Enduring Offensive Imagery

July 6, 2015

Dr. Rick Patrick | Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church, Sylacauga, AL

I cannot find one word in the Bible or in the Constitution where I am promised the right not to be offended by the displays, actions and words of others. I am offended when actors use “Jesus Christ” as an interjection or curse. I am offended when the KKK uses the cross as a symbol of racial superiority. I was offended recently when the White House was portrayed in the rainbow colors of Gay Pride. I am offended even when rival football team fans turn my team’s hand signal upside down.

Because I live in a pluralistic society with various constituency groups, there are times when I must simply endure such offensive imagery. This is the price I have to pay for the right to express myself whenever my own preferred imagery is itself deemed offensive by other groups.

You may support the limitation of expression in one specific instance, but once we establish this right to a “freedom from expression” it is logical that one day it will come back to haunt you when an image you do wish to display is in the crosshairs of a constituency group offended by your imagery.

In the span of only a few weeks, the freedom of expression police have expanded their attack from (a) a confederate flag over a confederate monument, to (b) the selling of the confederate flag in Walmarts and on Amazon, to (c) the banning of all confederate flags in Apple apps, to (d) the reinstatement of confederate flags in educational Apple apps to (e) the proposal by Sean Hannity banning all rap music using the offensive “n” word, to (f) the termination of a police officer for wearing confederate flag boxer shorts, to (g) the removal of the licensing of “General Lee” toys featuring The Dukes of Hazzard 1969 Charger with a confederate flag on top, to (h) the removal of The Dukes of Hazzard from TV Land reruns, to (i) the call of Louis Farrakhan to “put the American flag down because we’ve caught as much hell under that as the Confederate flag.”

One can easily see the can of worms that is opened once constituency groups are affirmed in their indignant spirit and in their demand that all traces of offensive imagery be immediately removed from their sight. There is simply no end to this kind of madness. It feeds on a victim mentality that seems to empower an individual, but actually robs them of the strength of tolerance.

These thoughts crossed my mind recently while viewing The Butler, an excellent film about the Civil Rights movement as viewed through the eyes of a servant in the White House during the fifties and sixties. In one scene, the Freedom Bus is stopped and attacked at night by the KKK. As these racial supremacists engage in their act of terrorism, the very first image one sees through the window of the bus is that of a burning cross.

Let that sink in for a moment. In this one particular instance, and in many others like it, the cross is misused as an image to promote the sin of racial supremacy.

Do not insult me by suggesting no one would ever demand the removal of the cross from public expressions in America as a result of its association with racism. If this kind of thinking can clear plastic cars out of the toy store and remove reruns from the TV network, it can just as easily spread like the fire on that burning cross.

When it comes to imagery, it seems to me, we must make a very critical distinction between the intention of the expression by those responsible for promoting it, and the interpretation of the expression by those who are offended.

 

Imagery
Intention Interpretation
Confederate Flag Regional Pride Racial Superiority
Rainbow White House Gay Pride Condoning Sin
The Cross Worship Jesus Racial Superiority
American Flag Celebrate Nation Oppressors of Minorities
Fort Lee Military Genius Warrior Against Liberty
Boyce College Theological Giant Supremacist Scholar

 

Once the interpretation by constituency groups trumps the original intent of those expressing their views, we lose significant free speech rights, for the only thing necessary to silence one’s voice or remove one’s expression is for some group to claim they are offended.

The right to freedom of speech and expression does not include the right to be free from speech and expression that we find offensive. As American society moves rapidly toward a group think reaction to the matter of offensive imagery, we must exercise caution. Every time society demands that you remove this symbol or that expression, we chip away at free speech rights guaranteed in the Constitution.

Unless I defend the right of people to say the wrong things, I endanger my right to say the right things. It is one thing to say that one should not fly a flag. It is another thing to say that one cannot fly a flag. We must get used to being offended. It is the price of free speech. If this essay itself offends you, please know that I am deeply offended that you have taken offense. But that’s just something I have to live with.