Weighing in on the recent debate over freedom of speech and expression, Pope Francis said anyone that insults religion could expect “a punch in the nose.” In provocative remarks, which may have caused concern in France, Francis said freedom of speech and expression has certain limitations, especially when it revolves around ridiculing or insulting religion.
The forthright comments were made by the pontiff on board his official plane, as he flew to the Philippines from Sri Lanka. Gesturing towards Alberto Gasparri, an official from the Vatican who organizes pontifical visits and was standing next to him during the interview, Francis said if his good friend Gasparri said a curse word against his mother, he could expect a punch in the nose.
Throwing a pretend punch, the Pope said, “It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”
Francis’ comments came less than a fortnight after Islamic radicals barged into the Paris headquarters of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, shooting dead 12 journalists and cartoonists, including some of the most revered satirists of the country, who for years had lampooned religion, including Islam and Christianity.
On January 14, Charlie Hebdo released a survivors’ issue featuring a picture of Prophet Mohammad on its cover and provocative illustrations related to the Roman Catholic Church on its inside pages. While Francis did not cite the magazine specifically, he did say mocking religion was dangerous and unacceptable.
“There are so many people who speak badly about religions or other religions, who make fun of them, who make a game out of the religions of others,” he said. “They are provocateurs. And what happens to them is what would happen to Dr. Gasparri if he says a curse word against my mother. There is a limit.”
Contradicting himself, the Pope also condemned the January 7 attack on Charlie Hebdo, saying violence carried out in the name of religion is an aberration.
“One cannot make war [or] kill in the name of one’s own religion, that is, in the name of God.”
But those who mock another religion can expect some kind of a reaction, he said.
A few days after the Pope had made evident his stand on freedom of speech and expression, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on January 18 that he too believes in the right to freedom of speech and expression but that does not mean religious symbols can be attacked. Abbas was however speaking of the offensive caricatures that were published in Charlie Hebdo.
“We support freedom of expression, but there are red lines and they are the religious and holy symbols.”Abbas told participants at the annual festival of Armenian Christians in Bethlehem. “We hope that this is not repeated.”
Clarifying that Palestinians are moving ahead towards peace, Abbas said there is no substitute for negotiations.
“We are seeking a state through negotiations and we condemn terror because it leads to the killing of human beings and Allah has forbidden this. We do not believe in violence wherever it exists,” he explained.
Photo Credits: Marians in Asia