Precinct 333

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Rebel Without A Clue

On Good Friday, Christian Legal Society members at Penn State Law School hide plastic eggs around campus, filled with candy and Gospel messages. This year, they found out someone beat them to it. The unknown culprit hid eggs with blasphemous cartoons inside depicting Jesus questioning his sexuality and calling God an “asshole”.

In a striking stand for the First Amendment, the group did not seek to have the perpetrator punished by the school. Instead, they held a forum to discuss the First Amendment implications of rules and laws against hate speech. Good for them.

The perpetrator finally came forward on Tuesday. He is George Black, a second-year Penn Law student. What does he say about the incident? He calls it a parody, and claims that he was trying to communicate message. The message?

“It's just annoying to me to have these fundamentalist ideas pushed down my throat," Black said in an interview. "It's interference with my education."

Black said he had attempted to voice his opinions through Law School listservs and announcement systems but was not permitted because he did not represent an official student group.

So Black was angry that he is having “fundamentalist ideas pushed down [his] throat.” I’m curious – how are they being pushed down his throat? Are group members tackling and forcing their materials down his throat? Are they hiding their materials in his food, forcing him to consume their literature unaware? Or are they merely engaging in free speech that he dislikes and wants stopped – something they clearly were not interested in doing with his much more offensive speech.

Yesterday, the CLS hosted a discussion about campus free speech led by David French, president of the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, in response to the egg incident. Gebelin said she hoped to foster an open dialogue about Christianity at the Law School. FIRE is an organization that was co-founded by professor Alan Kors in response to a free-speech incident on Penn's campus in 1993.

"If [Black is] interested in having a free exchange, let it be," Gebelin said. "We don't like what he did, [but] we wouldn't want him to be censored."

In other words, they defend Black’s right to speak, even as he uses that right to spew insults their direction and to engage in speech that could reasonably called blasphemy. If he had tried that sort of tactic to mock Muhammad, he would probably have already been banned from the campus for his own safety following the issuance of a fatwa calling for his murder. It seems to me that the CLS has taken a principled stand in trying to create a dialogue, rather than silence their opponent – which seems to be what Black wanted all along. And even after being defended by those he clearly hates, Black doesn’t get it.

Black, however, said the CLS's reaction has been too harsh.

"I thought it was funny," Black said. "I thought it'd be considered offensive, but I didn't think that people would have a stick up their ass about it."

Actually, the thing they have a “stick up their ass about” is freedom of speech, and the tendency in too many public settings to try to limit that speech, at best, to the bland and inoffensive, or, at worst, to the radical polemic of the Left.

(Hat Tip: The Torch)


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