Rome, 6 April 2018.
A pro-life billboard showing the anatomical characteristics of a fetus at
11 weeks is removed from the façade of a building. Eleven weeks is the age
of gestation in which it is possible to legally have an abortion.

Pavia, March 7, 2018.
Bishop Corrado Sanguineti is accused of homophobia by some newspapers,
groups and social media for having restated the Christian view on
sexuality, suggesting to homosexual people a life of chastity.

These are just two examples of “censorship”, specific to Italy, on very
complex moral issues and debates such as abortion, sexuality, and marriage.

The international realm, however, offers other cases that show how, on
these subjects, it is not “allowed” to think differently from the majority.

Think of YouTube blocking pro-life videos, stating that they can be
offensive, or to Facebook that censures Christian conceptions about the
family or marriage, listing them as extremist.

In the USA even an advertisement for potato chips was contested, because it
would have been guilty of “humanizing” fetuses (and therefore of indirectly
condemning abortion), showing a baby that, already in the mother’s belly,
wants to taste the product.

Then there’s the particular case in France, where they are thinking of
introducing penalties for those who try to change the mind of a woman who
wants to have an abortion.

Similar incidents bring up a question, which precedes the ethical
discussion on the aforementioned subjects: do these “new forms of
censorship” not contradict the respect for freedom of expression, a law so
highly exalted in the West?

We are faced with a paradox: sometimes, in the name of freedom of thought,
even offenses and insults are justified. At the same time, pro-life posters
are removed, billboards which offend no one and simply state scientifically
proven truth, namely that at 11 weeks the child in the womb already has a
beating heart…

The case of Charlie Hebdo: when in the name of freedom
everything is allowed

“I’m Charlie” had become the motto of thousands of people all over the
world, after the terrorist attack against the French satirical weekly
magazine Charlie Hebdo, which took place in January 2015. Many of
us remember how public opinion had not only sided against the violence of
the bombers, but had expressed itself strongly in favor of freedom of
expression, defending without any “ifs, ands, or buts,” the work of the
satirical weekly, although it regularly used to mock and belittle targeted
people or groups, in particular religious communities, with disrespectful
cartoons that went beyond the right to express ideas.

Some were puzzled by the weekly’s coarseness, for some, the disrespect that
it showed was excessive, yet, beyond personal taste and sensitivity, many
argued that the magazine should be defended, to safeguard freedom of
expression. It was a question of a freedom “taken to the extreme”, which,
although trespassing due respect, it was, however, necessary to prevent the
denial of em from “freedom of expressing themselves”, such a fundamental
value of democracy.

A freedom without limitations

De facto, in the cultural environment that has been created in the West,
one has the impression that it does not matter what the ideas are: in a
society that defines itself as free and tolerant, what matters is that
everyone can have his own say in any matter. This implies that we must all
relinquish a little of our “touchiness”.

Let us note, then, how blasphemy is evermore accepted and seen as one of
the many ways of expression (the complaints directed at those who ridicule
the sacred are almost evaporated). Let us also note how groups or
individuals are allowed to carry out campaigns in defense of almost
everyone or everything: see political propaganda or actions aimed at
safeguarding certain categories of people (women, the disabled, workers),
animals, or nature…

Let’s think about the billboards displayed in some West cities around
Easter, to stop the killing of lambs and animals in general. What would
happen if a butcher worked to get those posters removed, because they
compromise his job and income? The protection of freedom of expression
requires him to accept that some people try to convince others not to eat
meat, just as he can continue to send out flyers with discounts and
promotions that can be used for buying meat in his shop.

It would seem that we live in a cultural context where freedom of
expression is guaranteed to all…But instead it is not like that.

The rules of the game do not always apply…

In this climate, it is certainly amazing that there are arguments on which
a single thought is imposed.

If there is not only one point of view on marriage and abortion, why not
give others the possibility to express themselves?

Why then, if in the name of freedom of expression, you accept that Charlie Hebdo ridicules the victims of earthquakes and natural
disasters or offends unscrupulously imams and priests, you cannot speak –
without meeting the scorn of the media, being marginalized or labeled as a
homophobe – of marriage as a link between a husband and a wife?

Why can’t it be said that abortion actually eliminates human beings who
have already started living, without disrespecting women who suffer from
having an abortion?

Freedom of expression at the center of the XI Professional Seminar on
Church communication offices

The XI Professional Seminar on Church communication offices, held in Rome
from the 17th to 19th of April, at the Pontifical University of
the Holy Cross, precisely addressed the theme of freedom of expression. In
his introductory speech, presenting the opening lecture

Rediscovering the Value of Freedom of Expression: Lessons from

by Richard R. John, Professor of History and
Communications at the Columbia Journalism School, Jordi Pujol affirmed
that: “We live in a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, there is an
escalation of intolerance that leads to censoring “dangerous”
ideas or speakers in the name of a new orthodoxy. And on the other hand,
the most uncivilized offenses against symbols and religious people are tolerated.”

Regarding the topic of our article, or the difficulty of expressing ideas
on abortion and marriage, Pujol also manifested his perplexity: “It is
undeniable that a person cannot be discriminated against being gay or
bisexual. The central point of the debate, however, is not the oppression
of a group, but the freedom of thought on the vision of the man, and of the
woman of the world. Is there freedom to disagree on these topics in public?
Or not? The risks of a career ending or even going to jail are not signs of
healthy pluralism.”

The dictatorship of single thought

It happens that in a cultural context where moral absolutes have been
eliminated, a new “moral absolute” is imposed: “Everyone can do whatever he
wants… except what is not allowed by the majority and no one can judge
the choices of others… provided they are not contrary to the majority.”

When we discuss abortion, we can be “in favor of life,” but we must agree
that every woman can freely choose what to do with herself and the creature
she carries in her womb. One can “prefer” the “traditional marriage” for
oneself, but one must accept that with the term “marriage” today, other
types of union are also defined.

It therefore seems that freedom is guaranteed only as long as one speaks
for oneself. When someone allows himself to express a moral judgment on an
action, a way of life, an ethical position not considered correct by the
majority, this is where the conflict lies and the return to complaint sets

This, however, is not at all a democracy.

Still borrowing the words of Jordi Pujol, “in the end it happens that the
exercise of freedom of expression is limited not only by dictatorial
regimes, but also by certain ‘elites’ of one-way-thought.”

What to do, then?

The keyword is “prudence.”, not in the sense of silent complicity, but
meaning intelligent communication. Communicatively speaking, the
way one says something counts as much as what one says. Often, however,
even the precision in the choice of words is not enough. It is not enough
to know the context in which we speak.

I then propose the suggestion given by Pujol in the concluding part of his
speech: “Faced with the current situation, it will probably be necessary to
design a communication strategy that incorporates ‘legal equipment’ (we
have seen the magnitude of the challenge posed by secularism and from the
gender ideology), and that does not neglect familiarity with technology. To
address these debates, (Church) communication directors must be aware of
their identity, have convincing arguments and be trained in the rules of
public dialogue.”


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