Hate Speech

Pope Francis Says He Never Meant to Endorse Punishment of Religious Insults

The pope's "clarification" is implausible but welcome.



Last week I criticized Pope Francis for saying that the right to freedom of speech does not include the right to "insult the faith of others" and that violence in response to such an offense is "normal." This week Francis said he 1) did not mean to justify violence in retaliation for religious insults and 2) was merely urging prudence and sensitivity rather than endorsing legal limits on speech. The first clarification is more persuasive than the second one, which seems more like a retraction to me.

Here is what Francis said on Monday: 

In theory we can say that a violent reaction in the face of an offense or a provocation, in theory yes, it is not a good thing, one shouldn't do it. In theory we can say what the Gospel says, that we should turn the other cheek. In theory we can say that we have freedom of expression, and that's important. But in theory we all agree. But we are human, and there's prudence, which is a virtue of human coexistence. I cannot constantly insult, provoke a person continuously, because I risk making him angry, and I risk receiving an unjust reaction, one that is not just. But that's human. For this reason I say that freedom of expression must take into account the human reality and for this reason it must be prudent. It's a way of saying that one must be educated, prudent. Prudence is the human virtue that regulates our relations. I can go up to here, I can go up to there, and there, beyond that no. What I wanted to say is that in theory we all agree: there is freedom of expression, a violent aggression is not good, it's always bad. We all agree, but in practice, let us stop a little because we are human and we risk provoking the other. For this reason freedom must be accompanied by prudence. That's what I wanted to say.

In his comments last week, Francis never explicitly said violence was OK, merely that it was to be expected. I accept that he did not mean to defend violence, although I still question both the accuracy and the wisdom of declaring that it's only human to punch someone in the nose when he insults your mother or your religion. Francis even went so far as to say that he himself would respond violently if someone insulted his mother. Expectations matter, and if we expect violence in situations like these, we will get more of it. Even though Francis says a violent response is "unjust," he is offering an appealing excuse for it.

The pope's claim that he was never talking about legal limits on freedom of expression is much harder to believe given the context of last week's remarks. Here is the question to which he was responding:

Holy Father, yesterday during Mass, you spoke about religious liberty as a fundamental human right. With respect to other religions, how far can the freedom of expression extend, since this latter is a fundamental human right, too?

In other words, Francis was explicitly asked about limits on the "fundamental human right" of free speech. After drawing an analogy between an insult against one's religion and an insult against one's mother (both of which predictably elicit violence), he said, "You cannot provoke, you cannot insult the faith of others, you cannot make fun of the faith….And this is a limit. I've used this example of the limit to say that in the freedom of expression there are limits, like the example I gave of my mother."

It is not surprising that reporters for news organizations such as the Associated Press and The New York Times understood Francis to be saying that religious insults should be banned, especially since they are actually against the law (in certain hazily defined circumstances) in France, which is where the massacre that provoked this whole discussion happened. I still think that is the most plausible reading of the pope's comments last week, which you can read in full here. But if Francis now says he opposes speech restrictions like France's, I am glad to hear it.

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  1. I still question both the accuracy and the wisdom of declaring that it’s only human to punch someone in the nose when he insults your mother or your religion.

    Wisdom? Fair cop.


    Well …

    I’m pretty sure a few thousand years of recorded history are backing him up on this one, to this very day.

    It might not be good, but it sure as hell happens often enough it should be expected as a reply from at least a portion of listeners.

  2. To be fair, the Pope was talking about his reaction to what a friend said. Would Pope Frankie punch some stranger talking crap about his mom

    1. He is a former bouncer…

  3. I’m thinking, increasingly, that this is just another thing that should be chalked up on the “dumb shit the pope says” list. My impression is that Francis probably has a good heart but isn’t particularly bright. So, he says a lot of things off the cuff that he hasn’t particularly thought through and should probably be vetted by people who have.

    1. I agree. It’s unlikely that he gets into barroom brawls over people insulting his mom.

    2. Yep. Pope Biden

      1. I’m actually finding it more akin to anything President Obama says on foreign policy. Inconsistent, not well thought out and prone to overreach.

    3. Im sure his parents, Lois & Hal agree.

    4. “My impression is that Francis probably has a good heart but isn’t particularly bright.”

      Well, he is a commie, so…….

      1. I don’t think he’s a commie. Just one of those people who thinks it would be nice if everyone shared. Why won’t people share? They should have to share!

    5. My impression is that Francis probably has a good heart but isn’t particularly bright.

      Let me know when he dedicates the full resources of his cult to rooting out and prosecuting the child rapists they’e been sheltering for centuries. Until and unless that happens, I remain unimpressed.


  4. But if Francis now says he opposes speech restrictions like France’s, I am glad to hear it.

    Pope Francis doesn’t know what the fuck he thinks. He just wants everybody to get along. A nice guy, but not too bright.

    In theory we can say what the Gospel says, that we should turn the other cheek…But…

    This is an interesting thing for a Pope to say, that Gospel is mere theory, subject to the realpolitik of human reaction and response. The more he talks, the more he steps into it.

    1. …Francis probably has a good heart but isn’t particularly bright

      A nice guy, but not too bright.

      Jinx. Buy me a coke.

  5. The pope’s “clarification” is implausible but welcome.

    So you’re calling the pope a liar?

    1. Tell me about it. That kind of shit gets me so worked up, I just want to haul off and punch Sullum right in the kisser.

    1. Very Old Testament of them.

    2. From the Mongol Khan’s response:

      “Thanks to the power of the Eternal Heaven, all lands have been given to us from sunrise to sunset. How could anyone act other than in accordance with the commands of Heaven? Now your own upright heart must tell you: “We will become subject to you, and will place our powers at your disposal.” You in person, at the head of the monarchs, all of you, without exception, must come to tender us service and pay us homage; then only will we recognize your submission. But if you do not obey the commands of Heaven, and run counter to our orders, we shall know that you are our foe.”

      This is the mother of all Bond villain speeches.

      1. Mongol Khans in general have the best shit-talk of the Middle Ages. Mongke Khan’s correspondence to the Caliph is similar.

        1. *Hulegu Khan, not Mongke, my mistake.

        2. +1 Ain Jalut

          In 1260, Hulagu sent envoys to Qutuz in Cairo, demanding his surrender:

          From the King of Kings of the East and West, the Great Khan. To Qutuz the Mamluk, who fled to escape our swords. You should think of what happened to other countries and submit to us. You have heard how we have conquered a vast empire and have purified the earth of the disorders that tainted it. We have conquered vast areas, massacring all the people. You cannot escape from the terror of our armies. Where can you flee? What road will you use to escape us? Our horses are swift, our arrows sharp, our swords like thunderbolts, our hearts as hard as the mountains, our soldiers as numerous as the sand. Fortresses will not detain us, nor armies stop us. Your prayers to God will not avail against us. We are not moved by tears nor touched by lamentations. Only those who beg our protection will be safe. Hasten your reply before the fire of war is kindled. Resist and you will suffer the most terrible catastrophes. We will shatter your mosques and reveal the weakness of your God and then will kill your children and your old men together. At present you are the only enemy against whom we have to march.[5]

          Qutuz responded, however, by killing the envoys and displaying their heads on Bab Zuweila, one of the gates of Cairo.[4]

          1. Or Genghis on converting the mosque at Bukhara into a horse stable – “I am the punishment of God.If you had not commited great sins, god would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.”

  6. OMG, he spoke off the cuff? And later explained that he supports freedom accompanied by prudence by those who exercise their rights?

    By all means, let us give the least charitable explanation to the Pope’s remarks – no need to worry about alienating the Sky Fairy bleevers, they don’t count!

    (To be fair to the H&R crowd: Y’all don’t discriminate, you attack even Rand Paul if he seems to be veering from the libertarianly-correct line.)

    1. Let me add: I would *not* want to work in the Vatican press office.

      “Oh, dear Lord, what did His Holiness say *this* time?”

      1. Except most of us are taking a reaction not particularly different from that. As far as I can tell the consensus here seems to be “nice guy, just dumb as a rock”.

    2. “Sky Fairy bleevers, they don’t count!”

      Nobody counts. Ideas count. That is kinda the gist of Libertarianism.

      Turn that around and you have the tyranny of the mob: democracy.

      1. I get the impression that the Pope could say “have a nice day,” and half the H&R commenters would be like, “OMG how dare he impose his theocratic oppression on us?”

        1. Uh…no.

          I would find that much less objectionable than what he does wish to impose.

        2. I’m a bit more concerned with the political oppression he might inspire (however clumsily) with his socialist tendencies.

          I’m a pretty bad Catholic but the current Holy Father has me pining for the days of John Paul. Hell, I’d prefer Benedict come out of the bullpen right now.

    3. He flat-out said people should not criticize or mock religion.

      Well, let’s look at what some of the other Popes have said, hmm?


      This part is great:

      Vatican officials said the Pope was particularly weary on Friday after his 20-mile ride into town in his glass-sided Popemobile turned into an ordeal because its air-conditioning malfunctioned and blew hot air.

      “It was like a microwave oven in there,” a papal aide said. “His cassock was soaked, and he had to stop to change and to rest.”

      1. This part is also great:

        “The boycott today was all the more striking since the Pope [John Paul II] had singled out Buddhists, who make up some 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s 16.8 million population, for expressions of his esteem since he arrived here.

        “At today’s meeting with Hindus and Muslims, he again referred particularly to Buddhists when he spoke to them of “my own deep and abiding respect for the spiritual and cultural values of which you are the guardians.”

        “And while calling for a renewed effort to evangelize in Asia, he said the Catholic Church “respects the freedom of individuals to seek the truth and to embrace it according to the dictates of conscience, and in this light she firmly rejects proselytism and the use of unethical means to gain conversions.”

        “The Buddhist boycott was criticized by a Government minister, Laksham Jayakody, a Buddhist who is in charge of cultural and religious matters.

        “”I do not think there is any opposition to the journey of the Pope, but they don’t want to meet him because of their theological problems,” he told reporters. “For me, it is clear that the Pope respects Buddhism. And I am frankly unhappy that the Buddhists did not come.””

        1. If he really respected their beliefs, he would not be trying to change them.

          1. Saying you “respect” a belief (idea, etc) is a cop-out. You either believe it or you don’t.

            How can you honestly “respect” a belief you think is wrong?

            1. How can you honestly “respect” a belief you think is wrong?

              Sure. If you think a belief is held in good faith and think the reasoning follows logically from premises you disagree with, you can quite easily have respect for a belief you think is wrong.

              The obvious example, for me at least, is abortion. I consider myself moderately pro-choice. I think the pro-life position’s contention that human life, as such, begins at conception, is wrong. Still, I have a lot more respect for the pro-life argument than I do for that of the feminists I ostensibly agree with who argue “I don’t give a fuck when life begins. We have the votes, so do what we want”.

    4. Whine louder, Eddie, maybe someone will care.

  7. Yo, Frankie: FUCK YOUR MOTHER.

    She failed to teach you right from wrong.


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