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Seattle Times letters to the editor

January 22, 2015 at 12:43 PM

Free speech: Pope was suggesting individual restraint, not state censorship

Leonard Pitts Jr. in his column “Pope needs a lesson in freedom” [Opinion, Jan. 18] criticized Pope Francis for his comments during the flight to Manila with respect to freedom of expression. Pitts quoted the Pope: “You cannot provoke” and “You cannot insult the faith of others.” Pitts then assumes, apparently without reading the entire transcript of the pope’s remarks, that the pope was proposing that the state impose limitations on speech that provokes or insults other faiths. Pitts’ entire criticism of the pope is then based on this assumption.

However, the transcript provides absolutely no support for this assumption. The main example used by the pope to illustrate his remarks was that you cannot insult his (the pope’s) mother. The pope’s concluding sentence in discussing limitations on freedom of expression was: “This is a limit and I have taken this sense of limit to say that in freedom of expression there are limits, like that in regard to my mother.”

Certainly, no reasonable person can conclude that the pope is proposing laws prohibiting insults to his mother or mothers in general. Rather, the pope is suggesting that a person limit his or her own speech so as to not offend or insult. This is clear from a fair reading of the entire transcript.

The Pope on his return trip to Rome on Monday answered a journalist’s question relating to the same topic. The pope concluded: “Freedom must go hand in hand with prudence.” Like the pope’s first remarks, a reading of the entire transcript of these latest remarks shows that the pope is referring to self-imposed limitations and not to state limitations.

Peter M. Anderson, Mercer Island

Comments | More in First Amendment | Topics: Charlie Hebdo, Free speech, Peter M. Anderson

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