When Free Expression Isn’t Free: Pope Francis and the Western Tradition

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There he goes again. Pope Francis is confusing the point.

He condemned religious violence in response to the attack in Paris. Westerners tend to applaud the condemnation of religious violence. All well and good.

But the New York Daily News believes that Francis made “a rare rhetorical misstep.”

But then the Pope confused the point by saying, “You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

While the sentiment is understandable coming from a man of the cloth, it conflicts with Western traditions of free expression, while enabling repressive religious zealots around the world to claim the Pope is in their corner.

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The Christmas Truce of 1914

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This week marks the hundredth anniversary of the Christmas truce of the First World War.

In the summer of 1914, the German army advanced into French territory, but after initial success, the Germans found themselves being pushed back by the French and the British who had come to their aid. The Germans dug trenches to keep from getting pushed back farther, and the British and French dug their own trenches parallel to the German ones.

In December of 1914, the two sides were still sitting in their trenches, which in some places were less than a hundred yards apart.

Neither side wanted to fight on Christmas Day, so the guns went silent for a while. And in the silence, someone started singing “Silent Night.” “Silent Night” is pretty much the same song in both English and German, and the two sides together started singing hymns celebrating the birth of the Christ.

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What Really Happened In Houston

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Over at First Things, Mark Movsesian has provided an adequate summary of “what’s happening in Houston.” The mayor’s office tried to subpoena documents from local pastors. The pastors cried foul, even though the mayor’s staff might have had legitimate grounds for the subpoenas. Movsesian thinks that the subpoenas won’t be allowed in this case.

Then he provides this analysis:

Still, even if these pastors succeed in resisting the subpoenas, significant damage has been done. It’s hard to see how this episode will not chill religious and political expression. Most people, quite rationally, want nothing to do with lawsuits and subpoenas. They don’t want to make legal history. The lesson they will draw from the episode is this: If you want to avoid trouble, don’t make politically-charged statements about religious convictions that the government doesn’t approve, even if you’re at a private meeting in your own church. In fact, don’t revise or retain such statements. Otherwise, who knows? You may one day have to lawyer up.

I think he’s exactly wrong in this.

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Homeland Security Targets the Land Rover

President Obama claims that he’s concerned about immigration reform. He thinks that immigrants who are here illegally should be provided with a pathway to citizenship. I tend to agree with him. But I think there’s an aspect of immigration reform that he’s overlooking. What about classic automobiles that enter the country illegally? What are we to do with them?

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A couple of weeks ago, the Department of Homeland Security descended upon a North Carolina family and seized their beloved 1985 Land Rover Defender. The family had recently paid $60,000 for the classic vehicle, but Homeland Security ripped the SUV from its happy home and refuses to tell its owners where they’ve detained it.

The vehicle’s crime? It might be an illegal immigrant.

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