Excuses, Freedom of Speech, and State Religions

My wife and I have four young children. It comes as no surprise to any reading this that relationships between them are far from harmonious from time to time. We have to step in and arbitrate differences quite frequently. A regular portion of the arbitration is hearing “But he/she said/did X” where X is such that a response to X was involuntary and uncontrollable on the part of the plaintiff. As parents, f not overwhelmed, we usually say something along the lines of “It does not matter what he/she said/did, you need to do the right thing anyway.”

Of course, we are talking to children–children who will require this same rough conversation scores if not hundreds of times before it becomes part of how they logically work through things before taking action.

The people who destroyed the lives of four Americans as part of the attack on our embassy in Libya are not children. It matters not at all if there were cartoons that they didn’t like, or a very poorly made movie about the life of Mohammad, or a pastor who likes the movie, or stories about burning Korans or just the knowledge that somebody somewhere was not respecting a Muslim imam or giver of fatwas–they were going to seize upon some pretext for their actions on the 11th anniversary of 9/11. They wanted an excuse and found one. Just like my children. And their (the Libyans) excuse is also worthless.

If we do not have the freedom to “intentionally denigrate the religious beliefs of others,” then I am at a loss to explain a number of things. In fact, our very own President has intentionally denigrated the religion of people who “cling to guns and religion [Christianity].” We may, and do, disagree strongly with his denigrating comments–but we all understand that it is one of the freedoms, nay, that it is an absolutely essential freedom which we exercise.

As more than one person has said, freedom of speech was not delineated in our founding documents so people could talk about the weather and how much sleep we get at night and other generally neutral and non-offensive topics. No, the First Amendment is intended to protect speech which is patently offensive. For us to apologize for such speech is to undercut the freedom itself.

And, since we’ve not been apologizing (via the State Department or White House) for the speech of Americans when they say things against Christians, or Buddhists, or Animists, or Zoroastrians, or Satanists, or __________, it would seem as though we are doing something very dangerous, indeed. We are identifying Islam as the religion which cannot be spoken against.

If any country sets aside just one religion as being legally protected from mockery, denigration, or any other negative speech, that religion is the de facto religion of the country. This is exactly what the Constitution does not permit in that portion of the First Amendment called the Establishment Clause. Our government may not establish a particular religion as the official religion of the state.

By telling American citizens that they cannot exercise their freedom of speech if the speech results in Muslims being unable to control their rage, what are we saying?

Are we not saying, to the woman whose boyfriend cannot control his anger, “Hey, don’t say or do anything to set him off. If you do, and get hurt, it’s your fault.”