Friday, September 14, 2012

21st Century Christian Violence, Terry Jones, and Free Speech

While the anti-Muslim hate film made by Egyptian Coptic Christian Nakoula Basseley Nakoula under the pseudynm Sam Bacile and promoted by Pastor Terry Jones wasn't the primary cause of the multiple attacks against U.S. embassies in the Middle East on 9/11/12, it served to inflame an already bad situation. It's debatable whether religious hate speech is a protected First Amendment right however even if you have the right to profane someone else's god, it doesn't mean that you should. Words bear consequences, and religious violence isn't exclusive to Muslims. The following are just the most recent examples of religious violence engaged in by American Christians against American Muslims.

Christian Taunts and Violence Mar Arab Festival In Michigan (June 18, 2012)
Christian protesters traveled across the country to Dearborn, Mich., where they taunted attendees and even held a severed pig’s head for three days at the annual Arab International Festival. The protests turned violent Sunday, and by the end of the day as many as 10 people facing disorderly conduct or assault charges, according to ABC News Detroit affiliate WXYZ.

A Quiet Campaign of Violence Against American Muslims (August 20, 2012)
On Aug. 4, teenagers pelted a mosque in Hayward, Calif., with fruit. On Aug. 5, Wade Michael Page murdered six congregants and wounded a police officer at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, quite possibly because he thought the Sikhs were Muslim. That same day, a man vandalized a mosque in North Smithfield, R.I. On Aug. 6, a mosque in Joplin, Mo., was burned to the ground. On Aug. 7, two women threw pieces of pork at the site of a proposed Islamic center in Ontario, Calif. On Aug. 10, a man allegedly shot a pellet rifle at a mosque near Chicago while people prayed inside. On Aug. 12, attackers fired paintball guns at a mosque in Oklahoma City, and a homemade bomb filled with acid was thrown at an Islamic school in Lombard, Ill. On Aug. 15, assailants threw a Molotov cocktail at the home of a Muslim family in Panama City, Fla.

And that's just this summer. Further, violence by Christians isn't limited to attacks against Muslims. What about the bombing of abortion clinics and the targeted killings of those who perform them? Or the support and comfort given to Christian terrorist Eric Rudoph by other Christians?

Religious violence is not exclusive to one religion, and both Islam and Christianity have plenty of blood on their respective hands up to and including the present day. General Dempsey asked Terry Jones to drop his support of the film because it's serving to aggravate a bad situation. Is freedom of speech a vitally important and fundamental right for the U.S. and other democracies? Absolutely. However every right comes with a responsibility to exercise it in a way that doesn't result in harm to others. That includes U.S. Christians as well as Middle Eastern Muslims. And propagators of hate speech, on both sides, need to be held responsible for their contribution to violence just as much as the terrorists who fire munitions and throw bombs.

UPDATE (15 SEP 12): I found this resource written by CRS on Exceptions to the First Amendment. My point isn't to show that this particular film falls within those exceptions. That's up to a court to determine. My point is that the First Amendment does not guarantee unrestricted speech, and that in addition to what the law provides, we must engage our brains and apply common sense regarding the impact of our speech on others. 

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