Most of the “freedom of speech” chest-thumping in the wake of the “Je Suis Charlie” brouhaha across the pond has omitted a very fundamental understanding of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Certainly the First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech in our republic, just as similar language does in the constitutions of other like-minded nations.
But what is too often overlooked is the implied “checks and balances” clause within the amendment. The implication goes like this: “You are free to print, broadcast or telecast anything you wish — anything — as long as you are willing to take responsibility for it.”
Did the political cartoonists at the Paris newspaper offices of Charlie Hebdo not understand this? Or did they know their cartoon offensive to at least some Muslims would ignite death and destruction, and they were willing to risk the worst kind of fallout?
Unfortunately, Charlie Hebdo suffered the most dastardly kind of “taking responsibility.”
Sometimes exercising good judgment takes monumental courage. To have withheld publication of the offensive cartoon as an exercise in taking responsibility might have been the lesser of two evils. Moreover, let’s not cloud such a decision in the semantics of “self-censorship.” That term is meaningless. Censorship denotes interference by another party; you cannot censor yourself. You can, however, be “guilty” of good judgment.
On the other hand, perhaps publishing the offensive religious cartoon was an ultimate profile in courage. The fallout led to a public “solidarity” demonstration by millions of free people standing up to Islamic terrorism. The offensive cartoon might have been the spark that set off a planet-wide powder keg labeled “We’ve had enough.”
We can only hope.