The Pope On ‘Charlie Hebdo’ Attacks, Freedom Of Expression: 2 Wrongs Don’t Make A Right

Pope Francis

The Charlie Hebdo and Kosher grocery store attacks in France last week by a trio of terrorists have attracted the attention of Pope Francis. Thursday, while aboard the papal plane on his way to a trip to the Philippines, the pope held a press conference and weighed in on the foundations of free speech. To the leader of the Catholic Church, freedom of expression and religion have limits, citing a report by BBC News.

Francis weighed in on the Paris terror killings by emphasizing his belief in the building blocks of free speech as a “fundamental right;” one should have the right to speak about things on their mind. Additionally, freedom of expression allows for moral precepts and things that work well for the common good, this according to the pope.

But like anything else, one must know boundaries and practice restraint, not merely for the purposes of avoiding backlash and upsetting the moral collective conscious. The pope believes that practicing free speech while respecting the rights of others is the right thing to do. Simply put, Francis believes that there are limitations to both sides of the arguments on both sides of the Paris attacks.

“If my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch,” Francis said while feigning a punch to his good friend, who organizes papal trips. “It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

While some took his message as a way to explain away the Charlie Hebdo shootings, others said the pontiff meant that a response from an offended party should be expected.

“There are so many people who speak badly about religions or other religions, who make fun of them, who make a game out of the religions of others. They are provocateurs. And what happens to them is what would happen to Dr. Gasparri if he says a curse word against my mother. There is a limit.”

Seventeen people lost their lives in separate shootings during the terrorist attacks in France last week. In the end, three suspected shooters died in violent gun battles with police. Reports soon surfaced that the terrorists were tied to al-Qaida cells in the Middle East.

Thereafter, world leaders were joined by millions for a march on solidarity in Paris. The show of strength was a sign that the world was not gripped in fear over the violence from extremist groups.

Following the horrific killings, five million copies were released by Charlie Hebdo, and many were being sold online for hundreds of dollars. While many venues decided to show the magazine, others didn’t for various reasons.

The debate the pope has stirred is centered on the limits of free speech and how the killings represent an attack on journalism. The fine line is to determine how reporters capture a story without offending, but maintaining the right to speak openly without sanction. Many have said that free speech is an inherent right, but insulting the faith of others is an assault on freedom of religion. The question is, where is the balance?

In a strange, perhaps, subtle twist of irony, not all journalists agree on how to strike that balance. Some agencies, like Charlie Hebdo, believe that there is an inherent right for journalists to be able to convey a story in tongue-in-cheek fashion. Contrarily, others say that free speech, while the hallmark of human existence, does not mean one has the right to infringe on the rights of others. In other words, journalists have a responsibility to deliver fair, balanced and objective content without provoking and insulting other people and entities.

Those who don’t embrace the fundamentals of responsible journalism should expect push-back and the consequences that go along with delivering a story — while leaving harm in its wake, citing the opinion from Charlie Sennott, co-founder of Global Post, via a Yahoo News segment.

“We need to be sobered [by the Paris terror attacks] but not be bowed.”

In wake of the French terror attacks, many wonder what the pope thinks about his own safety in wake of his controversial remarks on free speech and religion. Pope Francis had this to say.

“I’m in God’s hands.”

[Image: (Dondi Tawatao, Getty Images) via L.A. Times, Catholic Vote]