Article X – No one may be disquieted for his opinions, even religious ones, provided that their manifestation does not trouble the public order established by the law. - Article 10 of the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen
Article XII The free communication of thoughts and of opinions is one of the most precious rights of man: any citizen thus may speak, write, print freely, except to respond to the abuse of this liberty, in the cases determined by the law.
"If there is no freedom to write and express each one's opinion on all matters, all of our acquaintances will lie in eternal oblivion. But we see that gentlemen that the most praiseworthy actions seem reprehensible in certain countries." - Antonio Nariño (who faced 11+ years in prison for translation of a human rights document meant for academic discussions. Upon release he suffered from heart issues, tuberculosis, leg pain, and poor eyesight for the "crime" of translation.)
Freedom of Expression is one of the most important rights, for it is through freedom of expression that we learn about the viewpoints, politics, religious views and opinions of others. However, when it is stifled due to intolerance the consequences are miserable for everybody involved. No teacher should have to fear for their lives because of the cruel forces of fanaticism, and no human should have to hide their opinion for fear of retaliation.
I was indignant as most of the world was when I heard of the brutal attack and assassination of a history teacher in Paris because he showed a picture of a cartoon of Mohammad. From all I read beforehand it sounded like he took all the needed warnings for students to leave the room if they were not comfortable seeing the picture- but one fanatic still heard and murdered him just for doing his job. We live in a free democratic society and everybody has the right to express and show images. I realize that many Muslims also are outraged at this crime, and this by no means represents the average Muslim but only the extremists in the world. Let me take you back for a second my dear reader, to another moment in French history that aroused great indignation in the world. Teachers are on the frontlines of democracy teaching liberty, equality and fraternity. They also are safeguards of passing on to the next generation the importance of free expression- even expression we may not agree with.
Before anybody turns this against a particular religion- fanatics are in everything religion and the vast majority of adherents are not fanatics. For example- take some French history that we must understand before I delve further,
For some theology background- some Christian denominations believe the bread and wine passed around and ripped individually is purely symbolic. However, Catholics do not- they believe it is the literal blood and body of Christ. Catholicism is prevalent in places such as Poland, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland and Latin America. Protestantism meanwhile is more popular in the United States, Canada, Germany, and all the Nordic countries. Catholic and Protestant countries have contributed greatly to the history of the world and the vast majority of both are peaceful. Just as Muslims have contributed greatly to world culture especially in math! However, fanatics to have emerged. Instead of individually ripping bread, they believe in a priest giving it to them (that being said- many Christian denominations do not have clergy, but Catholics and a few others do) Nothing in either of these circumstances is wrong- and there can be plenty of circumstances of Catholics and Protestants co-existing in complete peace with one another. Catholics hold to this theological stance as firmly as many Muslims do with their stances about Mohammed, but they live peacefully with those with disagree. However, fanatics can tarnish the good names of many in a religion. There was an incident in France where Protestants put up flyers denouncing Catholic practices. Now France was (and is) a majority Catholic country. This created quite the stir! Did the Protestants have a right to put up the flyers? Of course they did! Whether we agree or not- there are no lives in danger from the simple act of flyers and while it may go around Catholicism- the laws of a religion should not dictate the behavior of a whole nation (although France's official religion was Catholicism) Religion is the law of the heart and no government can possibly force an entire nation to have their hearts conform to a particular religion. Outraged extremist Catholics however began violently attacking Protestants in the streets. Did this speak for the majority of Catholics? Ahh! Of course not! The vast majority of Catholics were and are peaceful citizens who just want to live and practice their religion in peace. This was a very small minority. However- these fanatics ruined the reputation of Catholicism. Years later in the United States, indignant Protestants out for revenge banned Catholics from public office- and innocent Catholic immigrants were targeted for hate crimes just because of the horrible acts of fanatics. The United States and United Kingdom both have the clearest examples of anti-Catholic prejudice arising because of terrible fanatics, but also in France. During the French Revolution much of the "dechristianization" efforts were Protestant retaliation against the dark history of religious intolerance that France had. Another incident in France was the murder of a Protestant by religious radicals- this completed Voltaire to write his famous "Treatise on Toleration" which I suggest you all read! Tragically the example I gave is the clearest example of religious fanaticism- it helps nobody in the end. Innocent Catholics (and Muslims) were the victims in the end because the actions of the fanatics created suspicion of their faith, and only led to further retaliation against them. When freedom of expression is denied by fanatics- it is the innocent people who in the end suffer.
Oh my dear reader! I could go on with countless examples of fanaticism and evils done in the name of so many religions- and prove to you how in the end this is harmful for everybody, and by no means represents the innocent people in that religion who are suffering as well. These stories powerfully document why tolerance for freedom of expression is vital in a free society! If Protestants were allowed to put up those flyers, and those who disagreed just expressed their reasons as to why without trying to silence their opposition- history would have taken a turn more into the realm of the importance of discussing ideas and hearing new views instead of silencing them. If Catholics in the United States were able to express themselves and hold true to their heritage without worrying about hate groups murdering them on their walk home at night- they would have had much to offer our culture and society. Likewise Samuel Paty's lesson rings true to all of us about the importance of listening to different viewpoints and expressing ourselves even in ways some may find uncomfortable. This truly is a cornerstone in a free society- and violence in the name of any religion only results in the innocent people from that religion facing most of the retaliation and is an endless cycle of hate. The Amish do not believe in photography and believe it if evil to have a picture taken, but we respect their choices and while we are free to still take pictures we respect if an Amish person wants to opt out. Your religion governs your own life, but this is a world full of vast religions as numerous as the birds of the air and as colorful and diverse as each one. To force the world to heed the standards of your religion or your political party is to stifle the human spirit, and leads us into a society that resembles nothing we are familiar with. As can clearly be seen here- those hostile to religious expression could be of any religious background, or in the cases of authoritarian regimes such as the Soviet Union (historically) and North Korea.
With freedom of expression we can learn from all ideas and viewpoints- and this is the way to end ignorance and live in a more tolerant society. We do not have to agree with what is being said or shown, but we have the right to ignore it just as they have the right to express it. We have a right to express ourselves just as they have a right to express themselves- at the end of the day, this is what makes us human- and nobody has a right to silence us for expressing an idea.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right that must be protected, and just because something is opposed to your own viewpoints you have a choice to leave the room or listen and disagree. Silencing other viewpoints results in terrible violations of our basic human rights. I realize this is far from a controversial stance, but in light of Friday's events it is imperative for all of us to speak out for the right of free expression. I stand with the French Embassy, and I stand with the Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen.