Dispatches > The Buzz Sidebar

Exiled voices

Let's hope that the American commitment to free speech remains vigorous

Issue: "Bob Geldof: Whose jubilee?," June 25, 2005

In the June 10 issue of the alternative newspaper Los Angeles Weekly, the associate dean of The Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Southern California, Martin Kaplan, opined that the efforts of some Christian advocacy groups to discourage advertising for various gay-themed entertainment amounted to "a drive toward theocratic oligopoly. The drumbeat of religious fascism has never been as troubling as it is now in this country."

Given USC's broad-based alumni body, it is almost certain that Dean Kaplan has now branded a great number of Trojans as "fascists," though it is unlikely that this choice quote will make it into the university's development office mailings. I love the quote because it dovetails perfectly with a warning that the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Denver, Charles Chaput, delivered to an early June conference in Cordoba, Spain, on anti-Semitism and religious intolerance sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Bishop Chaput, part of a U.S. delegation headed by New York Gov. George Pataki, spoke about the growing threat of secular fundamentalism in Europe, a movement that seeks to delegitimize, stigmatize, and ultimately silence the religious voice in public affairs. Mr. Kaplan's bigoted broadside is proof that this menace to free speech has crossed the Atlantic.

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"In the name of respecting all religions, a new form of secular intolerance is sometimes imposed. Out of fear of religious fundamentalism, a new kind of secular fundamentalism may be coerced on public institutions and political discourse."

Various media, he said, "often allow symbols of Christian identity, Christian believers and their faith to be publicly abused. This is unworthy of Europe's moral dignity and religious heritage. Furthermore, it stands in stark contrast to OSCE commitments to promote religious freedom. . . . Europe has given the whole world the seeds of democracy. Today's growing anti-religious and often anti-Christian spirit undermines that witness."

What USC's Mr. Kaplan is attempting to do through the use of the hyper-loaded term "fascist" is to avoid the debate that objectors to particular forms of entertainment wish to have. Instead, he wants to silence and then exile their voices.

There are thousands of Kaplans in Europe. Let's hope that the American commitment to free speech remains vigorous, despite this dean's effort to narrow that freedom to the preferred cadences of the hard left.

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