Furthermore, while I personally reject the denigration of opposing religious beliefs, our government does not. It cannot. The freedom of speech stands alongside the freedom of religion, protecting the right to verbally pour scorn upon, belittle, or degrade opposing religions.
Even if we understand the denigration of religious beliefs to go so far as to entail defamation, the U.S. government does not criminalize this act, but rather allows it as a ground for civil legal actions. Even the United Nations Commission on Human Rights has ruled that the criminalization of libel violates the freedom of expression.
The error is also particular. How can the government “absolutely reject” the “content and message” of the anti-Muslim video? While crudely communicated, many of the ideas expressed have been communicated elsewhere by historians and religious critics of Islam. Does our government reject these messages as well? Or is the State Department passing subjective value on the tone of the message?
A cornerstone of Old Testament prophetic religion was the denigration of idols, and those who worshiped them. The Psalmist mocks the idols who have ears but cannot hear, and feet but cannot walk, and warns that those who worship them are bound to become like them (Psalm 115). The New Testament church, unlike Israel in the Old Testament, is scattered throughout the world, and endeavors to live peacefully alongside the worshipers of false gods. Yet still it proclaims that on the last day “every knee will bow, and every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10 – 11), and urges us all to be prepared to give a defense for the hope that we have within us.
To tell idolaters and atheists alike that they will soon bow before Jesus may not seem to be an expression of respect. To explain to an idolater the folly of his way may seem to denigrate. Yet this speech — and other evangelistic and apologetic language — is essential to the free exercise of my religion, and protected by the Constitution.
I fear the new U.S. policy of tolerance being sold abroad will soon criminalize the Christian faith.
Dr. Brian Lee is the pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Washington, D.C. He formerly worked as a communications director both on Capitol Hill and at the National Endowment for the Humanities.