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Want to protect free speech? Push back harder

Jan 11, 2015

Arizona Republic

Personally I think the GOVERNMENT if a thousand times more of a threat to free speech then a few isolated religious nut jobs, be them Christians or Muslims.

Here is Arizona we have religious nut job Cathi Herrod and her Center for the Arizona Policy.

Cathi Herrod doesn't shoot people who don't agree with her nutty Christian views. Cathi Herrod does it the smart way and gets the government to pass laws forcing people to obey her nutty Christian views.

Cathi Herrod and her Center for the Arizona Policy or CAP is far more of a danger to our freedoms then a few nut jobs Muslims like those in France who murdered the folks at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo for mocking the Muslim religion.

Cathi Herrod wants to use the GOVERNMENT to jail or kill people who don't follow her nutty Christian views.

Want to protect free speech? Push back harder

David Cuillier, AZ I See It 7:34 p.m. MST January 10, 2015

Journalism prof: Every day, your right to express yourself is threatened by force.

He railed against the dogma and bloodshed of religion, and championed free speech and tolerance.

He wrote that Muhammad was an impostor, hypocrite and deceitful character. He called Christianity the most "ridiculous, the most absurd and the most bloody religion which has ever infected this world." He lampooned all institutions.

He was Francois Marie Arouet, also known as Voltaire.

Like the editors and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo, Voltaire pushed the boundaries and offended people in the 1700s. But unlike the Parisian journalists gunned down last week, Voltaire died peacefully at age 83.

Today, free speech is threatened daily with deadly force. Bullies intimidate journalists, artists, activists and anyone else who might express unpopular ideas. More than 1,100 journalists have been killed in the past 20 years, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Since the French massacre Wednesday, I've heard U.S. journalists contemplate whether they should carry concealed weapons, and whether newsrooms should add armed guards. Most, though, accept that it's a dangerous business. Always has been, even in Arizona.

Don Bolles, who investigated organized crime for The Arizona Republic, died in 1976 after a car bombing. His final words 10 days after the explosion, laying in a hospital bed with both legs and an arm amputated, were, "They finally got me. The Mafia."

Sometimes angry readers threaten journalists with violence. In 1989, the Mesa Tribune published a front-page photo of a man who was electrocuted while pruning. The picture showed his legs as rescuers lowered him from a tree. The family was furious.

One night a converted school bus, painted with messages demanding respect for the deceased pruner, plowed into the Tribune building. No one was hurt, and the driver fled. The wallet of a relative was found inside the bus, but nobody was prosecuted.

Sometimes the threats can come from religious extremists, as they did in Paris. One of our journalism students at the University of Arizona covers Muslim issues for Tucson on his blog. He wrote about a peace initiative between Muslims and Jews and received an e-mail telling him he would soon incur the wrath of God.

He got e-mails twisting verses from the Quran that infidels should be slaughtered. The FBI got involved, and we took what precautions we could.

The student keeps writing to this day, undeterred, and will be an incredible journalist.

French police say the two main suspects in the Charlie Hebdo attack are surrounded, but they may have taken a hostage.

So what do journalists and news organizations do when intimidated? Push back harder. Publications around the world are republishing Charlie Hebdo cartoons and satire. Whether this inflames cultural conflict, or justly holds the line on free expression, the ultimate outcome is that terrorists won't muzzle speech with bullets.

Because, really, this is not about journalists. The media are far from perfect, and I understand why a lot of people would want to wring journalists' necks, particularly when there is a clash of fundamental worldviews.

No, this is about all of us. None of us — you, me, our family members, our friends — should be shot for questioning authority, for complaining or mocking institutions that fall short of our expectations. We can argue. We can yell. We can turn red in the face shouting at each other. But we provide a safe venue for discussion, without violence.

That is what Voltaire, Rene Descartes, Pierre Bayle and other French thinkers believed, leading to the Enlightenment and, eventually, the liberties we enjoy in the United States. Voltaire's words still have relevance today:

"I say that we should regard all men as our brothers. What? The Turk my brother? The Jew? The Siam? Yes, without doubt."

David Cuillier is director of the University of Arizona School of Journalism and Freedom of Information Chair for the Society of Professional Journalists.