Paris: The End of Freedom of Speech in the US?

“The prophet has been avenged.”

In 2012, Charlie Hebdo ridiculed Mohammed in one of their cartoons. Back then, they was the target of President Obama who criticized them for publishing religiously sensitive cartoons. Today, Charlie Hebdo was the target of terrorists looking for revenge. They succeeded as they killed the cartoonist and 11 others, including a police officer who was pleading for mercy on the sidewalk.

For the record, multiple religions have also been ridiculed by this magazine, not just Islam. No others have responded violently.

As tragic and senseless as this act is, it forces us to ask what impact it has on our freedom here in the US – specifically, freedom of speech or expression. For many years, America has been going down the path of restricting speech or expression, so the question is not whether or not this act of terrorism will start us down the road to silencing opinions or thoughts on religious matters. The question should be whether or not this act of terrorism will be the cherry on top that ends it for us in our immediate future. Go ask Phil Robertson (Duck Dynasty) if he feels the freedom to express his religious thoughts freely, or the head of Hobby Lobby, or Chick-fil-A, Tim Tebow, or the former head of Mozilla. Ask the pastors of Christian churches in Houston, Texas if they are a little more sensitive to their sermon topics on Sunday after the Mayor wanted copies of their sermons to see if “hate speech” was included in them.

It’s a widely held practice around offices that you do not speak about politics or religion, and if you choose to do so, a firestorm may ensue. Recruiters and HR have to be extremely careful not to ask anything of candidates that might reveal someone’s belief system, or lack of one altogether. A good sales person knows to avoid those topics as well. You’ll never hear them bring up religion at a lunch meeting.

We have gone down this path where we fear expressing an opinion because there seems to be a severe penalty that follows if the other person doesn’t agree with you. Politicians dance around it, although the public is deeply interested in their stance on social issues and why they have formed that opinion. An executive at Sony Pictures recently had to scramble to try to save her career and reputation because she made “insensitive jokes” regarding President Obama. She even sought out Al Sharpton in an effort to win his forgiveness before he led his troops to battle against her. We no longer know how to debate or disagree respectfully. We attack. Call people names. Humiliate the other person. End their careers. Bankrupt them. We can’t win our debate on substance, so we have to shut down all dialog altogether and we do that through making one point a view socially acceptable and everything else considered “hate.”

There are very few positives that come in the immediate aftermath of tragedies like today’s, but I was encouraged to see 100,000 people gather together at Republique Square (near the scene) to honor the victims, holding signs reading ‘Je suis Charlie’ – ‘I am Charlie’. One of the great things that we have always appreciated here in the US is the freedom to express our opinions and thoughts freely, but I feel like we are on a see-saw at the moment. Either we will say that we need to stop and censor certain speech, or we will rally in defense of this freedom and defend it passionately. I don’t have to agree with your opinion. You can hate my opinion and be fully convinced that I am wrong. But why do we have to hate each other as a result? Why can’t we discuss, see the other’s point of view, and try to understand why we have come to a certain conclusion?

We say that we have evolved and are the most educated people in history, yet we behave like barbarians when someone disagrees with us, or dares to poke fun at us. Maybe we haven’t evolved. Maybe we have regressed into sensitive babies who cannot reason, think, or defend a point of view any longer. I sure hope not, but the evidence is proving it to be true.

My deepest condolences to those families impacted by the events in Paris. May we never experience these types of actions again.

Paris Tragedy