Shades of blasphemy

Charlie Hebdo office in 2006 after republishing the Danish cartoon

Charlie Hebdo office in 2006 after republishing the Danish cartoon

Ross Douthat responds to yesterday’s slaughter of journalists and police at “Charlie Hebdo” in Paris with a succinct analysis of blasphemy and the necessity of protecting it in a free society:

[T]he kind of blasphemy that Charlie Hebdo engaged in had deadly consequences, as everyone knew it could … and that kind of blasphemy is precisely the kind that needs to be defended, because it’s the kind that clearly serves a free society’s greater good. If a large enough group of someones is willing to kill you for saying something, then it’s something that almost certainly needs to be said, because otherwise the violent have veto power over liberal civilization, and when that scenario obtains it isn’t really a liberal civilization any more.

Freedom of the press and freedom of speech include printed text and images as well as the artistic expression of taboo subjects, but there’s always been a problem with these: How far can you go? Is there a limit? How to draw the line (if there is one)?

Blasphemy and devil worship may be abhorrent to many, but the practice of them is guaranteed by the First Amendment. The picketing of abortion clinics and outraged protests against a court decision by the citizens of Ferguson, MO, as well as demonstrations condemning the indiscriminate killing of innocents by the police in New York are similarly protected by the right “to peaceably assemble.” What is not protected is violence. Shooting the doctor who performs abortions is a criminal act.


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Filed under American Society, Journalism

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