“Je Suis Charlie?” Freedom of Speech and the Believer

When gunmen stormed the offices of magazine Charlie Hebdo on January 7, 2015, murdering twelve journalists and policemen, the debate over free speech was rekindled. Thousands declared “Je suis Charlie!,” meaning “I am Charlie!” on Facebook and Twitter. Thousands more took to the streets, bearing “Je suis Charlie” on signs, showing solidarity with the victims. They told the world, “I am Charlie. I have a right to free speech. This was an attack on all of us.”

I don’t support demeaning Christians, Jews, and Muslims via journalism as Charlie Hebdo does. However, like Charlie Hebdo, we as believers welcome freedom of speech. By it, we share the gospel with coworkers, attend church on Sunday, and study Scripture. Should Christians enter the fray of debate, arguing that freedom of speech is essential for our high cause? Or, is it one we ought to hold loosely, risking the loss of this liberty? Should we cry out, “Je suis Charlie?”

The free speech debate sparked mere hours after the massacre became an inferno days later. It’s a din of opinions, 31 flavors and counting.

“You can dislike Charlie Hebdo, but the fact that you dislike them has nothing to do with their right to speak,” Salman Rushdie claimed, who himself faced death threats from the Iranian government for his book, The Satanic Verses.1

Yet on the flip side are those who desire to see boundaries drawn. “The freedom of expression may be guaranteed by the French Constitution, but there is a limit when it goes too far and turns into hatred, and stigmatization,” Elsa Ray, a spokeswoman for the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, said.2

Where does our liberty to draw political cartoons, write inflammatory editorials, or preach the gospel come from? Our secular governments, regimes placed in power by our Lord: “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” (Romans 13:1)

These governments give us the privilege of free speech. As a result, thousands of other worldviews crowd together with our own. We see these different ideas in our atheist neighbor or our Hindu client. Inevitably, our perspectives clash; men argue in newspapers and glare across boardrooms over them; they fight on battlefields and die daily over them. We see the debate over free speech not because we live in a free world, but because we live in a fallen world.

The massacre that took place in France this January was a prime example of man’s sin. The men who carried out these attacks were Islamic extremists. Their perspective demanded death as punishment for lack of respect of Islam, while the cartoonists’ worldview demanded ridicule as punishment for refusal to allow their secular idealism. This clash of opinions cost twelve people their lives.

As a believer, it sickens me to think that men would commit such atrocities, especially in the name of a false religion. The true God never tells us to murder men for blaspheming His name, no matter how much they grieve us. It is not our job to punish them for their sin; it is God’s (see Romans 12:9). What is our responsibility as Christians? In the words of Christian leader Al Mohler, “Our responsibility is to bear testimony to Christ and, in following his example, bear scorn where necessary in his own name.”3

Christ, in the greatest example of love, bore the scorn of thousands when He was nailed to the cross for our sins. Even if the scorn we face today leads to persecution and death, the truth of the gospel will always have the victory. The gospel has never been stopped by laws, kings, or extremists, and it never will be. We don’t have to cry out, “Je Suis Charlie,” concerned that our freedom of speech will disappear. We have the freedom to live for our Savior and Lord, proclaiming Him so that all may come to knowledge of Christ. That is the ultimate freedom of expression: proclaiming the Word of God, which will never pass away.

[1] Associated Press in Burlington. “Salman Rushdie on Charlie Hebdo: Freedom of Speech Can Only be Absolute.” The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jan/15/salman-rushdie-on-charlie-hebdo-freedom-of-speech-can-only-be-absolute

[2] Bilefsky, Dan. “Charlie Hebdo’s Defiant Muhammad Cover Fuels Debate on Free Speech.” New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/14/world/europe/new-charlie-hebdo-has-muhammad-cartoon.html

[3] Mohler, Albert. “Transcript: The Briefing 01-08-15.” AlbertMohler.com. http://www.albertmohler.com/2015/01/08/transcript-the-briefing-01-08-15/