist views?

We might wish so.

But here’s why it’s not a good idea to get on that bandwagon. There is no telling who society will next label as offensive, mean-spirited, and selfish.

I have no doubt, for example, that there are feminists who would find my views about women and about abortion to be offensive and perhaps sexist, though they’d have a harder time pinning that label on me as a woman than they would on men who might hold the same opinions.

In the same way, a growing number of people would find my views about homosexuality offensive because I still consider same sex activity to be sin. In fact, my views about the sin nature of humankind also are offensive to some people, and they are in contradiction to the general trend of society.

So how are we to view free speech? Are people only free to say what they want without reprisal as long as we agree with them? Or as long as they aren’t rich or in highly visible occupations?

I added that last phrase because of the Westboro Baptist people who waved horrible signs at the funerals of any number of servicemen. I don’t know what kinds of efforts people made to stop them, though I know there were some. However, I don’t recall anyone suggesting they receive a monetary fine from the Baptist denomination or that their church be taken away from them.

Lots of people would like to see the Westboro Baptist protesters and the Donald Sterlings of this world punished. We’d like them to shut up and sit down. We’d like them to stop holding offensive views, wrong beliefs.

Except, I’m offended by Sterling having a mistress. I think he’s a sinner who ought to be criticized in the press for his promiscuity as much as for his racism. If he were a politician who was maintaining a mistress on the side, I’m pretty sure his immorality would become a bigger issue—at least if the racist question wasn’t also part of the conversation.

My point is, different things are offensive to different people. But when it comes to speech, it is not OK to silence someone or punish them just because we think they’re wrong.

It’s uncomfortable to speak out against reprisals aimed at Donald Sterling, but I kind of think it’s necessary. Otherwise, tomorrow those reprisals might be targeting Christians who believe gay marriage is no marriage or abortions are wrong.

Free speech allows us to be a people of law, not of popular opinion. It protects us from the lynch-mob mentality we worked so hard to overcome in the days when the government sanctioned racist hatred.

So now, we’re going to bring back the idea of reprisals against those we deem to be prejudice? Today we’re clamoring for Sterling’s head because of his racist views, but tomorrow the “prejudice” could be against sexist men or homophobe Christians or people wearing red.

Seriously. In certain parts of the city, wearing the wrong gang colors requires reprisal.

At some point, we citizens need to decide what our values are. Here in the US we talk a good game when it comes to freedom, but then a Donald Sterling tape surfaces, and suddenly “free speech” comes with the right to institute sanctions against “that kind of talk”—the kind that ought not to be allowed in the NBA or anywhere else, so the outraged say.

Well, yes, I wish people didn’t think less of others. I wish people didn’t judge others by the color of their skin. I wish people didn’t malign those with whom they disagree. But if they choose to do so, I get to say they are wrong, but I don’t get to hurt them or take their property or put them in jail or fine them.

It’s the downside of free speech, that people like Donald Sterling get to say offensive things. It’s the upside that the rest of us get to say how wrong he is without worrying that he’ll prevent those who wish to watch the Clippers from doing so.

%d bloggers like this: