A Perplexing Question Concerning Free Speech

Don Sterling

 

I’m not usually one to write on Constitutional issues. I’m certainly not a Constitutional Lawyer, and have little educational background other than my Political Science 101 Class at Baylor University in 1995.

But I went to bed last night with one MAJOR news story on my mind–Don Sterling’s racist rant broadcast all over the world.

In full disclosure, I’m the Father of two African American children, and when I heard the tapes on the news, I was irate. I don’t get angry very often, but I could feel my blood pressure rising as I started talking to the Television. (maybe I need to do a post on anger and how to remain calm.) The idea that in 2014 we still have people in the world who think like this man, let alone say it in the open space for others to hear, is absolutely abhorrent.

All day, I read comments from people on their opinion of Mr. Sterling, and I couldn’t believe the crazy people out there trying to defend this kind of speech. For sure, nobody was defending Sterling. In fact, most comments I was reading in the blogosphere concluded he’s not at all someone who should be defended, and the words he used were beyond abhorrent.

When I went to bed last night, the Clippers game was on, and I started thinking about all the dissent people had to the NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s judgement to ban Mr. Shilling from the NBA for life. Mainly they cited things like:

Is this a Slippery Slope censoring us from free speech in private?
What happens when I say something that may be considered offensive to someone else? Am I at risk of loosing my job?
Does this decision set the standard for anyone who might have problems, even those comments outside of racial lines?

1. The Slippery Slope

I am all too excited to say, If this is a slippery slope that leads us to a place where we stop talking about humans in the context of color, then put me on the slide.

Before my wife and I adopted our two kids from Rwanda, I thought Racism was dead in America. I thought racism was simply a trump card to benefit where certain standards couldn’t be met. For example: If you look at any government agency today, they hire based on race. They have to hire a certain number of under represented minorities, a certain number of women, and a certain number of men. It sure seemed to me like race was included in the discussion of hiring, even though the same people would claim they weren’t racist. I remember thinking how unfair that policy would be if someone had the right qualifications to get a job, but was dismissed because they didn’t represent the right color. It was a forked argument.

But now that my family is a mixed family, I see the problem. Racism towards a minority can’t truly be understood without knowing how people react when they’re faced with the choice to really treat people equally.

We’ve been to restaurants that serve us different because of our African American Kids.
We’ve been to retail stores and felt the gaze of others wondering what we are doing with two African American Kids in our family.
We’ve even seen local sports teams elevate our kids above others because they think they somehow have special abilities over local white kids.

If you think racism is over in America, the fact is, you’re dead wrong.

No matter how many times you try to tell yourself we’ve overcome this problem because slavery doesn’t exist anymore, or your family didn’t own slaves so you’re exempt, or even millennial who say we’re more mixed than ever; there’s still a major undercurrent of race related issues in this country.

So if it’s a slippery slope you’re worried about, I say, SLIDE AWAY.

2. What about protecting people from frivolous private conversational mistakes.

Don Sterling was recorded in private. That’s a real issue here. As far as I know, it’s illegal to record someone’s conversation without them knowing. Did he know? I’m not sure I’ve heard any news outlet report on whether or not Mr. Sterling was making comments he knew were being taken on the record.

So the questions really comes whether or not you can privately be a hate filled person, or if only your public persona counts. RIght?

This line of logic is one I don’t understand. If someone is willing to have this grotesque view of other human beings in the world, especially when that someone is in business with nearly 80% African Americans, I believe they need to be held to a higher standard.

As a culture we would not accept someone who makes anti-semitic remarks.
We wouldn’t condone someone who made anti-handicapped remarks.
And for sure we would be outraged if someone made anti-Christian comments, No matter public or private.

As for leadership…

Leaders are held to a higher standard of judgement. That’s just the way it goes.  If you’re interested in owning a $1Billion franchised NBA team, or you want to be the CEO of a public company, or if you’re the leader of a local church group, WELCOME TO THE BIG LEAGUES.  For many of us who see our faith as consistent with a whole way of living in business, politics, family, and sociology; we need to take a long look at the way “Freedom of Speech” is being framed.

I understand the first amendment protects people and covers what they say in public under the law. But our society has to rise above this hatred for THE OTHER, if we’re ever to heal racism in our country. It’s one thing to disagree with the government, but it’s something entirely different when an entire race of people is called out in vile speech.  We need a place where the Freedom of Speech can protect an idea, but we also need to understand Freedom of Speech doesn’t mean you can just do whatever you want. With freedom comes responsibility, and if we’re going to be better people, we need to embrace the consequences that come from the hatred we spew to the world.

It seems to me the stand the NBA took was one that shouted to the world, WE CAN BE BETTER THAN THIS, and I hope more people take notice.

The outcry from some of the other owners who were afraid this may set a standard to give the commissioner too much power is absolutely ridiculous. I’ve never been able to walk up to my boss and say, “Hey, you’re a dirtbag,” and continue working that  job for very much longer. Respect and honor for the position you hold is also an included sentiment for the freedom. It’s just not right to stand up and say whatever you want, that’s not being responsible, and in this case; it’s not helping to build a brand of basketball we all love to watch.

3. And finally, for those who are afraid this stance will set up a continued erosion of faith values.

What happens when someone in the church wants to stand up against a popular moral issue?
Will they be fired, sent to jail, or excused from their position of authority?

First, this has nothing to do with faith values.
Nobody is saying you can’t worship or stand up for the message of Jesus.
Nobody is trying to censor your view of faith or religion.

Christians should rise up in protest when people speak evil against another human.  It doesn’t matter if it’s race, sexuality, crime ridden, or a particular government official you dislike.  GOD CREATED PEOPLE! Remember, we are called to Love our friends, AND our enemies.

What this case trying to do, in my opinion, is bring us back to a place where the message of Jesus CAN be held accountable.

It doesn’t matter how much you disagree with someone in the public sphere, Jesus never gave you the right to hate.
Nowhere in the Bible does it say that hatred judgement is yours to afford to any human being on the planet, including Don Sterling.

I know this throws a metaphorical wrench in the cog of religious tradition, but it’s true.  In the face of ‘being right,’ or ‘winning an argument,’ Jesus said, “Love your enemy. Pray for those who persecute you so that you may be sons of your Father who is in Heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?…Be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

As followers of Jesus, we don’t have to stand with or condone how someone else behaves, what they say, or how they act; but we are called to Love them, pray for them, and bless them.

So, Mr. Shilling, I know we don’t know each other, but as a person of faith I’m incredibly offended by the way you talk about fellow human beings on earth. I’m convinced God created every human being and has a plan for every person on earth. I live with the knowledge that God is the ultimate judge, and the content of your speech is appaulling.

But, Jesus has called me to love, pray, and bless people just like you.

Therefore, today I’m recalibrating my anger and outrage.
You have the consequences of your actions set before you, and I believe they are more than fair.
But today, I pray for you, your family, and your organization.

I pray you might see God work in spite of this mess your in.
I know God has blessed you richly with material things of this earth, but I pray for your heart to become tender for the people you offend.
May you and your house come to know the Living God.

Let me know what you think

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