Cartoons, Pizza, & The New Free Speech | Teen Ink

Cartoons, Pizza, & The New Free Speech

May 12, 2015
By ramfthomas4 PLATINUM, South Bend, Indiana
ramfthomas4 PLATINUM, South Bend, Indiana
26 articles 1 photo 98 comments

Favorite Quote:
“If the present world go astray, the cause is in you, in you it is to be sought.”
― Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy


Last year I went to a nice little summer camp in northern Michigan.  I was there for a few weeks, blissfully unaware of the outside world.  Unfortunately, the outside world was not idle.  When I got back I had a lot of newspaper reading to catch up on - and a terrible lot of it seemed to involve a mysterious new terrorist group called ISIS.  For those of you who don’t remember, ISIS stands for “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.”  Nowadays it’s sometimes called ISIL, but I’m not qualified to write about the politics and what it means if they hold this part of this land and that part of that land.  Suffice it to say, the practices of ISIS should and do strike terror and loathing into the hearts of all decent people.
On a seemingly unrelated note, I want to discuss an unfortunate debacle that occurred recently in the lovely state of Indiana.  Those of you who pay attention to national news may have heard a bit about Indiana Senate Bill 101, better known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  The general idea, as far as anyone can tell, is that churches, religious organizations, and businesses cannot be forced to do anything they find morally reprehensible.  Sounds fairly innocuous, right?  This is the 21st century, and we’re in America, the greatest country on earth!  We know better than to force people to do anything they don’t want to do.  It would take a pretty smooth (or naive) politician to say that with a straight face.  The fighting started before the ink was dry.  Various secular groups, most notably those endorsing gay rights, started shouting about discrimination.
Now, you’re probably wondering what these two situations have to do with each other.  In and of themselves, absolutely nothing.  But these unrelated issues had repercussions, and those repercussions had tangents, and two of those tangents ended up next to each other in articles in my local newspaper.  The first situation happened, not surprisingly, in Texas.
A certain Ms. Pamela Geller, known as the president of the anti-Muslim hate group The American Freedom Defense Initiative, decided that in order to defy what she sees as the oppressive power of Islam, she would host a cartoon contest specifically aimed at gathering offensive cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.  When I say offensive cartoons, I want to be clear that these cartoons were not only offensive to particularly strict Muslims.  These cartoons left nothing sacred.  Geller might be able to out-extreme some ISIS fighters. She wants every Muslim wiped off the face of the earth.  She wants to make sure that no one who practices Islam is allowed into America.  As you might expect, her gauntlet was picked up.  Two young Muslim men tried to shoot the cartoonists gathered at the convention.  Luckily for the cartoonists, a policeman managed to kill both men in the parking lot before they could get inside.  That was the first incident.  The second happened near my hometown of South Bend.
Because of the above mentioned religious freedom act, a small family-owned pizza parlor decided that it would not cater gay weddings, if asked.  They made it very clear that they are happy to serve any homosexual person or couple who wished to visit their restaurant.  They simply wish to refrain from participating in an event which is in conflict with their beliefs.  The death threats started immediately.  A local high school coach was suspended for the following tweet: "Who's going to Walkerton, IN to burn down #memoriespizza w me? Agree with #FreedomofReligion bill? That's a lifestyle they CHOOSE.  Ignorant.”  The restaurant was forced to close.  (They reopened recently, but I can’t find any confirmation that they were able to stay open).  They set up a fundraising page while they were closed which collected just over $840,000 before it, too, was forced to shut down.  The website gofundme.com, which hosted the page, doesn’t want to host controversial fundraisers.
So here’s the question - why do both articles make me angry?  Why, in my mind, should it be okay to penalize Geller for her genocidal statements, but not okay to penalize the pizzeria owners for publicly expressing a belief that is highly offensive to many?  You could simplify it, I suppose.  You could say that it should be a finable offence to threaten violence.  But that takes away the layers of complexity surrounding the issue.  This is not a question with a simple answer.  You can try to take things situation by situation - in the case of Memories Pizza, for example, a nonviolent protest or a simple boycott would have been, in my opinion, a reasonable and adequate response.  And there are ways, I am sure, to keep Pamela Geller from spewing her hate at public venues. 
But that’s not going to work.  America, land of the free, home of the brave, is changing.  We promote our own views and trod down dissenting voices.  We throw ourselves wholeheartedly into debates that consist solely of insults and threats; some of us are even willing to put ourselves in danger just to prove that the enemy we have created is wrong.  I shudder to think of the future, because what we are doing now is nothing compared to what we might do.  In the end, this article isn’t about ISIS, or gay rights, or obnoxious people.  It’s about free speech, and what it’s going to look like in the coming decades.  Our generation may be the group that decides whether America is going to stick with the first amendment and all it entails, or plunge into the intricacies of legalized political correctness.  What is your solution?


The author's comments:

This piece is meant to start a discussion, so please put your opinion, solution, et cetera in the comments!  I will also be posting this in the Philosophy forum.


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