Warning! Please do not read this if you are one of those that take offense when free speech is being exercised.

It is often said that Giordano Bruno was killed 415 years ago this week because he did not believe in the geocentric dogma of the Vatican. Not true. He was martyred in a most horrible way, burned in a public square with his tongue barred, very much like the recent video burning of a pilot by Islamic State. Bruno’s crime really was that he publicly and repeatedly made statements that the authorities found threatening and disruptive. He was an obnoxious fellow, and he rubbed many the wrong way because he thought he knew better. His crime was that he publicly challenged the orthodoxy, the socially accepted delusions of the day. He exercised his God-given right of free speech too vigorously. He vented his truth too publicly. He was a new age type of a person and probably made fun of the church. The scientists of the day, Galileo et al, knew that Copernicus was right, so too did the elites of the church.

Language and communication is the most essential of all of our qualities. Our human culture is the sum of all of our communications and shared artifacts. Speech is the most basic tool of communication. Any limitation of speech is therefore a limitation of our humanity and represents an assault on our selves, our society and our human rights. Certain limits are tolerated in all societies, e.g. libel, but limits on political and ideological speech are hallmarks of all authoritarian and oppressive systems.

Western societies have struggled with the issues of free speech for at least five centuries and have concluded that restrictions should be minimal, and should never interfere with the expression of opinion. I would argue that this is a major contributor to the economic wealth of the West: education, science, technology, productivity; all are encouraged when everyone feels at liberty to speak and contribute. The more speech the more human activity.

Libertarian free speech is still under assault in most parts of the world, there are even religious and other opponents in the US. The world-wide attacks by fundamentalist Muslims are directed against freedoms, most specifically speech. Islam means submission to the will of Allah, and those that do not submit are at risk. The horrible public displays of cruelty and torture are a warning to those who believe that honestly sharing their true thoughts is a duty, a means toward improving the world. Censorship is a form of enslavement. A censored human being is one that is being curtailed, prevented from living a full life.

Any political, philosophical or religious system consists of do’s and don’ts. What to think, and what not to think. Anyone is free to exercise their choice and responsibly follow their muse, and then to change their mind if they want. Any system of thought or practice that fails to recognize this and seeks to impose, through force, its rules represents a criminal organization, guilty of crimes against humanity. Islam, as it is being practiced in some quarters, is the worst offender that we have seen, and does not deserve to be called a religion.

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