As I travel to Washington today to moderate a panel of experts in web technology, constitutional law, religious freedom policy, and journalism, on the issue of free speech on the Internet, two breaking news stories – one tragic and the other intriguing – show the relevance of NRB's John Milton Project for Religious Free Speech, the venture that is dealing with that very issue.
The sad news today was that U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and other State Department staff were murdered late Tuesday in Libya at the hands of protesters who were outraged by an allegedly anti-Muslim video that was produced in America. The other story was the announcement of Apple's iPhone 5, a new device that economists predict may bump up the GDP in our country by as much as one-half percent. Where such GDP growth is measured now in meager terms of around 2%, that contribution by a single new media company to the U.S. economy is substantial.
What do these events have in common? Both suggest that we need to impress on Americans, and the world, the importance of religious free speech – as long as it is lawful – even that kind of expression that we may not personally endorse or even religious ideas that we would not tolerate in our own homes. Apple, after all, despite all of its innovational genius, banned Chuck Colson's Manhattan Declaration from its iTunes App Store because it promoted a biblical view of marriage. There is absolutely no moral equivalence of course between that act of censorship and the despicable events that occurred in Libya. But there will be voices now that may cry out for restriction of speech that touches on sensitive religious issues, and especially expression on the Internet, in the name of preventing violence. There is another way, however: Rather than emasculating religious free speech, we should advocate restricting the conduct of those persons who commit violence, mayhem and murder (and the officials and nations who harbor or even encourage them) as a response to religious ideas they despise. John Milton made a similar argument in the 1600s, when the English government proposed a strangle hold on the Internet of that day: the printing press. It is a timeless argument, and a good one today, as NRB continues to fight for access to the Gospel of Christ through every medium of communication.
Craig Parshall is Senior Vice President & General Counsel for NRB and the Director of its John Milton Project for Religious Free Speech.
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Published: September 12, 2012