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Confusion about the Constitution

07 May 2015

I am sure our readers have been keeping up with the latest Islamic radicalism issue—the attempted terrorism in Garland, Texas at a Muhammed drawing contest.  The two terrorists were killed by police.  The featured participant and sponsor, Pamela Geller, was unharmed.  She had organized the event in order to promote free speech in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacres in France.  Now it seems Ms. Geller is getting flak from the predictable quarters.  Muslim activists and imams are attacking her, one asserting that she should be tried and executed under Sharia Law.  Others have issued a fatwa against her, a call to Muslims to kill her.  Liberals have accused her of bringing the attack on herself and some have even suggested that free speech should be curtailed when, as they claim, it becomes “hate speech.”  Even some more conservative pundits have condemned Ms. Geller for her bad motives in sponsoring the contest in the first place, knowing it was risky—being as they say “in your face.”

I could have predicted this reaction.  In fact I did.  But the critics have confused a good many issues in their zeal to protect radicalism at all costs.  As Christians, let us assume that we ought not to actively engage in speech and actions that might provoke others to violence.  That holds for any similar kind of action aimed at any person or group—“live a quiet life,” we are told, though this certainly does not foreclose all speech that might offend others.  Sometimes offense is taken for the slightest of reasons.  Be that as it may, we don’t go around provoking.  And some might argue that Ms. Geller did that very thing.

But having said that, there is a very big difference between what a Christian ought to do and what our own Constitution without doubt allows individuals to do.  To say that such speech is “hate speech” is to imply that such speech is somehow different from other types of speech, and therefore is not protected.  That is simply ludicrous.  The courts are clear on that.  The Constitution is pretty clear too.  But activists and radicals don’t get it—because they don’t want to.

Radical Muslims can use it to drum up violence, further attacks, and also much more sensitive treatment by feigning offense.  This doesn’t hold water as a defense or an offense.  Do Christians and Jews, whom seem to be increasingly the butt of jokes, rude speech, hate, etc., respond with the kind of violence we saw in Texas?  No, I cannot name one such incident from Christians or Jews for explicitly religious reasons that we saw in Garland and was articulated afterward.

Liberals, including the media for the most part and the university intelligentsia, too are calling for the restriction of free speech.  It is a bit ironic that they want to restrict speech critical of radical Islam but not speech directed at Christians or Jews.  Even so, what they want is just as ridiculous.

I don’t advocate that Christians ought to go out of our way to prove we have free speech rights and will stand for them.  At the same time, I don’t advocate cowering in abject fear of radicalism.  We speak when we need to speak.  But we should also be clear that the Constitution makes no distinction between what some call “hate speech” (which is too often just a euphemism for speech with which they disagree) and regular speech.  It says simply that “Congress shall make no laws respecting…freedom of speech….”  So I will defend what Ms. Geller did even if I might question its wisdom.