CONGRESS SHALL MAKE NO LAW RESPECTING AN ESTABLISHMENT OF RELIGION, OR PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE THEREOF: OR ABRIDGING THE FREEDOM OF SPEECH, OR OF THE PRESS: OR THE RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE PEACEABLY TO ASSEMBLE, AND TO PETITION THE GOVERNMENT FOR A REDRESS OF GRIEVANCES.
So reads one of the most powerful statements ever made by any group of thinkers, the founding fathers of this great country as they fashioned THE FIRST AMENDMENT to the constitution in the year 1791.
CONGRESS shall make no law, so reads the Amendment. That is so very important because the First Amendment applies only to THE CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES, and not the respective STATES of the United States then existing or as later admitted to the union. States, two centuries ago were therefore free to treat religion as they would and were not prevented by the First Amendment from even establishing a state religion if the citizens so choose. Interesting distinction, don’t you think?
CONGRESS, says the First Amendment emphatically so, shall make NO law. None whatsoever, none of any kind, especially one which would ABRIDGE the freedom of speech, or of the press. So then the prohibition to Congress included not only making no law, any law which affected the freedom of speech, but also preventing Congress from doing even indirectly what it could not legally do directly, that is abridging the freedom of speech. No words of any kind can be forbidden or abridged:
Interestingly, the concept of freedom of speech was a right of early American legislators to be used by them in critical ways against the British and the king. But by 1776, Americans were treating freedom of speech as a right of citizens against the government in general and not only for legislators. The prohibition against Congress in the First Amendment was interpreted by the courts to mean that there could be:
NO PRIOR RESTRAINT
Against speech of any kind. But from that time forward, there was every attempt by Congress, even the President to whittle away the concept of UNBRIDLED FREEDOM OF SPEECH, so that when words were uttered, those words could and often did produce consequences both legal and personal. Courts determined through legal interpretation that if words produced actions or deeds which resulted in dire consequences, harm to another, legal remedies applied. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, one famous Supreme Court Justice indicated in essence that there were words which were not constitutionally protected, such as “shouting fire in a theater” when there was none. Justice Holmes exact words were:
“The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.”
In other words, if words uttered without prior restraint falsely produced a panic, the speaker could be held viable for any consequent damages, causally related to those words. In further qualifying, or perhaps even abridging the right of free speech, Justice Holmes went on to state the following:
“The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.”
If therefore, said Holmes, words produce a clear and present danger, and those words bring about:
However that may be defined, Congress does have a right to prevent that, so said Holmes. Of course those words and the Holmes opinions were soundly challenged, but nonetheless became law, legal precedent and many think allowed Congress to either violate or ignore the express prohibition of the First Amendment making qualifying legislation when they are prohibited from doing any, or abridging, qualifying or interpreting words-free speech after the fact. Fascinating indeed, is it not, how Congress and the courts can interpret away the clear and exact words of a fundamental and powerful Amendment. If words have consequences, and if they present a clear and present danger under the circumstances, and if those words produce substantive evils, Congress can regulate such words and provide legal, financial and even penal consequences to them. The courts then created a right in Congress, not existing in the Constitution, to interpret, and even prohibit free speech and the expression thereof if the TIME, manner and place in which the speech was uttered clearly indicated those words would produce dire consequences:
In short, whenever Congress decided that words were substantive evil-producing, those words could be regulated, even prohibited. That, my fellow Americans, is ABRIDGING and even eviscerating the clear wording and intention of the First Amendment, don’t you think? Fast forward 225 years. The First Amendment and Freedom of Speech become ever more fragile. Now comes HATE SPEECH, however that is defined. Presumably, if the hearer of words determines in an individual way that the speaker of the words was hateful, or intended the words with hate in the heart, those words could produce harm to the hearer and consequently could have legal consequences. As an example, if one dared to say that marriage was a union between a man and woman, LGBT could be offended, declare the statement hate speech and go after the speaker and his speech legally whether civil or even criminal. In that regard, there came an excellent article in DECISION MAGAZINE, published by the Billy Graham organization entitled:
THE CULTURE OF OFFENDEDNESS
Mohler asks the question:
IS THERE SUCH A THING AS THE RIGHT NOT TO BE OFFENDED?
If one for example spoke against abortion, which in turns brought down the wrath of feminist and women’s rights groups, would such groups have the right to legal action, declaring anything said negatively about abortion as hateful and consequently OFFENSIVE. So they sue, or blacklist, or turn to Congress to declare that such words do in fact produce substantive EVILS, a blatant and hateful attack on women’s rights which is OFFENSIVE. The words have aroused an emotional state in the hearer which then results in some real or perceived insult to their belief system whether or not such a state of OFFENDEDNESS results in any real harm. It is the end result of having been offended which itself is the substantive evil. You hurt my feelings. I will therefore come after you.
Historically, offendedness resulted only when there were very serious matters at work such as causing the hearer to be brought down or even to be crushed. But today, desperate straits are no longer required for an individual or group to claim the emotional status of offendedness. All that is required, says Mohler, is often the vaguest notion of emotional distaste at what another has said, done, proposed or presented. Words from both hearer and listener then produce conflict, often real and of more harm than the words themselves, preventing dialogue and discussion and turning words into weapons.
In short, there now comes in our culture a demand for a new right and that is:
THE RIGHT NEVER TO BE OFFENDED
No matter that there is absolutely no constitutional basis for such a right, but it seems as though more of our citizens in our culture actually accept such a right as legitimate whether constitutional or not. That is especially so when such a concept is promoted by the media, by government, and by activist groups.
The distinguished Christian philosopher Paul Helms argues that the “social value” of OFFENDEDNESS is now increasing. Helms states the following:
“All that is necessary for a claim to be taken seriously is for the claim to be offered. You hurt my feelings, you activated an emotional, hurtful state in me and therefore I am offended.”
Such a reaction, says Helms, can do nothing but deeply fracture our society and turn one citizen against another, not to mention the absolute stifling of free speech and freedom of opinion. What a sad day for America. Al Mohler states the following:
“The risk of being offended is simply part of what it means to live in a diverse culture that honors and celebrates free speech.”
In short, to live in a free society with free speech carries risk for all, that is the risk of being offended. I am offended by pornography but it exists whether I like it or not. I am offended by magazines like Hustler and Playboy but they exist under the protection of the First Amendment whether I like it or not. I may be offended by those publications but I have no right to legal action as a result of my being offended against those magazines.
There are those now who are deeply offended by Christianity, radical secularists who do everything in their power to stifle or eliminate free speech when the content thereof is Christian. The need of a man or woman for a Christian experience, so testifies the Christian, can be viewed as hateful for it implies that the one in need is sinful in conduct which makes the speech hate speech, harmful and offensive to the hearer. Freedom of religion under the First Amendment, and the exercise thereof, including speech and witness as part of that exercise and more of the First Amendment comes into play with the attempt to eliminate or at least ABRIDGE the right of religious free speech. You may be entitled to believe what you wish but you are not, say these secularists entitled to verbalize those beliefs in the form of witness or testimony for fear of causing OFFENDEDNESS in the hearer. That sentiment, that prohibition is growing rapidly in our even more rapidly growing secularized culture and the fracturing of our society in terms of dialogue, as Helms has indicated, heightens every day.
Al Mohler goes on to say the following:
“A right to free speech means a right to offend.”
That it does indeed. In short, the right to offend is inherent in free speech on the part of the speaker. The risk of being offended by the hearer is the counterpart to that equation so that, if one chooses to listen, that listener runs the risk of being offended. And that is precisely what the First Amendment means and attempts to protect as the guardian of free speech. But the secularist persists with aggressively intent, even hatefully so, on pushing this proposed right, and especially so with being offended by confrontation with the Christian Gospel. So aggressive is the cultural war over the First Amendment and Christian witness that Mohler states as follows:
“Christians must understand a particular responsibility to protect free speech and to resist this culture of offendedness that threatens to shut down all public discourse.”
Does it ever. One should have the right, the absolute right to discuss beliefs, values, morality at every turn and the only right of the listener is not to listen, not the right not to be offended.
The idea, says Mohler, that any kind of free society can be constructed in which people will never be offended or insulted is absurd. So too, he says, is the notion that people should have the right to call on the law to defend them against being offended or insulted. Rather, the law protects offensive speech under the First Amendment, fully protects it. We who live democratically can very much become upset with each other. We can argue vehemently, whether rational or irrational. But the right to argue, the freest possible discourse is our absolute and fundamental right under the First Amendment. That should not now or ever be abridged in any way.
In this regard, I as a Christian find the words of the Apostle Paul so spot on. Paul reminds us in Corinthians that the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has always been considered OFFENSIVE by those who reject it. The cross, the blood, forgiveness from sin, and even sin itself as Christianity would recognize is in fact offensive to the non-Christian no matter how true. Even as the claims of Islam are offensive to Christians, or perhaps even secularists. But, says Mohler, adherence of other belief systems will be equally free to present their truth claims in an equally public manner. This is simply the cost of religious liberty. I have no problem with witness from any other religion. I HAVE THE RIGHT NOT TO LISTEN!
The Apostle Paul goes on to state that the preaching of the cross is FOOLISHNESS to non-believers. Something foolish to that hearer can be regarded as offensive and consequently hate speech. And further, says Paul, the preaching of Christianity and the cross is a STUMBLING BLOCK to the hearer, more offense and hate. Well, so be it. It is a right of the Christian to testify and witness even as it is for the secularist to testify and witness against religion and especially Christianity. By the way, when rabid secularists attack Christianity and all things Christian, is that not hate speech or conduct at work, even at its worst? By their rules, I would have the right to be offended and again by their rules, I would have the right to legal redress of their hateful actions under the doctrine of OFFENDEDNESS. No matter how irrational or emotional the reaction, I would then have the right to be offended because of the actions of the ACLU, or ACORN or the Southern Poverty Law Center, or any other similar organization for attacking the principles in which I believe. Professor Helms was spot on when he said that such a concept, OFFENDEDNESS would not only divide America but fracture, FRACTURE our society, verbally turning us against each other.
There exists an organization known as the Southern Poverty Law Center. This organization deals in hate, attempts to identify it, at least what it thinks hate is, and blacklist, criticize and demonize those who it deems as hateful. Recently, this supposed civil rights organization attacked Dr. Benjamin Carson, the retired pediatric neurosurgeon and likely 2016 Republican Presidential contender. The SPLC added Carson to its:
EXTREMIST WATCH LIST
No matter to the Southern Poverty Law Center that Ben Carson is widely considered as one of the most positive role models for all and especially young black males in modern America. SPLC added Carson to the extremist watch list because, are you ready for this, Dr. Ben Carson had the audacity to state:
“MARRIAGE IS BETWEEN A MAN AND A WOMAN.”
For such a statement, Dr. Carson was publicly defamed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and held up to ridicule by being portrayed, are you ready for this:
“AS AKIN TO THE KU KLUX KLAN AND THE NAZI PARTY.”
Shocking, is it not? The alleged hateful speech, marriage is between a man and a woman, surely brings out the deep rooted and angry hated in so many other haters who pursue the GOSPEL OF OFFENDEDNESS. What a tragic day for America. The clear majority of all Americans do in fact believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. The vast majority of such believers would never think in terms of trying to stifle the free speech of homosexuals, LGBT groups and the like as they propose their ideas that marriage should be between a man and a man and a woman and a woman as well. In our free and Democratic society, each opposing point of view would have the freedom to believe in, testify and speak about, and work for the accomplishment of those objectives under the rights granted by the First Amendment. Those rights should never be changed much less eliminated or America will fundamentally change in the very worst possible ways. The end of or even the legislative abridging of the right to free speech signals the end of a free society.
Which brings us inevitably to the discussion of Charlie Hebdo. Perhaps there was no more aggressive publishing entity in the exercise of freedom of speech and freedom of press. They pushed such freedoms to the very limit, the extreme perhaps. Charlie and its publisher known as Charb were masters in satire, irony and even mockery. Charlie attacked virtually every religion. Publisher Charb said the following:
“Mohammad isn’t sacred to me.”
And therefore, I and my publication can do or say anything we wish about him. Charb often bragged that he would never give up the attack, in his words:
“Until Islam is just as banal as Catholicism.”
The man was a radical atheist, hated religion and vowed to do everything possible in non-violent ways to destroy religion, ALL RELIGIONS. Consequently, he relentlessly provoked Muslims at every turn.
And so Charlie Hebdo published the famous, or perhaps infamous cartoons which some labeled an irreverent mode of expression while others regarded them as mocking, profane and disparaging people in the most blasphemous ways. Some were even obscene and destructive. That led one writer to state that Charb and his co-editors and writers:
“Were vile pornographers disguised as cartoonists.”
They harbored a special hatred of Muslims and Christians.
Writer Bill Donohue reminds us that freedom of speech may indeed have well-established limits and First Amendment protections do not, he says, apply to obscenity, libel, slander, harassing phone calls, incitement to riot, fighting words, copyright infringement, false advertising, misrepresenting one’s credentials, treason and bribery.
Perhaps he is right and Charb and Charlie were wrong. Donohue thinks that even if we grant cartoonists and others the legal right to maliciously denigrate someone’s religion, no one has a moral right to do so. But if Charlie had the legal right to publish the cartoons, then moral reactions should be individual, at the personal level, without prior restraint no matter the ultimate OFFENDEDNESS. So say the defenders of Charlie. What do you think?
But our culture has so radically changed that it has resulted in, as Donohue says, a cultural descent. That is, the loss of civility by people toward the religious faith of another. We have indeed. But the issue is whether or not non-violent publications, expressions of speech, should be met with violent reactions, and consequently the murder of 12 people in the exercise of freedom of speech, whether like it or not. No speech, no matter how offensive, should produce that kind of reaction, extremist and jihadist Islam at work, Muslims willing to kill for the faith.They may have had a right to be angry, but they had no right to kill.
Franklin Graham of the Billy Graham Organization weighed in and said the following:
“I fully and completely support freedom of speech and freedom of the press. I also believe that we must recognize that this freedom can be abused. Certain strains of public expression can have serious consequences.”
Respect that I have for Mr. Graham, I am not certain what he means by full support of freedom of speech and press but at the same time indicate that the freedom can be abused. That takes what is objective on the one hand and turns it subjective on the other. There are indeed consequences to everything, everything. But there are more radical, dire and hurtful consequences to America, our culture, our citizens and our freedoms if there is any diminution of, infringement of or abridging, modifying or interpreting away the First Amendment’s protections:
FREEDOM OF SPEECH
FREEDOM OF PRESS
We must run the risk of free speech for we have no right not to be offended for any area of disagreement produces offense of one degree or another. Our only right is the right NOT TO LISTEN. Everyone had the right not to read, view or otherwise hear the words of Charlie as the publication attacked Islam. They had no right, no legal right to sue and they had no right to violence of any kind! I urge you, my fellow citizens, to standup for the First Amendment, for free speech, whether religious or not and to protect and defend what is inherent in those First Amendment rights:
THE RISK OF BEING OFFENDED
Offendedness because of what some may believe to be hate speech will eventually utterly destroy the First Amendment. And with it, our free society, our democracy, and with that, the prohibition to testify, witness or otherwise tell the world what we believe. Standup and speak out my fellow Americans. The First Amendment protects that, encourages that.
Speak up or those who are so easily offended in our society will make you: