During the White House briefing Thursday, spokesman Josh Earnest echoed Pope Francis’ comments on free speech following last week’s Paris attack on Charlie Hebdo, saying that freedom of expression “comes with a set of responsibilities.”
Earnest continued to lecture the White House press corps, telling them that they have a responsibility to deal with what “goes along with those rights.”
In his Thursday comments, Pope Francis remarked that there are indeed limits on free speech, including when one insults or decries an individual’s faith.
“If my good friend Dr. [Alberto] Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch,” Pope Francis said aboard the Papal Plane from The Philippines to Sri Lanka. “It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”
Earnest made the comments in response to questioning from CNN’s Jim Acosta.
JIM ACOSTA: We know the President and the Prime Minister released that joint op-ed talking about their priorities when it comes to international terrorism and Russia and so forth. And at one point during that op-ed, it says that they don’t want to allow terrorists to muzzle free speech. But going back to the pope and the pope’s comments, I’m sure you saw that Pope Francis said that when it comes to free speech, there can be reactions, and that insulting somebody’s religion can be like a punch to the face. Does the pope have a point there?
EARNEST: Far be it for me to disagree with the pope…
JIM ACOSTA: In fact, he said it was like insulting somebody’s mother, which would provoke a punch to the face. Does he have a point?
EARNEST: Well, I haven’t seen the entirety of his remarks. Let me just say generally though, in reaction to what you just read from him, that — a couple of things. The first is, and I think it’s something that the pope would readily agree on: there is no act of public expression in terms of free speech, that would in any way justify an act of violence. That is a principle that we have reiterated on a number of occasions, and it’s one that I’m happy to reiterate now. And I think that it’s something that the vast majority of the world agrees with, and I think that is a part of the show of solidarity that we saw last week in Paris, it was standing up for that principle.
At the same time, and this is something that we’ve had the opportunity to discuss from this podium, both with my predecessor and with me is that the — the freedom of expression and freedom of speech also comes with a set of responsibilities. And this is part of the kinds of decisions that journalists like yourselves make on a regular basis about what goes along with what responsibilities go along with those rights. Regardless of how one arrives at one of those ethical decisions, there is no scenario in which an act of free speech justifies an act of violence.