“What did you say ’bout my Momma?!”
Imagine that you are speaking together with the Pope and you decide to say something terrible about his mother.
In this hypothetical situation, what does he do next?
He punches you.
In the wake of the attack on the satire publisher Charlie Hebdo in France, Pope Francis answered questions from the press aboard his plane, wherein he said that Freedom of Speech does not extend to ridicule of religions. On a flight to Manila on January 15th, he stated, “Everyone has not only the freedom and the right but the obligation to say what he thinks for the common good … we have the right to have this freedom openly without offending.” He gestured to an aide and, “It is true that you must not react violently, but although we are good friends if (he) says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch, it’s normal.”
Somehow through amazing mental gymnastics, not reacting violently and punching people are advocated in the same sentence.
There is a quote I heard one time having something to do with turning the other cheek… I’m trying to remember who said this, but it is hard to recall…
Oh yeah, his BOSS said that!
Pope Francis’ boss, A.K.A. The Savior of the World, suggested that punching someone might not be the first way to respond to offense.
The good news is that as a man, the Pope can be forgiven for impulsive words, or even the desire to physically defend his mother’s honor.
Now that I’m done having fun with the thought of getting a ‘papal punch’, I want to comment on the deeper issue here.
The Pope also said, “I think both freedom of religion and freedom of expression are both fundamental human rights.” He is correct, they are fundamental rights, and this means they would have the least possible restrictions among any class of rights. Just as people have the right to worship as they please in spite of others’ objections, people can express their ideas in spite of the offense that others may take. We do apply minimal restrictions for time, place, and manner, as in the prohibition against falsely yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. For the right to have any relevance, it must be largely unrestricted.
If I were the Pope (let’s all pause for a moment to be thankful that I am not), I would have focused my remarks on exercising personal responsibility in our speech. Especially as Christians, people would do good to be gentle to each other. There is a great deal of power in exercising restraint and in using our freedoms for good rather than harm. The problem is in claiming that there is a broad limit on the freedom. Such a limit would nullify the right.
I don’t care for some speech. In fact, the things some people say is abhorrent. We must defend their right to say it, though, if we expect our own right to be meaningful. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite movie quotes, spoken by Michael Douglas’ character in The American President.
“America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours…. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the ‘land of the free’.”