Respect and the Freedom of Speech

Dear Pope Francis,

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris are awful, and, like many other attacks, draw other issues to the light. This time, it’s the freedom of the press.

Let me say from the outset that I think freedom of the press is important. It is imperative that people have an opportunity to express their beliefs using the printed word and editorial cartoons. But is there a point when this is taken too far? People were obviously offended by what Charlie Hebdo was publishing about Islam, even though it was intended to be satire. Does this mean there needs to be a level of civility in the freedom of the press? I can’t speak to the content of Charlie Hebdo, as I’ve never read it or knowingly seen any of their editorial cartoons, but this question goes beyond this one tragic incident.

I know that the opinions Meredith and I express in these letters are not held by everyone in the Catholic Church, and certainly not in the world. But when I sit down to write to you each week, I don’t do so with a malicious intent towards anyone else. These letters provide me an opportunity to think more deeply about things, and a platform from which to share these ideas. I would hope that journalists and cartoonists don’t set out to offend anyone when they sit down to write or draw either.

These ideas are then juxtaposed with the scandal around the American television show 19 Kids and Counting, starring the Duggar family. This scandal stemmed from the family’s involvement with the pro-life movement and advocating against laws granting more freedoms to trans-gendered people. Many people took issue with how these beliefs have been expressed, particularly because they seem to revert back to a time when being homosexual was unacceptable and illegal, thus infringing on other human rights. As a result, protesters called for the Duggar’s show to be cancelled.

While people jumped to the defence of the Duggar family on the basis of the freedom of speech, I see a parallel with the freedom of the press. What gives anyone the right to take away someone’s right to express their beliefs, whether or not we agree with them? This right does not take away the importance of being civil and respectful, nor does it matter whether it is print journalism, cartoons, a speech or an interview. What I see developing is a horrible double standard: if we are going to poke fun at religion, then it is acceptable to be shared with the world, but when someone stands up and expresses their religious beliefs clearly and chooses to stand by them, it’s a problem.

I don’t necessarily agree with everything either group, Charlie Hebdo (what I know of them) or the Duggars, expressed in their opinions, nor how they presented it, but there needs to be more civil ways of addressing my concerns than resorting to violence and eliminating one’s platform. Maybe that means getting involved in organizations that have the power to lobby the government or raise awareness in the public. Maybe it’s as simple as a writing a letter. Regardless of how it is done, it needs to be done in a way that fosters dialogue and respect, not violence and hatred.

Praying for the world,


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