I begin this post with sincere prayers for the families of the US Ambassador and other staffers killed in Libya this morning. I pray for peace in our world, especially in Egypt and Libya today. And as we mourn their deaths and the unjust violence, I lament the senseless and irresponsible behavior that led to this incident. Namely – the creation of an anti-muslim movie, the celebrating of it by a certain Florida pastor, and the manipulation of television ads in Egypt creating the impression that this hateful movie was a major American blockbuster in which Americans were going to rejoice. NBC’s middle-east reporter Richard Engel, walked viewers through the events leading up to the violence in both Cairo and Benghazi this morning- an irresponsible and offensive movie attacking Islam and the prophet Muhammad and the manipulation by media and ultra-conservative clerics presenting this fringe movie as if it was a major American film. Now, I want to state as clearly as possible: NOTHING JUSTIFIES THE VIOLENCE, RIOTING AND MURDER OF INNOCENT DIPLOMATS. Ambassador Stevens was murdered. However, I think it is important to reiterate that our cherished civil rights – like freedom of speech involve responsibilities for how we exercise such rights.
In Pacem in Terris,Blessed Pope John XXIII clearly states that we have basic civil rights:
12. Moreover, man has a natural right to be respected. He has a right to his good name. He has a right to freedom in investigating the truth, and—within the limits of the moral order and the common good—to freedom of speech and publication, and to freedom to pursue whatever profession he may choose. He has the right, also, to be accurately informed about public events.
Notice – we have the right to freedom of speech as well as the right to be accurately informed about public events. John XXII goes on to detail the duties associated with said rights:
28. The natural rights of which We have so far been speaking are inextricably bound up with as many duties, all applying to one and the same person. These rights and duties derive their origin, their sustenance, and their indestructibility from the natural law, which in conferring the one imposes the other.
29. Thus, for example, the right to live involves the duty to preserve one’s life; the right to a decent standard of living, the duty to live in a becoming fashion; the right to be free to seek out the truth, the duty to devote oneself to an ever deeper and wider search for it.
What strikes me this morning is that this entire tragic and unjust situation – wherein people are rioting and lives have been lost – could have been averted had people at many points exercised their freedom of speech with due deference to their responsibility and duties to themselves and to their neighbors.
Those participating in the riots, those who killed our fellow citizens unjustly are responsible for their actions. But, everyone, especially those in the media, must pause and take stock of the awesome responsibility that comes with freedom of speech. For Catholic social teaching, we are endowed with these rights as created in the image and likeness of God and we have a solemn duty to exercise these rights becomingly.