Freedom of Speech, Artistic Expression and Public Safety

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REBECCA KOLIMAGA/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

By PAMELA CARTY
Staff Writer

The first amendment protects freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition. It serves as the blueprint for freedom of expression and religious liberty, but what lies at the heart of free expression is an inclination to listen and hear the views of others as well as the ability to express your own views and be heard. Recent events have us questioning whether or not artistic expression and comic liberties are more important than the safety of our citizens.

On November 22, 2014, Sony Pictures reported that their computer system had been compromised. Skulls appeared on employees’ screens with a message threatening to expose employee secrets and Sony executives’ e-mail accounts were hacked and leaked to the public, embarrassing the company and A-list celebrities.

Although North Korea has never taken responsibility for the cyber-attack and the media has only stated through anonymous Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) sources that they believe North Korea is responsible, the FBI has stated that this cyber-attack was done in retaliation to the upcoming release of “The Interview,” a comedic movie where the lead characters ridicule and assassinate the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.

A North Korean foreign ministry spokesman called the movie an “act of terrorism” promising “merciless” retaliation if it was released and the Guardians of Peace, who eventually took responsibility for the cyber-attack, said they would attack cinemas showing the Sony film. They alluded to 9/11 in their message and said the attack was a response to the “greed of Sony Pictures.”

Sony temporarily pulled the film, but ultimately the movie was released to theaters and also was made available via download, but this entire scenario begs the question, was this movie important enough to put lives in danger?

The United States is not the only country soul-searching on this issue. On January 7, 2015, two masked gunmen, dressed in black and armed with assault rifles shot and killed 12 people who worked for the French satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo” while they were in an editorial meeting. These people were targeted and killed for publishing cartoons which depicted Muhammad, which enraged some Muslims. Some followers of the Muslim faith have a deep aversion to the depiction of all human beings, but most of all to the image of Muhammad, who they consider to be their messenger of God.

After the massacre, Pope Francis gave a speech where he emphasized that these murders were not justified and that he supports freedom of speech, but he also said, “One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith,” he also stated “There is a limit. Every religion has its dignity… in freedom of expression, there are limits.”

Are there limits to free speech, and if so, who sets them? Do you want religious and political leaders or terrorists to make these decisions for you? Can we allow violence to silence free speech? Millions of people living in countries with repressive and barbaric governments are silenced, through fear and violence. Free speech gives protection to people and allows them to say things that are objectionable; that same protection allows us to object to what others have said. Will we allow the threat of murder to silence our right to free speech? Without the first amendment granting the freedom of speech, would we be safe?

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