Freedom of Religion Equals Freedom of Speech

I am troubled when religious extremists — Christian, Islamic, or otherwise — threaten violence against those exercising free speech. If someone offends you, engage that person in dialogue, avoid that person, and/or encourage others to avoid him or her; but don’t bully.  Intimidation and violence are infantile tactics unworthy of a mature society.

Case in point, NPR reported this morning that, “A radical Muslim group has warned the creators of South Park that they could face violent retribution for depicting the prophet Muhammad in a bear suit during last week’s episode.  In 2006, Comedy Central banned the men from showing an image of Muhammad on their show…. Instead, South Park showed an image of Jesus Christ defecating on President George W. Bush and the American flag.”  See what you get?

In all seriousness, I do not think that the creators of South Park hate Jesus, the office of the President, or the American Flag; rather, they hold supremely sacred the freedom at the core of the American experiment.

I am not saying that Muslims should stop being offended at any image of the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him); to be offended or not is their right.  But if we — in all our diversity — are going to learn to live together in a pluralistic world without blowing one another up, then we need to see the wisdom that motivated the founders of our country to almost immediately begin the process of amending our founding document.  It is no coincidence that the the freedoms of speech and religion are woven together in the stitches that make-up the tapestry of the First Amendment to our Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  More than 230 years after our country’s founding, these freedoms continue to be inextricably complementary, competing, and complex.

My point, in short, is that if you want your freedom of religion, grant all their freedom of speech.

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