free speech

Gordon College. Image via Mark Spooner / Gordon College / RNS

A Gordon College philosophy professor is suing her employer for allegedly breaching her free speech rights and retaliating after she publicly criticized the Christian school for its policy of not hiring sexually active gays and lesbians.

Image via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

The debate that began when students learned that Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards would speak at the nation’s oldest Catholic university continued when she received a standing ovation at Georgetown’s Lohrfink Auditorium. The media was not permitted inside, but students who heard her said she defended her organization’s stances and urged abortion opponents to respect those who think women should have choice in their reproductive decisions.

Walter Brueggemann 09-08-2015

Image via /Shutterstock

Many countries in the global community do not have the right to free speech. In the U.S., our right to speak out is protected under the Constitution. How well do we live up to the responsibility granted with that freedom?

The Epistle of James is written to urge Christians to practice the ethic of Israel’s covenantal, prophetic tradition. In this particular text, the apostle reflects on the enormous power of speech and the potential of the tongue for doing good or evil. Appeal to the covenantal, prophetic tradition of Israel may suggest two connections for us. First, the covenantal commandments of Sinai, the Ten Commandments, already have in their purview the cruciality of "right speech" — the ninth commandment prohibits "false witness."

The original reference concerns testimony in court. In larger horizon, however, the commandment pertains to the neighbor.

Our first response to the horrible and frightening violence of Paris should be grief.
What concerns me is his apparent belief that religion should have special protection when it comes to free speech.
Karyn Wiseman 01-20-2015
Photo via CRM /

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

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.

Christian Piatt 01-06-2015
Image via Heartland Arts /

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

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. 

Richard Wolf 03-21-2014

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.

Danny Duncan Collum 11-02-2012

Should America reconsider our open market in bigoted ideas?

Eboo Patel 11-02-2012

It's frustrating to be constantly represented by violent thugs and to be asked to explain their actions.

Sandi Villarreal 07-30-2012
Bible and flag, JustASC /

Bible and flag, JustASC /

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.

Julie Polter 06-15-2012

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

Jim Wallis 10-14-2011

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.

Daoud Kuttab 02-18-2011
Ten years ago, I established AmmanNet, the Arab world's first Internet radio that used technology to create audio and text content freely.
Andrew Simpson 10-18-2010
[Editor's Note: Myths and misinformation abound when it comes to the topic of immigration reform.
Eboo Patel 05-11-2010
A few days back, small groups of college students at Northwestern,
Abram Huyser Honig 02-24-2010
Forty-one months ago, almost to the day, I was at my desk in the office of the Honduran Christian justice organization Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa (Association for a More J
Benedict Rogers 02-12-2010

Google's vow to pull out of China last month was partly based on the discovery that human rights activists' Gmail accounts had been hacked into, purportedly by Chinese intelligence. As a human rights advocate, this is worrying news for all who seek to fight for justice around the world.

Lisa Haugaard 12-01-2009
Elections took place Sunday, Nov. 29 in Honduras with National Party leader Porfirio Lobo declared the winner.