Make the case for the First Amendment

by Cathy Keim

Last Sunday I was flying home from the west coast and happened to sit by a professor from a major university whose specialty was First Amendment Studies. I usually immerse myself in an exciting book to make the time pass, but this trip the book was not so compelling and he ran out of LA Times crossword puzzles that he had apparently collected for the trip. When we got around to owning up to what we did, he demurred from being quoted on a blog, but was happy to discuss issues off the record.

Since he teaches courses on the First Amendment, I had to inquire about the Charlie Hebdo massacre in France. He assured me that we are very different in America and would not back down over cartoons, adding that he had shown them to his classes. I pointed out that many American media outlets refused to show the cartoons, saying that they were offensive. I also brought up the previous Danish cartoon riots in 2006. Despite his assurance that things were different in America, I had to mention that Yale University Press published a book in 2012 about the Danish cartoons, but would not include the cartoons in the book! That doesn’t come off as a profile in courage.

So, how are we to handle speech or art that is offensive to others? As a Christian, I would prefer that we all love our neighbor as ourselves and refrain from antagonizing them. That sounds like self-censorship – and it is – but it is done out of respect, not fear.

Political correctness is the opposite of self-restraint due to respect for others. Political correctness is bending to a powerful coercion that will punish you if you resist. We have seen this take place when people lost their jobs for not having the politically correct view on marriage.

Once decisions are being made to restrain our speech or art due to fear of reprisal, then the only way to combat this is to increase free speech. The professor was adamant that when ideas are pushed underground due to fear, then they only bubble up later.

If all the media stood shoulder to shoulder and ran stories showing a picture of Mohammed, then the point would stand that in the West, pictures can be published. The media did not have to all publish the same picture. It could be a tasteful portrait instead of the cartoon if you did not find satirical cartoons your style.

At the same time that we were flying across the US having our discussion, thousands of Muslims were protesting in London over the Charlie Hebdo cartoons.

A leaflet issued by the Muslim Action forum (MAF), who organised the rally, said recent republishing of cartoons, caricatures and depictions of Muhammad by satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and other publishers is a “stark reminder” that freedom of speech is “regularly utilized to insult personalities that others consider sacred.”

We need to have an open discussion of this idea. This is not a time for self-censorship, but rather it is time for each of us to publically speak up. Political correctness has brought us to the point of not being able to accurately address the situation. The only cure is to let free speech increase.

The professor encouraged people to consider the political cartoons that have been present in America from it very beginnings. They were not timid, nor respectful of their targets. We have a long history of making points with satire and humor.

The First Amendment is under attack on many fronts. The LGBT movement, the Muslims, feminists, and the IRS are among a few of the groups trying to stifle free speech. When the IRS refused to grant 501 (c)(4) status to conservative groups, they effectively throttled their ability to speak out in the public forum by intimidating these groups and reducing their fund raising efforts which were to be used to advance their political ideas.

How many conservative activists have been called racists, bigots, haters, and homophobes for pointing out that our federal government is a bloated monster that exceeds its constitutional restraints repeatedly?

Rather than replying in anger, or getting defensive, instead go on the offense by presenting Judeo-Christian based Western Civilization in an appealing way. Know your narrative. Remember that if you cannot change the liberal dominating the conversation, then you may well present some new ideas to the other people in the social setting. Fight bad ideas with good ideas. We have the advantage of telling the truth. Make the case for liberty.