Free Speech

“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful.”   I Corinthians 6:12

My first acting role as a college freshman was a small bit part in The Importance of being Earnest. This was in the 70’s, and the school I was at was still stuck in the 60’s. One over-aged hippie in the show enjoyed his self-righteous pronouncements and his Jesus jokes. One evening in the makeup room, he was going after it, and I was through listening to it. I asked him nicely to knock off the Jesus jokes, and his laughing reply was “Freedom of speech, man!”

I told him the Founding Fathers wrote in that right to ensure an even-handed political process. Freedom of speech is freedom of political expression, not freedom to be offensive. Shamed, he hardly said a word off stage the rest of the night. I never heard another Jesus joke out of him.

The memory of that from so many years ago came rushing back to me in response to the shooting in Texas at the cartoon contest. Pamela Geller, 56, president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (a questionable name at best, considering her actions) is framing it as a free speech issue. It is not. It is an issue of being offensive.

I am not sympathetic to the Muslim murderous responses to anyone they feel has smeared their prophet. All the same, I see no reason to go baiting them. It’s stupid, it’s adding fuel to an already burning conflagration. She had to know she’d get a violent reaction, even if she didn’t suspect murder. All the same, I lay all of those deaths at her feet. Innocent people died for her hubris. I doubt it is even remotely possible to charge her, but she bears responsibility all the same.

She claims freedom of speech, a lawful expression. Well, it may be lawful, but it was not helpful. If St. Paul, a Roman citizen with sweeping rights and a “Pharisee of Pharisees” knows to curb his rights in the pursuit of peace and God’s Word, who is anyone – ever – to claim rights and use them to offend?

She said that inoffensive speech needs no protection. Offensive speech is what needs protection.

What? While I may inadvertently offend someone in the course of a debate, such conversations must be held with civility. Deliberately saying or doing something that is calculated to offend needs to be curbed! Being offensive for its own sake is not proper, not American, and not Christian.

We have these rights, but it is incumbent upon each of us to exercise them responsibly and with consideration for our fellow citizens, whether of the USA or the world.

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