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article imageOp-Ed: Pope Francis wrong in saying 'one cannot make fun of faith'

By Calvin Wolf     Jan 15, 2015 in Politics
Though Pope Francis has condemned the terrorist attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which killed twelve innocent people, he has erred terribly by insisting "one cannot make fun of faith." Words do not justify hitting.
I have a beef with Pope Francis I. Though the leader of the Roman Catholic Church has condemned terrorism and the terrorist attack on French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, as well as "deviant" religious fundamentalism that advocates violence, he has also supported the notion that religion be an exception to the freedom of expression.
According to TIME, the Pope has declared "one cannot make fun of faith" and likened insulting faith to insulting someone's mother, an act which would "get a punch in the nose." The Huffington Post elaborated further in regard to the nose-punching, quoting the pontiff as saying "it's normal. You cannot provoke."
No. This is wrong. You cannot deem any and all forms of derision or satire, when aimed at a religion or culture, as fighting words. As explained by the University of Maryland, fighting words are words outside the normal public discourse that are likely to provoke a reasonable person to immediate violence. This exception to free speech has always been narrowly tailored.
The Pope's likening of religious satire, or even religious insult, to fighting words is extremely overbroad and will lead to rampant abuse.
First of all, criticizing a religion is not always outside the normal public discourse. It is common to debate religion, and the debate may devolve into heated feelings and pointed criticisms. People should not be prevented from discussing theology.
Secondly, the fighting words exception to freedom of expression must incite a reasonable person to violence. It is hard to argue that a reasonable person, of any faith, is likely to react with violence at insults to his or her religion. Radicals may react this way, but they are not reasonable. The Pope, by trying to apply the fighting words exception of free speech to religious satire and insults, is inadvertently giving credibility to religious fundamentalists and radicals by tacitly suggesting that these people are "reasonable."
Third, the fighting words exception only applies to words that are likely to incite a reasonable person to immediate violence. While walking up to a devout Muslim and yelling all manner of horrible insults at the prophet Mohammed may be deemed an act likely to provoke someone to immediate violence, publicizing an article or image is not. These images have caused protests and riots...but considerably after their initial release. People had time to cool down, to remove themselves from the offending images.
Fighting words are implied to be words which are unavoidable in the moment because they are specifically targeted. Insults printed about religion are not specifically targeted. Nobody is forced to read the paper, watch the show, or listen to the radio show.
By tacitly supporting the use of violence to avenge insults against one's religion, the Pope has made the situation worse. People will begin linking religion to other institutions to protect those institutions from criticism as well, creating a slippery slope effect. Eventually, freedom of speech ceases to exist as more and more things become "religious," and therefore un-criticizable, in nature.
Pope Francis, you need to issue a retraction!
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Charlie Hebdo, charlie hebdo attack, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, Religion
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