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anne mikolay 2012 120The tragedy at Charlie Hebdo in Paris has underscored the importance and value of freedom of speech.  The United States' Declaration of Independence states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Fueled by these sentiments, Americans (and people around the world) have rallied in support of the French cartoonists shot to death on January 7th in France. While I condemn terrorism and wholeheartedly support freedom of speech, I can't get behind the pro-Hebdo fervor. 

Without doubt, what transpired in Paris was a heinous act of violence perpetrated against individuals merely doing their jobs. Some, like Franck Brinsolaro, 49 years old, were not involved in production of the satirical publication of Charlie Hebdo; others, like Hebdo's editor, Stephane Charbonnier, 47, daily exercised their freedom of speech in creating the magazine's controversial content. Nobody deserves execution for their words, their art, or how they express their personal beliefs. Again, as human beings, we have unalienable rights...life, liberty, happiness. But inherent in these rights is a little something we are forgetting. Respect.

Satire, employed as far back as the Civil War (and perhaps even farther) to draw attention to social and political issues, is wit designed to make us laugh and make us think. I enjoy a good political cartoon as well as the next person; however, I don't believe in crossing the line. You can poke fun at political parties and issues, but certain precious elements of religion should be off limits. I'm Catholic; I'm not insulted if you tell a joke about Pope Francis, but a vulgar cartoon will elicit a different reaction. With that in mind, I will not target a revered figure from another religion and will exercise restraint if someone targets my own.

Are Charlie Hebdo's cartoons tasteless and offensive? Did they cross the line? Definitely. Were the shootings at Charlie Hebdo justified? Absolutely not! Nobody – no matter what they say or believe – should be gunned down, slaughtered. Freedom of speech is precious and must be defended, but freedom is not license to insult or degrade. Freedom without respect unleashes chaos, as tragically seen in Paris. Life and liberty demand respect; intolerance is the root of all war, all evil.

Call me naïve, but I say, “live and let live.”