The Right to Disrespect?

05/05/2015 03:16 pm ET | Updated May 05, 2016

"R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find out what it means to me," sang Aretha Franklin decades ago.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T -- what everyone is taught in character building class; a class that starts as soon as one is able to babble. How many times have we been admonished if we were being disrespectful to someone? Told to hold our tongue? Not to be rude? Be considerate? Told to be respectful? Countless. So why is it that if someone knowingly and continuously insults a concept/thought/person that is held scared to more than a billion people, knowing well that it will incite violence and hatred -- why is that hate-mongering is covered under the annals of free speech?

The senseless shooting at the museum in Texas was appalling and reprehensible to say the least. And before I go forward, let me apologize for this attack -- I apologize for the 1.5 billion of us every day, anyway (otherwise I might be considered complicit in their actions). Yes, there are many who need to bring in tolerance and clarity in their thoughts so people like me can stop apologizing for people like them. But this post is not about religion or what Islam believes in or not. And neither should it be in any way or form, considered an explanation for their actions. Their action was horrendous and deplorable (I apologize again). This is quite simply, just a question that others have asked before me: Why is it that under the guise of freedom of speech, we can say anything without heeding to rules of common courtesy and respect? After all, on a daily basis we can vent our thoughts and feelings to anyone in any format and not have any repercussions. Um, right? Go ahead, tell your boss what you really think of his new plan and your job, tell your mother-in-law what you really think of her values and tell your teacher what you think they should do with the last exam that they just gave you. And then let me know how that goes (especially the chat with your mother-in-law).

A week after the Charlie Hebdo attack, (I apologize about the attack), 54 people in France were detained and jailed for a variety of remarks that were either shouted out in the street or posted on social media, including an arrest of stand-up comedian Dieudonne M'Bala. The comic had faced prosecution many times in the past for his crude, anti-Semitic jokes. Why wasn't that considered freedom of expression? Is it because denying holocaust and being anit-semitic shows disrespect to a vast population of people? In the late 1980s, the French parliament passed a law making it a crime to deny the Holocaust. The Holocaust happened. Millions of people died unjustly and in terrible condition. Denying that fact is disrespectful to all the people who experienced it -- but if something is said to the contrary (no matter how distorted the vision is behind it), wouldn't that be considered as a freedom of expression? Austria has a similar law and while recognizing that prohibiting the "Lüge" might represent a limitation of the right to free expression, it holds that the injury to the personal honor of those defamed (Jewish citizens) weighs so heavily that it takes precedence over freedom of expression.

People have been admonished and reprimanded and fired for their thoughts -- freedom of expression? Just recently, the Houston Rockets fired its social media manager for a tweet that made people upset, as they felt it advocated violence toward animals. Justine Sacco, a former PR executive was fired after a firestorm of controversy on her "needless and careless tweet" about AIDS in Africa. Carl DeMaio, a candidate for Congress, was forced to withdraw a job offer for Blaise Hahs, after a review of Hahs' Twitter account revealed a series of racist tweets. Emily Thornberry had to resign from the Labor shadow cabinet for posting an image of a house that provoked fury in Britain as it felt that she had shown her (and therefore Labor's) contempt for the patriotic working classes. And the list goes on.

An event that exhibits cartoons of the Prophet is in bad taste to start with -- why continuously make a mockery of something that you know is disrespectful for billions of people? The organization that held it, AFDI, is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. The main speaker of the event was Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician is known as a polarizing Dutch politician and anti-Islamic campaigner. His inflammatory comments at a rally, a couple of years ago, earned him a comparison to Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister. Inciting hatred lies on the same pedestal as freedom of expression?

Recently six PEN Members declined to attend a gala after it announced an award (Freedom of Expression Courage award ) for Charlie Hebdo. As one writer stated that is "out of discomfort with what they called magazine's "cultural intolerance" and promotion of "a kind of forced secular view," that forced them to back out. Common courtesy should be accorded to all races and religions -- whether you believe in religion or not. Some limits on expression were contemplated by the framers of the U.S. Constitution and have been read into the Constitution by the Supreme Court, "There are certain well-defined and limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise a Constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous and the insulting or 'fighting' words -- those which by their very utterances inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace."

It was in poor taste to hold the exhibit.

It was further deplorable that two gunmen decided to take the action that they did. In no way was that acceptable (I apologize).

Poor taste, though might be legal, but it is still, poor.