The Chronicle’s View: Freedom of religion, free speech and U

During the past week, many students were forced to think about Jesus-literally. Those students who had the privilege to walk through the Marriott Library Plaza were likely to have been confronted by a nomadic family of preachers.

The War family spent time on campus encouraging students to find Jesus. Among the many slogans and statements shouted across the plaza was, “Look for Jesus, not a job.”

The visit from the War family that U students were exposed to last week brought many social issues and questions to the forefront. Among issues of free speech and freedom of religion there comes a perhaps underemphasized question of courtesy.

It seems that the rights of free speech, freedom of assembly and even freedom of religion all seem to be rights extended to the people for the benefit of society, in addition to existing for the individual exclusively.

In John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty,” Mill explains that liberties traditionally associated with a liberal society actually serve to benefit the aggregate. Critical to Mill’s argument that liberalism serves utility is the concept of open and constructive dialogue. Open and free dialogue facilitate constructive progression and development of ideas.

It seems that free speech of the sort employed by the War family violates the spirit behind the free speech doctrine. The Wars and others like them do not want to engage in dialogue at all. Rather, they are simply content with feeling like they have served their God because “Jesus was hated, too.”

Obviously, there is a balance to be established. By no means is this a call for an Orwellian crackdown on the boat-rockers across campus and the United States. However, it may be time to start looking at extending respect and courtesy to those that have been targeted to receive free speech.

Diversity of idea and opinion is an asset to society. Indeed, it may be said that this kind of diversity is a virtue that has helped make America what it is today. But like all other virtues, its intent must not be completely self-serving.

So whether it is in front of the Marriott Library or the LDS Church’s Main Street Plaza, maybe it is time to be considerate of the targets of free speech. Although we do live in a liberal society, we also live in a community. As such, we must consider others in actions that affect persons outside of ourselves. Because in the end, the line is a very fine one drawn between virtue and vice.