Don't Give Offence if You Can't Take It

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That seems to be the moral of this story, here.

South Park is an adult cartoon that flaunts its libertarian credentials. It has gone out of its way to offend stuffy people, attacking Christianity a number of times (most famously having Jesus turn water into wine by swapping the chalices when nobody was looking). Recently, however, an episode entitled Trapped in the Closet which kicked Scientology back and forth and back again, proved too much for Issac Hayes, the voice actor behind the popular character, Chef. A committed Scientologist, he quit the show citing religious offence.

“Religious beliefs are sacred to people, and at all times should be respected and honoured,” he added. “As a civil rights activist of the past 40 years, I cannot support a show that disrespects those beliefs and practices.”
(link coutesy Mark Dowling)

A number of people, including the creators, have wisely pointed out that Hayes had no problem collecting cheques for episodes that lampooned Christianity or other faiths.

It’s been a hard year, so far, for religious people. First there was the violent offence taken by radical Muslims over the publication of cartoons by a Danish newspaper (although it should be noted that the overwhelming majority of Muslims who took offense confined their activities to peaceful demonstrations). Then there were the calls by some Christians (including some who criticized newspapers for not standing up for freedom of speech by not publishing the Danish cartoons) that the people behind the University of Saskatchewan’s student paper be fired for publishing a cartoon of Jesus performing a sex act with a pig. There’s been a lot of people taking a lot of offence, and a lot of offence being given. Maybe there’s something in the water.

But let’s recap here: a group of radical Muslims torch property and injure people because they were offended by a set of cartoons. A number of Christians call for firings and boycotts because they were offended by a set of cartoons. A single Scientologist decides he cannot be associated with a production because he is offended by a cartoon.

Put together, Hayes has the most sensible response. He isn’t calling for firings or boycotts or violence because of South Park’s attack on Scientology. He is just saying, “I can’t continue with this” and he’s walking away. As long as he doesn’t sue, he is doing nothing more than exercising his own free speech rights. We may call him on his hypocrisy, but what about those people who claimed to defend the freedom of the press, but which then attacked the press when their own religious sensibilities were threatened? Despite Hayes hypocrisy, he is doing nothing more than he should be doing if he’s offended, and I think he deserves credit for that.

Of course, given Scientology’s litigious history, that glowing assessment may soon be sullied if the church and its defenders come out of the woodwork to try and sue the creators of South Park into oblivion.

We need to ask ourselves: do we truly believe in freedom of speech, or do we just look on in disdain when people claim to be offended, until it’s we who are offended?

If you believe in freedom of speech, then believe in it: be prepared for the fact that people are going to say things that offend you. At the same time, now that you know what it’s like to feel offence, perhaps you should show more respect for others who are offended.

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