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Should Religion Be Protected From Free Speech?

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There has been a very publicized controversy lately over a comic strip in a Danish newspaper. There has also been a little heard controversy over a television show in Nashville. These two cases stem from what happens when you try to mix a society where you have both freedom of expression and freedom of religion. It also shows how two different groups react.

For those unfamiliar with the Nashville case, there is an NBC show called The Book of Daniel. It is probably one of the most lame pieces of garbage out there on network television that on its own merits would have eventually been cancelled due to poor ratings. The premise of the show is a preacher who has lost his edge and is basically lackluster in his enthusiasm for his job. It also depicted a jokish image of Jesus.

People are probably more familiar with the Danish cartoon which showed pictures of the Prophet Mohammed, one of which depicted him of wearing a bomb-shaped turban.

Both of these offended a religious group. In the Nashville case, it offended Christians. In the Denmark case, it offended Muslims.

Why did the television show offend Christians? People who belong to certain Christian groups are under the notion that their religion has come under attack by secular people who disrespect their core values and flaunt it in their faces. This show depicts many points that offend their sensibilities. As a result, these groups made letters and calls to the local NBC station in Nashville to get it pulled off the air. The WSMV studio wanted to make a compromise and show it at a later time, but NBC said they must air it at the proper time or not air it at all. As a result, people in Nashville cannot see what the rest of the country can see.

It's just a TV show. It's a pretty bad one and kind of tasteless that would have gone away on its own. Couldn't they just turn the channel and not watch? Had they not created such a spectacle over it, there would not have been more of a hungry audience for it. Their reaction has given this show a cult following.

Personally, I find Pat Robertson highly offensive. In the same manner, instead of not watching his show, should I organize a boycott and curtail his freedom? Or should I be better than his petty Christian followers and let the babies have their bottles of milk until they are ready for some meat? [Hebrews 5:11-14] If, as they claim, God gives everyone free will, why do they choose to take that element away from everyone, followers or not?

Compare this with the reaction of the Muslim world to a cartoonish depiction of the Prophet. If left alone, no one would have been exposed to it other than the usual Danish audience. If kept civil, perhaps the paper could have apologized for hurting the feelings of the local Muslim population and been able to move on. Unfortunately, they made a big deal about it.

Why is it offensive? Like Allah, it is forbidden and offensive to depict images of a prophet. It is akin to idol worship. Depicting the character alone is offensive enough, but on top of that to depict him as a war-monger was over the top. Most Muslims only wanted an official apology from the paper which carried it.

Not all Muslims proved the caricature wrong. There have been threats of physical violence against innocent Danish people over this issue. The EU building in the Gaza area has come under siege by groups threatening acts of terrorism.

Note the difference between the two groups. The Christians organized peaceful protests. Certain groups of Muslims organized threats of violence.

If one is to live in a free world, they must accept tolerance as part of living in that society. Yes, the television show was tasteless and showed a lack of empathy to how a Christian would view it, but no one was being forced to watch it either. Yes, the comic was in poor taste, but no one was being forced to view or believe it.

And speaking of poor taste, South Park aired an episode on this controversial topic while slapping around Family Guy at the same time. They were going to air an episode of Family Guy with the Prophet Mohammed in it and the episode had the image blurred over due to protests and threats. They were to attempt to do the same thing, but instead of caving into the threats, Family Guy aired the episode uncut of Mohammed walking along (which Comedy Central would not allow to be aired), but the retaliation in the show was the Muslim world making fun of Americans and Jesus crapping on everything (which Comedy Central had no problem airing). It was okay to offend the Christians, but not the Muslims.

It is cases like these that bring out the anger in many secular humanists about the need to do away with religion. It curtails the freedom to the rest of the masses who are not caught up in these belief systems.

In the West, we do have freedom of expression. Censorship is a bad thing. Yet, in the West, we do censor all the time, but it is usually in the form of self-censorship out of respect for others. We are not required by law to respect anyone's feeling. We should feel safe in expressing what we think and defend our position without death threats. However, a nice person does not go out of their way to offend those who are overly sensitive crybabies.

Google, Yahoo and other search engines have filters set up to show results that won't offend the easily offended. Software companies have devolped programmes to keep children from certain web sites. Television commercials will not air cigarette commercials and are regulated on when to air alcoholic products. Television shows will try to air programs not for children on a later schedule. Newspapers even censor their own content depending on the agendas they reflect. Even bloggers have to censor their blog comments so as to not spoil the professional level of discussion they are trying to promote.

But things will get out there by people who crave expression and thumb their noses at everyone else. They don't care if it offends, but will let it hang out as boldly as can be. The 700 Club does it all the time.

I do not try to go out of my way to offend any religious group, but when something needs to be said, often it must be direct and that can be construed as offensive. If you believe your god is all powerful and mighty, surely He/She can withstand comments from the unbelievers without you having to fight their battles. If something offends your senses, distance yourself from it, don't give it more attention than it deserves. Create more entertainment you and your kind would consider a wholesome alternative so you do not have such limited choices which offend.