FREEDOM OF SPEECH SAVED BY A WALL,By Louise Annarino,October 10, 2012

10 Oct

FREEDOM OF SPEECH SAVED BY A WALL, By Louise Annarino, October 10, 2012

Teachable moments are what I live for. At my core I am still Professor Annarino,even though I retired that nomenclature when I retired from Ohio University. The Arab Spring, and the role of President Obama and the United States of America as supporters of rising democratic republics across north Africa and the Mid-east have created a teachable moment. It was a sign of success when world leaders gathered at the United Nations and openly discussed the human right of freedom of expression. President Mohammed Morsi of Egypt and President Abed Rabbu Mansour Hadi of Yemen affirmed a belief in the right to freedom of expression, they expressed a need to limit hate speech, including speech that insults religion and religious figures. President Asif A. Zadari of Pakistan went further, arguing that such speech should be criminalized. These leaders are struggling with the ramifications of hate speech,as we all do. However, their recommended solution to restrict speech is not the only way to deal with hate speech. The United States has been dealing with this problem since its inception. Hate groups continue to plague us,sometimes engaging in homegrown terrorism.We understand  the issue. Our cultural institutions, med1a, schools and courts address the problems such hate speech create. These new leaders have hard choices ahead; difficult decades of discord before free speech takes hold.

To some calls  to limit speech may seem a disturbing turn of events. But it is not;it is chance to explore free speech more fully. Free speech protection has taken centuries to establish itself in Europe and America beginning with the fall of the “Sun-Kings” and “Holy Roman Emperors” of Europe. We continue the struggle to protect free speech today. The institution which held it back in Europe and The Americas,and continues to assault it today, is the institution whose nature is proscriptive due to its assigned task of “preaching the gospel”, the church. I would argue that one reason freedom of speech has become secured in American culture is the separation of Church and State. In America, no longer can a population be constricted from expressing beliefs contrary to what is preached from the pulpit on Sunday, the synagogue on Saturday, or the mosque on Friday. Witches are no longer being burned in Salem. Women can express themselves as they wish, without wearing Scarlet Letters. The separation of Church and State also stops the government from putting words into the mouths of those who preach, protecting all religions equally. We the People are the WALL which separates the two forces. Thus, it is inherent that we behave responsibly and fairly with one another to keep the wall strong.

Sometimes speech should be restricted. For example, to protect human life when speech threatens to kill. Verbal assault is a crime, if it places the recipient in fear of his life AND causes actual physical harm. But, we also believe “sticks and stones may break our bones but names will never harm us.” Nor are we free to shout “fire” in a crowded theatre; the outcome of panic in a confined space certain to injure or kill. We even allow reasonable restrictions on where speech can be voiced so as not to unreasonably interfere with the ordinary course of business. Nevertheless, reasonable accomodations must be made for the speech-giver.

The fact that the door is open to such discussion among world leaders is a good thing. Of course, these leaders face the same challenge early American leaders faced  taking on their ingrained cultural institutions, including their religious institutions, in order to implement and secure the unbridled right of freedom of expression. Their task is much harder than that of early American leaders, however. They do not have a thick wall separating church and state. Until they do, free speech for their people may be elusive. Imams preaching attacks on Christians, Jews and Infidels may cause fear in those groups since it may,and occasionally does, incite adherents to commit physical assaults. Also, a protester standing in Tahrir Square with a bullhorn shouting to attack the police,military or government may incite others to violence. In Somalia, opposition efforts to overthrow Siad Barre’s oppressive communist government declined to clan warfare, resulting in unspeakable violence and a Failed State. Freedom of speech can be a double-edged sword. Dealing with these issues is always difficult;but when there is no separation of Church and State, resolving them is nigh impossible. When church leaders insist governments deny freedom of expression by anyone who does not follow their religious teachings, including poets,artists, cartoonists and authors both institutions are compromised;and, no one is free. Those who give up free speech soon lose personal freedom.

Is this the cultural difference to which new leaders ask us to be sensitive? Do they want our walls between church and state removed? Most certainly they do. We cannot agree to break down our wall between church and state. Doing so means we lose the protections ingrained in our Bill of Rights.We would no longer be a free people. We must refuse to do so; not for other nations, nor for Christian fundamentalists in our own country.

However, we can be sensitive to this issue for it is one we continually fight. We have our own version of groups who dislike the Wall and insist America is a Christian nation, when in fact it is a secular nation with a majority of Christian citizens, and many non-Christians, and non-theists. The nation belongs equally to each person, and its laws are written for all, not simply for Christians. Some Christians constantly chip away at the Wall. They insist on prayer in public schools, tax-funded vouchers for religious schools, nativity sets on the public square, and faith-based “science” teaching.

We area free people with a Bill of Rights and separation of Church and State. We hold these rights sacred and believe they are human rights. We cannot, we must not abridge freedom of speech for any religion. Is this the real reason leaders of these countries justify violence against our embassies and citizens? Is it their Church or their State making such a demand upon us? Either way it is an impossible one. As Americans we define ourselves by our freedoms.

As we head into the final days of the 2012 election, consider which candidate has the sensitivity, experience, demeanor and resolute commitment to human rights, fairness, diversity and peaceful dispute resolution. Which one has the ability to pull together diverse supporters: Black-White-Latino-Native American, immigrant and DAR, Catholic-Jew-Muslim-atheist, artists-musician-scientist-environmentalist-Big Bird, Warren Buffet big businessmen-Elizabeth Lessner small businesswoman- unions, women, LGBT community, active military-veterans-Code pink-peace activists ? Which one is open to any idea so long as it is a good one, capable of solving a problem despite who brings it forward? Which embodies our American value of free speech by the diversity of his supporters? Which candidate can lead us forward in a diverse world, with new leaders, in new countries, seeking a new way to move forward? That candidate is President Barack Obama.


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