This topic could be Limitations on Freedom of Speech. The Question that arises – are there benefits to restrictions on Freedom of Speech. In the realm of human discourse we have come face-to-face with challenges to religious authority, totalitarian authority, repressive governments, political differences, cultural differences, religions, ideology, racial elements, and hate. Changes in attitudes, aptitudes and platitudes. When is the line crossed to engender a need to impose limits?
What is blasphemy – to the dictionary we go – to Blaspheme – (from Dictionary.com) “1. to speak impiously or irreverently of (God or sacred things). 2. To speak evil of; slander, abuse.”
As to definition #1, beyond attacking God, or for Islam, Allah, where do we draw a line in the sand as to that which is permissible and that which is not. Who makes that decision? An interesting question to seriously ponder is who punishes those who blaspheme God? Is that not God’s purview, and then which God, the Trinitarian God, Allah, or another. Why would man take on such responsibility? What is man’s right to so punish? As to definition #2, then we enter an area of civil discourse. To overtly slander another, to do so wrongly and maliciously, causing harm, falls into the arena of civil justice.
An earlier Blog [Understanding Islam – Part 22 – (“Blasphemy” Against Islam)] also discusses Blasphemy.
Blasphemy Laws? Can we, should we, have we the right to control what people say. Is there any justifiable rational to inhibit opposing expressions, concerns or questions? Call it hate speech, contradictory comments, differences of opinion, doubts raised, or simply alternate views from an established position, be it any comment that is counter to preferred standards, religious, ideological, or otherwise, who has the right to impose constraints? Must control be in the form of enforcement using police or security forces, or can it be constrained simply in the open-air of public opinion – such as in the newspapaers, exposing those making malisious claims, or inflamatory statements, or on TV, stealth interviews, or direct confrontation and debates on-air, and the like?
Presented are three fictitious situations that you mind find disturbing.
Mr. Bead lived in the United Country of The People (UCTP). He thought he was free and could make decisions on his own. Recently his government passed a Law that identified areas that if verbally attacked could result in punishment to the one speaking the words. It was a new Blasphemy Law. Mr. Bead’s neighbor was his political representative.
On seeing his neighbor, a leading and distinguished politician, walking his dog, Mr. Bead came from his house, approached this man and called him “stupid.”
This politician took offense suggesting Mr. Bead was defaming his character. “How can you call me that?” He asked.
“You supported the Blasphemy Law, Bob. This is just wrong. How far will this abuse of free speech go?”
“How can you say that. It protects the majority of the people. It protects your representatives. It is a good bill and will take all those crazies, misguided people off the streets.” Was Bob’s response
“Then I must be misguided. Call me crazy. It stifles free expression.” – Mr. Bead
“Well it should. There is just some talk out there that is wrong and libelous, in fact or borderline. There is too much hate and too little civility.” — Bob
“That may be true, but this bill is not like a hate bill that focuses on statements aimed at a specific individual. It takes in whole groups. That’s not hate. If someone lies about another, a person, then yes that’s wrong. But it includes groups labelled as identity groups. That can be anything.” – Mr. Bead
“Protection is necessary from character assassination. If a persons faith is attacked they feel maligned. They need protection. They are harmed. They are blasphemed. We have foreigners living here from cultures that are not the same; they need to honor our ways, blend in, not become isolated, and not criticize our standards. But at the same time we cannot wantonly abuse them, criticize their belief system, their religious laws, their way of life. That is why it is a Blasphemy Law. It protects people from pernicious talk; openly aired comments that could stir individuals to act in violent ways. The same for specific interest groups, when challenged, like the Defense for Abortion organization.” — Bob
“In what way are they harmed as a group should their practices or the foundation of their thinking be questioned. The whole focus on this law is designed to protect minority groups, not the majority. Challenges to bad thinking should not be stopped.” – Mr. Bead
“This is going to far. You are attacking me.” – Bob
“No, that’s not true If I am attacking anything it is the position you have taken. — Mr. Bead
“Yes, it is. I’ll show you. I am taking this all personally. I am calling in the police. I’ll show you how this bill works,” with that Bob pressed a call button on a device in hand, an alert system for members of the authority when they feel in danger.”
“The police”, Mr. Bead’s eyebrows raised.
“Yes, you have gone too far. This discussion is over. You are questioning my decision. I feel persecuted.” – Bob
“Wow, I am concerned about your choices, but I only question the Law. I am not in agreement with you; can’t we have alternate views, thoughts? And still be neighbors, friends.” – Mr. Bead
“I do not see it that way…here’s the officer,” turning towards the uniformed man, “This man is questioning my choice, my decisions; I feel threatened. He is questioning my character. Take him into custody,” and with that claim from Bob, Mr. Bead was taken by the arm by the officer and placed in a waiting police cruiser.
He became one of the first to be accused of ‘blaspheme’ of a representative of the government.
John Q. Atheist, another citizen of The United Country of The People, an author, wrote a book entitled Dudley Good Job. His publisher was anxious for another publication from this author as his pasts works were well received and his reputation was building. It was the story about Dudley, a man, successful, caring and helpful. He was good to his family, his neighbors, and his friends. He was well liked. He worked hard, was seldom late and was generous to those in need. Throughout his life from his days in school, his first job, on the golf course, his family, wife and in-laws, he would hear the comment, “Good Job, Dudley.” Seldom was he ever criticized for doing something bad, or wrong. He was considered by everyone as the most thoughtful individual they knew. The publication was intended as a guide to leading an exemplary life.
One day he was asked if he ever considered the Christos Community. He said no, really that’s not for me. He was pressed to understand that Christos, incarnate, a man of ancient days, made it possible for those who believed in Christos to have an afterlife. Dudley was not uncomfortable with such discussion but frank in expressing feeling he did not need Christos. He was satisfied with his life and felt that when it ended, that was it – over. He did not care for or see the need for an afterlife. He did not need the laws, the words, the Decalogue of Christos to guide him, he was comfortable with right and wrong as he understood it. The story’s main plot was that Dudley felt he could be good without Christos. Man can be good without Christos.
Anticipation of the book caused a stir in the community. News spread that a book defaming Christos was coming to the market. This was an outrage. The publisher heard this news, but held firm to the decision to print. A few months after being on the market their was a rally organized against the book. The rally-leader had called many, even recruited, using small sums of money if necessary, students from local college campuses, students anxious to have something to do, a cause, a reason to rebel. An attack on Christos was all the justification they needed. The rally included the attendees bringing copies of Dudley Good Job, piling them in the center of the town square and setting them afire. Placards opposed to the book were printed, a few made by hand, and displayed. The media had been contacted and arrived with cameramen and reporters to put the story on TV, YouTube, in newspapers and magazines. Content like this sells.
The organizer, standing on a makeshift platform, a bullhorn in hand, spoke to the crowd. What they heard loud and clear was his proclamation that John Q. Atheist should be put to death for his blasphemy towards Christos. His publisher too. That really got the crowd excited. The cheers were resounding. There was much pushing and shoving. Supporters of the book were attacked; they too exercising what they thought was a right to a peacful protest. The protest did not end up peaceful; peole died.
Police gathered on the perimeter, but did little to curb this speech. This was OK. A few days later attacks against persons leaving bookstores with copies of Atheist’s book were reported. A group outside one store was observed by nearby police, but they did not stop the melee until much harm had already been done. Then they simply disbursed the thugs, called ambulances, and waited.
Within weeks of the rally the offices of the Publisher were raided. Materials were taken from the property and workers were handcuffed and deposited in waiting police vans. A search was on for John Q. Atheist also. The report in the press the following day – Police Raid Offices of Publisher of Atheist’s Book Attacking Christos and His Followers. The article noted that John Q. Atheist was thought to have fled The UCTP for fear of incarceration, at worse a death sentence for violation of the Blasphemy Laws.
In another venue – a group of citizens of UCTP had the habit of praying together, daily prayers, to a god that was not Christos. They had their own ‘book’ as a guide to proper living, and living for their god, Ormond. It was the book of ‘O’. Their prayer was not private, but a public display of their ideology. It was a way-of-life in variance to the standards now imposed by the Government of UCTP. When they took a stance they would do so with shouts of “Glorious Ormond.” This practice had become quite disruptive in many areas. The new law enabled the Government-Establishment to curtail the practice. Those that refused were carted off to jail; held in contempt of the Blasphemy Law, and released, but to be watched even more closely than before. Those that objected, considered dissidents, the more vocal, when arrested were kept in confinement and removed for the general population for indefinite periods.
Soon there were open attacks on the Believers of Ormond, persons in groups heading for their own structures of worship to conduct their prayer in private. There were even cases of reports by the media of a prominent Believer-in-Ormond speaking their views publicly, saying words in deference to the tenants of Christos, resulting in the police incarcerating the person and punishment for ‘Blasphemy’ meted.
These were fictitious stories. But they have happened in real life.
In the next part of this discussion I will review further restrictions on liberty and freedoms of speech and expression.
Pray today and each day that all people sense their freedom and hold-on to the opportunity and in some cases the challenges to be free. Take the time to understand freedom, understand when constrained, and then prepare to argue for the truth that all persons have the inalienable right to live in a free society. If we must live and die for freedom, we must.
Grace and Peace.