Freedom of speech, offence and violence?

Well, it seems that Pope Francis has managed to simultaneously call for freedom of speech and for those offended by it to have the right to commit violence.

I’m hoping that wasn’t quite what he was aiming for.

Let’s look at what he said, according to this article.

He started well enough by saying that freedom of speech was a fundamental human right. Grand so far.

But then he added:

“One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith. There is a limit. Every religion has its dignity … in freedom of expression there are limits.”

In general terms, I agree that the right to freedom of speech has to carry with it responsibilities towards others, but why do religions get to be a special case?

It’s what follows that seems even more bizarre. Apparently, he indicated his fellow cardinal and said  “If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”


So freedom of speech is a fundamental human right, but if someone insults your religion (or your mother), it’s okay to punch them?

And if it’s okay to punch them, does that mean it’s all right to take the next step and beat them black and blue? Or perhaps knife them? Surely, any invitation to a violent response is an invitation to escalation?


One thought on “Freedom of speech, offence and violence?

  1. Freedom of expression is incontestable. It needs no defense or explanation & those who would obstruct the freedom may be called any number of names, none of which improves on the fact that self-expression is a sacred right. But this sacred right is also nuanced. It is a right to be exercised with conscience. For every expression, there is an impression. In the case of Charlie Hebdo, I get the impression of an organization that is intolerant, crude, hateful: as backward as the backwardness it attempts to mock.


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