There is no “but” after “freedom of speech.”

Unless we’re prepared to ban, or even discourage use of the Bible and Quran in public dialog just as we would a cartoon depicting Mohammed, then the current free speech discussion should be focused not on the use of political satire in society, but on the use of violence against our sacred right to speak, draw, write, and offend.

Article published by rebootillinois.com on 01/16/2015

By Brian T. Murphy; Photo: Associated Press.

Last week Muslim extremists in Paris entered into headquarters of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and began a murdering spree for the paper’s willingness to draw images depicting Islam’s prophet, Mohammed. Since then, several have suggested speech should be limited in cases of deliberately insulting material. An extreme example of this phenomenon is termed “hate speech.” Chicago is no stranger to this debate.

 

In the first week of January this year, the University of Chicago published their policy of freedom of expression, which affords students the “broadest possible latitude to speak” while simultaneously restricting speech that is “directly incompatible with the functioning of the University.” Despite ironic support from the Editorial Board of UC’s school newspaper, some have spoken out against such a policy.  

 

Between the UC’s new “free speech but…” policy and the attack on Charlie Hebdo, a healthy discussion was ignited. Several from the Chicago Tribune and Sun Times stood in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo and defended their right to publish whatever offenses they saw fit. Others like Marc Champion wrote in the Tribune “free speech is not absolute.” The Tribune also reported that Pope Francis supports limits to free expression. He even suggested that those who publish potentially insulting material bring this danger on themselves.

 

But is this a proper reaction to these events, or have we fallen victim to our own good intentions and overlooked the more glaring principle – that being offended is a right and requires no protection from the law?

 

The proper response to this event is not to censor those who draw a cartoon, or even suggest that they draw more tasteful images, rather it’s to use the rule of law to prosecute those who threaten the speech of newspapers and engage in pre-meditated violence when their demands are not met. It is our responsibility to lawfully weed out of society those who are willing to react violently because someone uttered insulting words, or drew a satirical picture. Political satire was born as a response to intolerance. The point of satire is to provoke.

 

Satirists wrote poems and plays to ridicule the British king and his colonial loyalists during the American Revolution, Voltaire spared no expense toward censorship and the Catholic Church, even Trey Parker and Matt Stone have torn into virtually every know system of belief through animation. Add to this company the Parisian newspaper Charlie Hebdo, who published a cartoon that incited an extreme wing of Islam to undertake a murderous rampage, as it has predictably done in the past for similar “offenses.”

 

But to those who wish to forbid the publication of insulting words or cartoons, it is not as philosophically simple as it seems; doing so is the inception of an unsettling precedent. If insult or potential for incitement are criteria for restricting speech, then are proponents of this ban prepared to apply this to all aggressive media? Take into consideration these two passages, which are among many of their kind:

 

“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” – The Bible; New International Version; Revelation, 21:8

 

“As for the unbelievers, there is the fire of Hell. It will neither consume them wholly that they should die, nor will its torment be lessened for them. That is how We requite the ungrateful. There they will cry for help…” – Quran; 35:36-37

 

Believers in the major monotheistic religions have overwhelmingly been kind to me in my lifetime, however I would be remiss to note that they regularly congregate in places where praise for these books is rampant and within these publications are concrete passages stating that upon my death I will burn and suffer in a place worse than anything this world has to offer. And this is not intended as satire; it is proclaimed as unobjectionable truth.

 

It would be difficult to design a more aggressive form of “hate speech” than telling me that I will burn in an eternal hell if I continue to be the person that I am today. This proclamation attacks the very essence of who I am and given its divine nature, shuts down further constructive discussion. Are we going to ban passages of the Bible because they condemn me and billions of others to an eternity of suffering? Should we arrest those who preach these passages of the Quran? Will I benefit from the same protection that may someday be afforded to followers of these religions because we stress that it is inappropriate to attack one’s beliefs?

 

Unless we’re prepared to ban, or even discourage use of the Bible and Quran in public dialog just as we would a cartoon depicting Mohammed, then the current free speech discussion should be focused not on the use of political satire in society, but on the use of violence against our sacred right to speak, draw, write, and offend.

 

The crux of freedom of speech is the freedom to say things that are inherently disagreeable. Otherwise this sacred right is hollow. And within this right includes drawing a picture of a man from over 1,000 years ago. The Parisian police officer Ahmed Merabet, a Muslim who bravely stood up to his attackers, died defending laws that allow such expression.

 

Given recent global events, the University of Chicago and the Editorial Board of its student newspaper need to be reminded of a simple principal: no one human being, nor a collection of elected human beings, can possess the insight required to decide what I am allowed to hear. I reserve the right to judge for myself, and this right is guaranteed to me by the First Amendment of our Constitution. Intimately tied to the freedom to speak are the freedom to listen, and subsequently the freedom to make a decision whether you should be offended.

 

As Salman Rushdie and several before him have eloquently said, there is no “but” after “freedom of speech.” And if you hear a “but,” maybe that is the one case in which you should stop listening.

Think for Yourself. Dissolve your Allegiances.