Editorial: Pressing for freedom of speech

“I can say this because I am granted freedom of speech.”

“As long as we live in a free country, I can say whatever I want.”

“Don’t stop me from speaking my voice.”

Examples of what we hear in our daily lives – surely, this right to freedom of speech that our First Amendment guarantees is precious, but do we sometimes abuse it?

On Jan. 7, two brothers, Cherif and Said Kouachi, forcefully invaded the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and attacked specific journalists and staff members. By the end of the massacre, 12 were dead and 11 were non-fatally injured, according to BBC News.

Charlie Hebdo is known to be a satirical, atheist news magazine that pokes fun at extremists and religious groups through cartoons, jokes and reports. Cartoons of Prophet Muhammad were not rare and almost expected from this publication.

The magazine company had received death threats before, threatening them to stop publishing the content they produce, as it was found offensive to others. Practicing Muslims found distorted images of Prophet Muhammad humiliating and disrespectful.

Journalist Laurent Leger, however, defended the magazine and said to BFMTV in 2012, “The aim is to laugh. We want to laugh at the extremists — every extremist. They can be Muslim, Jewish, Catholic. Everyone can be religious, but extremist thoughts and acts we cannot accept.”

Taking the words of Leger, then, is it okay to say whatever we wish just because we have this so-called freedom of speech? The privilege that we have – to say anything and not officially be persecuted for it – has been twisted and altered to an entitlement without boundaries and moral value.

People easily say something that may be hurtful towards another person, then automatically block out criticism, utilizing the freedom to openly communicate all of their feelings as a justification. Rightfully so, it is their right to embrace, but respect is also a significant factor that, if not everyone learns to embrace and connect with in the same way, will foster a world where words are thrown at each other without a second thought.

The cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo most definitely deserved their right to freedom of speech and freedom of religion, or more accurately, anti-religion. In legal terms, it was acceptable for them to express their beliefs freely. But if it reaches a point in which the cartoons meant to target extremists are extreme themselves, a moral sensitivity trigger should click.

Of course, violence took the case to a new level; taking the journalists’ lives was absolutely not morally right. However, the journalists predicted their consequences and, in essence, sought controversy upon themselves.

Regardless of your hunger to voice thoughts that others may find disrespectful, we encourage you to think more than twice whether it is at the expense of others and the distinction between satire and hate speech.