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Pope Francis invokes 'heckler's veto' over religious satire; debate follows
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The spiritual leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics said Thursday there's no excuse for killing in the name of religion, but those who satirize faith should expect pushback even a "punch in the face," which the pope jokingly said would happen to someone who insulted his mother. - photo by Mark Kellner
The spiritual leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics said Thursday there's no excuse for killing in the name of religion, but those who satirize faith should expect pushback even a "punch in the face," which the pope jokingly said would happen to someone who insulted his mother.

Reuters reported Pope Francis "defended freedom of expression, but said it was wrong to provoke others by insulting their religion and that one could 'expect' a reaction to such abuse. 'You can't provoke, you can't insult the faith of others, you can't make fun of faith,' he told reporters on Thursday, aboard a plane taking him from Sri Lanka to the Philippines to start the second leg of his Asian tour."

The pontiff added, "You can't make a toy out of the religions of others. In (the) freedom of expression there are limits."

By stating that aggressive reactions might follow an intellectual critique or satire of religion, Francis appeared to have invoked what's called the "heckler's veto," legally defined as "an alleged right to restrict freedom of speech where such expression may create disorder or provoke violence."

Francis' words provoked a strong reaction from supporters of free speech some failing to note that the pope's reference to punching someone was said in jest.

"Why does 'mockery' (of religion) hold a special distinction in our debate? And what constitutes contemptuous language or behavior towards another faith? For instance, can we intentionally criticize another persons faith without expecting to be punched?" wrote David Harsanyi in TheFederalist.com. "What if that faith is in direct conflict with the beliefs of your own set beliefs beliefs that deserve, according to the Pope, the same respect as any other? Is it ever worth getting punched in the face?"

National Review writer Charles C.W. Cook blasted the pope for "getting it completely and utterly wrong."

"The language (Francis) used was imprecise, poorly judged, and terribly, terribly timed," Cook wrote. "There is never ever an excuse for violence against peaceful critics. It is not in any way 'normal' to see such foul play. What happened to that simple formulation: 'turn the other cheek'?"

Within hours of the pope's airborne news conference, Vatican officials were attempting to walk back Francis' comments, according to National Catholic Reporter blogger Father Thomas Reese. "The Pope's expression is in no way intended to be interpreted as a justification for the violence and terror that took place in Paris last week," a Vatican spokesman wrote in an email. "Pope Francis has not advocated violence with his words on the flight."

But the notion that comments disrespectful to faith can have consequences is not unique to Francis. New York archbishop Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who this week said on his Sirius XM satellite radio program, according to Religion News Service, "If you chip away at a persons dignity, if you chip away at the sacredness of human life, the dignity of the human person, if you chip away at religious sensitivities, if you chip away at elementary civility and courtesy, sooner or later youve got a pretty harsh society and culture that could then go to terribly, radical, nauseating extremes."

Dolan, like the pontiff, quickly disavowed the use of violence, however. "No matter what this particular magazine may have been doing, no matter what their particular journalistic style or editorial stance may have been, nothing could justify the vicious attack upon them. We know that," he said.
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