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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Freedom of speech in need of defense

Published: April 30, 2010
Section: Opinions

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Our right to free speech is granted in the First Amendment to the Constitution, not the 10th, not the 20th, but the First. The right to say just about anything, provided it does not encourage illegal action, is among the cornerstones of American society.

Unfortunately though, this right seems to be giving way to fear. Two weeks ago in response to South Park’s 200th episode a group based in New York called Revolution Muslim issued a statement “warning” the show’s creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone that they “will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh for airing this show.” Out of fear, Comedy Central placed further restrictions on the follow up episode. They not only censored the image of Mohammad (also done in the 200th episode), but also censored any reference to his name. Additionally, Comedy Central has pulled the 200th and 201st episodes from the line up and has not made them available on iTunes.

Four years ago, South Park did two episodes relating to the image of Mohammad with no problem. As Cartman quite bluntly put it, once one episode gets pulled, it opens the door for more and more until a show ends.

Comedy Central has set down a slippery slope because of a statement protected by the First Amendment. While this group has the right to intimidate Comedy Central, South Park apparently lacks the right to mention someone’s name.

Additionally, this incident if anything illustrates just how well some religions respond to comedy compared to others. Last Thursday John Stewart of The Daily Show spent the first 10 minutes of his show defending South Park and thanking members of every religion his show has joked at the expense of for not responding with threats. Judaism and Christianity seemed to be the most common targets of his show, and yet apparently the angriest letters received have been from the Amish.

South Park wasn’t attempting to mock Mohammad. In fact, about nine years ago, when they DID show an image of Mohammad he was portrayed as a good guy who was integral in preventing a disaster. In this post 9/11 world, fear seems to trump equality.

I am not a Muslim, and so you may say that there is some part of this that I am just failing to understand. But when it’s OK to have Buddha doing drugs and Jesus watching porn, why is it so wrong to merely have an image of Mohammad? You have the right to be offended, but by being offended you are being treated to equality. As a Jew I have been offended at times by jokes South Park has made at my religion’s expense, however my religion isn’t specifically targeted more frequently than any other religion. Furthermore the actions of Revolution Muslim, which I acknowledge is a radical group and not representative of Muslims in general, are protected by the same first amendment that should allow South Park to discuss any issue.

Comedy Central has the right to censor what is broadcast on its network, however that is a right that must be exercised with extreme care.

Every time something is censored it risks setting the precedent that would make whatever subject is censored taboo.