free speech

Free Speech, Big Fish, and Calls from God

Photo via CRM / Shutterstock.com

A protester holds a giant pencil at a march in support of free speech for Charlie Hebdo. Photo via CRM / Shutterstock.com

The Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris was an act of absolute evil. The fact that people sitting down for a simple editorial meeting at their work site could be killed due to hate is disturbing beyond words. It is a tragedy for all involved – for those killed, for the family and friends of those killed inside of the Charlie Hebdo headquarters, for the officer killed on the street outside, and for those involved in the hostage situations as the perpetrators were tracked down. It is also a tragedy for Muslims, Christians, Jews, and others who often find themselves being impacted by radical fringe elements who often do not represent the basic tenants of their faith or beliefs.

It can be so hard to watch these violent terrorist events unfold around the world. And we often try to explain them way too quickly. In this instance, some immediately blamed all Muslims for the attacks. Others immediately chastised the editorial decisions of Charlie Hebdo and the cartoons this satirical magazine has published of the Prophet Mohammed. Still others protest that this is a “simple” free speech situation. They say that the cartoons posted by Charlie Hebdo were satire but harmless and that the attackers were trying to silence them.

But free speech is an interesting and complicated thing. The question is often about the limits of free speech.

Why Christians Should Support the 'Satanic' Statue in Oklahoma

Image via Heartland Arts / Shutterstock.com

Goat-horned figure similar to the Baphomet statue proposed by the Church of Satan. Image via Heartland Arts / Shutterstock.com

Oklahoma may seem an unlikely place for what has been called a satanic sculpture to be installed on government property. In fact, there may be no better place for it.

Considered by many to be the buckle in the proverbial Bible Belt, the statehouse in Oklahoma City has boasted a sculpture of the Ten Commandments, paid for by Oklahoma State Representative Mike Ritze, for some time. Actually, the statue is in the process of being rebuilt after a man who heard voices in his head urinated on the monument and then crashed into it with his car.

Perhaps most interesting is the legal groundwork laid to allow such a religious statue to be placed on public property. To avoid church/state separation issues, the property on which the statue was placed was declared as a monument park, and Ritze donated the piece. Finally, Ritze claimed protection under the First Amendment as a basis for a religious icon being on government grounds.

But they set legal precedent for other groups, like the Church of Satan, to do the same thing. They have actually agreed to halt plans for the installation if Ritze and his supporters will not replace the destroyed Ten Commandments statue. At this point, Ritze intends to proceed, while also fighting the placement of the other piece.

There are at least three important factors to consider including:

1) The First Amendment applies to thing we don’t like. 

Justices May Decide if Photographers can Snub Gay Weddings

Elaine Huguenin, co-owner of Elane Photography in Albuquerque, N.M. Photo courtesy Alliance Defending Freedom. Via RNS.

When Vanessa Willock wanted an Albuquerque photographer to shoot her same-sex commitment ceremony in 2006, she contacted Elane Photography. The response came as a shock: Co-owner Elaine Huguenin said she only worked on “traditional weddings.”

“Are you saying that your company does not offer your photography services to same-sex couples?” Willock asked by e-mail.

“Yes, you are correct in saying we do not photograph same-sex weddings,” Huguenin responded.

Now 7 1/2 years after that e-mail exchange, the Supreme Court is considering whether to referee the dispute.

What Religious Freedom Is — And Is Not

Bible and flag, JustASC / Shutterstock.com

Bible and flag, JustASC / Shutterstock.com

Right now, it’s difficult to voice a call for civility surrounding religious debates without backlash that you’re stomping on rights or stifling someone’s voice. But here’s hoping.

Religious freedom. What does it mean, and what were we promised? In Sunday’s New York Times, Ross Douthat — columnist and author of Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics — points out that we have a guaranteed right not only to religious belief, but to religious exercise. That right to religious exercise, he argues, is violated in cases like the HHS mandate and the Chick-fil-A debacle. 

From Douthat’s piece:

“If you want to fine Catholic hospitals for following Catholic teaching, or prevent Jewish parents from circumcising their sons, or ban Chick-fil-A in Boston, then don’t tell religious people that you respect our freedoms. Say what you really think: that the exercise of our religion threatens all that’s good and decent, and that you’re going to use the levers of power to bend us to your will.”

From here, people tend to go to extremes. On one side: boycott everything whose owner you have a philosophical or religious disagreement with on a personal level. But really do it. Sure it’s easy enough to shun fast food, but enough research will likely prove that our American dream to be comfortable far outweighs our attention span. (Please excuse my cynicism, and please let me know if any of you are successful in this endeavor. I’ll tip my hat to you.) 

Of course, it cuts both ways. Extremism comes in a variety of political preferences, so I’ll throw this out there as well: No, there is not a “war on religion” in the United States.

Michigan Legislator Silenced

NPR reports that Michigan state representative Lisa Brown was not allowed speak on other legislation yesterday after she made a speech against a bill restricting abortion in which she used the word "vagina." A Republican spokesperson said Brown had violated the "decorum of the House."

"Brown called a press conference, today," the Detroit Free Press reports. "She defended her use of the word "vagina," saying it is the "anatomically medically correct term."

"If they are going to legislate my anatomy, I see no reason why I cannot mention it," she said according to the Free Press.

"Regardless of their reasoning, this is a violation of my First Amendment rights and directly impedes my ability to serve the people who elected me into office," Brown added in a statement released by her office.

Read more here

Statement from Jim Wallis on Friday's "Cleaning" of NYC's Zuccotti Park

Bold leadership means that Mayor Bloomberg should do what he can to allow these protests to continue, even if he doesn't agree with them. As an elected official, it is essential that the mayor find a way to protect demonstrators' free speech and right to assemble.

The freedom to protest is one of the things that has made this country great and its abridgement is an affront to us all.

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