York academics, clergy disagree over limitations on freedom of speech
By JOHN HILTON
Daily Record/Sunday News
<!–date–> Updated: 09/25/2012 05:21:10 PM EDT Does freedom of speech have limitations when words prove capable of inciting deadly violence?One area academic says yes, while a York pastor isn’t so sure.
They responded to mixed reports that an anti-Muslim video led to deadly violence in Benghazi. American ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and four other consulate staff were killed Sept. 11 in the violent uprising.
The Rev. Jim Driskell said the American media was too quick to blame the attack on the low-grade anti-Muslim video, “Innocence of Muslims.”
Driskell, pastor of First St. Johns Lutheran Church at 140 W. King St., doubts the movie fueled the attack. U.S. officials are still determining how much of the attack was preplanned.
“It seems clear that this was a terrorist plot and not some spontaneous act of violence,” Driskell said. “But let’s focus on where the violence is coming from and how to stop that, instead of trying to find ways to shut Americans up.”
The onus, he stressed, should be placed on the perpetrators of the violence, not on those exercising their First Amendment rights.
Lee Barrett, professor of theology at Lancaster Theological Seminary, said the First Amendment includes no absolute protection. Comparing it to laws against shouting fire in a crowded theater, Barrett said free speech in the religious realm should have restrictions as well.”Freedom of speech is not the only moral value and it’s not the only political value,” he said. “Often moral and political values don’t harmonize nicely and you have to make some choices.”
For Barrett, the choices are simple. He believes the video had some role in the violence, just as general religious oppression has promoted unrest in the Middle East for centuries.
“If you weigh on the scales dozens of dead Americans, Libyans and Egyptians over the right of one jerk to say outrageous things, then I think the rights of the dead take precedence,” he said.
What about Christians?
For Driskell, the concern is one of consistency. Numerous Christian-based films have caused controversy over the years – “The Last Temptation of Christ,” for example – and he said the media generally tends to give these filmmakers a pass.
Directed by Martin Scorcese, “Last Temptation” depicts the life of Jesus Christ and his struggle with various forms of temptation including fear, doubt, depression, reluctance and lust.
The book and 1989 film depict Christ being tempted by imagining himself engaged in sexual activities, a notion that outraged some Christians. The movie includes a disclaimer explaining that it departs from the commonly accepted biblical portrayal of Jesus’ life, and is not based on the Gospels.
Still, Scorcese was nominated for an Academy Award for the film.
“If any of the people who made some of these anti-Christian movies were shouted down … I can only imagine the wailing and gnashing of teeth that would result,” Driskell said
But Barrett sees it differently.
“I don’t really think there is a double standard in the way the media covers Christianity and Islam,” said Barrett, who holds four degrees from Yale University, including a Master of Divinity conferred in 1975. “The mainstream media has been pretty even-handed in covering terrorism of any religion, be it Christianity, Islam or any other religion.”
The fact is the vast majority of Americans recognize that Christian terrorists in the United States are a tiny minority, Barrett said, “so that message does not need to be repeated.”
Polls tell a different story when it comes to Islam, he added, with many Americans still viewing the religion with distrust and doubt.
‘One of those gray areas’
Imam of the congregation Masjid At-Tawheed in York, Mujahid “Rick” Ramos values freedom of speech and calls the issue “one of those gray areas.”
“Freedom of speech is something we all cherish and appreciate,” he said. “But at the same time, a person has to be responsible.”
Ramos does not think the video, or the coverage of it, was anything more than a contributing factor in the recent violence. While he does not believe Islam has a propensity toward violence, followers are definitely frustrated, Ramos said.
“There’s this widespread frustration among Muslims, this sense of feeling helpless,” he said. “Throughout history we see that violence tends to be the reaction of a person who feels helpless.”