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Pope Francis and the First Amendment? The Delicate Balance Between Free Speech And The Expression Of Religious Beliefs

December 21st, 2018

Pope Francis discussed the balance between free speech and the expression of religious beliefs of those in the public square.

Pope Francis discussed the balance between free speech and the expression of religious beliefs of those in the public square.

There are a few dominant religions that span multiple continents and have millions of believers worldwide.  Catholicism is one of them, and it has had a resurgence not only in newsworthy headlines but also in popularity due to the emergence of a strong, charismatic and compassionate leader.  Pope Francis I, previously known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, has become one of the most recognizable world leaders in recent history since his election in March of 2013.  He has also been one of the most controversial figures to head the Catholic Church in recent times thanks to his reformative nature and desire to interact directly with his parishioners, regardless of social status.  It is for this reason that Pope Francis’ statements and positions on hot topics in religious study are sought after, and when given, are thoroughly analyzed.

Freedom of Speech vs. Religious Fervor

One of the topics discussed by the widely revered Jesuit pope was the interplay between an individual’s right to speak freely and the religious beliefs of those within earshot.  Pope Francis was speaking to journalists in January of 2015 about the recent killings that had occurred at a Paris newspaper.  He stated that while he condemned killing in the name of God, he also cautioned against the use of speech to incite anger from religious individuals.  According to news reports of the discussion, Pope Francis opined that the “liberty of expression comes with the obligation to speak for the common good.”  

The pope’s viewpoint on this issue is not far from that of many leaders when discussing the responsibility that goes with the right to speak one’s mind.  While many world leaders’ positions on free speech are bolstered by absolutisms, Pope Francis tempers his position with an eye toward religious caution.  He seems to convey a viewpoint that followers of other faiths deserve some semblance of respect.  On the other hand, some people’s idea of faith is reliant upon a strongly held belief that the religion in which you are placing your loyalty is the one, true faith, and all those who disagree do so only because they have not accepted the truth.

What Pope Francis has arguably done in taking the position of cautioned speech is to take note of those who hold their beliefs above all else and who would do anything, however reprehensible, in order to preserve their dignity in the face of an alleged affront.  By stating that freedom of speech is absolutely important, but should be used in such a way so as to ‘not cause harm,’ he has added his papal weight to a debate that has been raging for centuries.  It has also provided a way for religious zealots to co-exist in a modern world that can sometimes seem to place their lifestyle in an increasingly smaller box without inciting in them a desire to do physical harm to that modern world.

The issue of free speech versus religion is one that has been discussed across the country since the United States became a country over 200 years ago.  As the debate continues, in and outside the courtroom, the Universal Life Church Case Law will be there to monitor developments in law and governance.

Photo Credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales) via Compfight cc

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