During a press conference, Pope Francis spoke for the first time today about the recent terrorist attack by Islamic extremists that took the lives of seventeen staffers of Charlie Hebdo in Paris. While the pope admonished the attack, saying, “No one can kill in the name of God. This is an aberration,” he also explained the need for restraint while exercising the right to free speech. “One cannot react violently, but if [someone] says something bad about my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s to be expected,” the pontiff said. “There are a lot of people who speak badly about other religions. They make fun of them. What happens is what happens with my friend [who insults my mother]. There is a limit.”
The pope’s statement runs counter to popular sentiment supporting Charlie Hebdo‘s right to print whatever it sees fit in the name of free speech and satire. The Daily Show‘s John Stewart said after the attack, “Our hearts are with the staff of Charlie Hebdo and their families. I know very few people go into comedy as an act of courage … but those guys at Hebdo had it and they were killed for their cartoons.” Conan O’Brien responded, “In this country we just take it for granted that it’s our right to poke fun at the untouchable, but today’s tragedy in Paris reminds us very viscerally that it’s a right some people are inexplicably forced to die for.”
While Stewart and O’Brien echo popular sentiment, there are others who question whether the publication’s work is truly satire or thinly veiled prejudice. In an article for CNN, columnist Sally Kohn writes, “It’s possible to honor and protect the free speech rights of publications like Charlie Hebdo while simultaneously believing such cartoons are unnecessarily disrespectful and offensive.” Kohn’s sentiments illustrate the concern that attacks on free speech may overtake the value of the speech itself.
During the pope’s press conference, he said, “Each person not only has the freedom but also the obligation to say what he thinks in the name of the common good. But “each religion has its dignity. I cannot make fun of it.”