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Pope on Charlie Hebdo: There are limits to free expression

Published:Friday | January 16, 2015 | 12:01 AM
Pope Francis speaks as he meets reporters during his flight from Sri Lanka to Manila, Philippines yesterday

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (AP):
Pope Francis said yesterday there are limits to freedom of speech, especially when it insults or ridicules someone's faith.

Francis spoke about the Paris terror attacks while en route to the Philippines, defending free speech as not only a fundamental human right, but a duty to speak one's mind for the sake of the common good.

But he said there were limits.

By way of example, he referred to Alberto Gasparri, who organises papal trips and was standing by his side aboard the papal plane.

"If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch," Francis said half-jokingly, throwing a mock punch his way. "It's normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others."

His pretend punch aside, Francis by no means said the violent attack on Charlie Hebdo was justified. Quite the opposite: He said such horrific violence in God's name couldn't be justified and was an "aberration". But he said a reaction of some sort was to be expected.

Many people around the world have defended the right of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to publish inflammatory cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in the wake of the massacre by Islamic extremists at its Paris offices and subsequent attack on a kosher supermarket in which three gunmen killed 17 people.

 

freedom has its limits

 

Others, though, have noted that, in virtually all societies, freedom of speech has its limits, from laws against Holocaust denial to racially motivated hate speech.

Recently, the Vatican and four prominent French imams issued a joint declaration that, while denouncing the Paris attacks, urged the media to treat religions with respect.

Francis, who has called on Muslim leaders in particular to speak out against Islamic extremism, went a step further yesterday when asked by a French journalist about whether there were limits when freedom of expression meets freedom of religion.

"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."