Randa Jarrar said some terrible things in the aftermath of First Lady Barbara Bush’s passing, and on Wednesday, I suggested that it is important, as a principal of free speech for all, that she should not be terminated based on what she said in her personal life, as awful as it is.
As a Christian though, this makes me uncomfortable because I do believe that there are ways that people should act. Free speech is great, but as a Christian, I realize that there are truly evil things that are said, and it makes me uncomfortable that we have to protect an individual’s right to say them.
However, let’s consider the image that is being put forward by Jarrar. At this point, no matter what you think of Barbara Bush or really anything else, I think that most people would agree that Jarrar has been at a minimum out of line and potentially much worse. One of the benefits of freedom of speech is that no one is going to take Jarrar seriously ever again. She put herself out in the marketplace of ideas and clearly her ideas were rejected.
On the flip side, when ideas are brought forward with decency, compassion and common sense, those ideas are going to flourish because they actually make sense. Therefore, as Christians, now would be the time to put forward an argument for decency. We may have a right to offend people with our speech, but perhaps we should not do so. There is a better way to communicate, and it is a way that is prescribed by Scripture. We are to be wise in our speech and realize that speech in and of itself is very powerful and dangerous. We need to do what we do responsibly.
This response from Christians seems to have a few key benefits over arguing for the firing of Jarrar. First, we do preserve freedom of speech. That is important for me as a Christian. In our climate today, it is not hard for me to imagine severe restrictions on the spreading of the Gospel by overly-aggressive, secular ideologues. While it very well might seem to be self-serving, by arguing for freedom of speech for everyone, I am also advocating for freedom of speech for myself and fellow Christians which is important.
Second, there is value to exposing bad ideas for what they are. Let’s say that her evil speech hovered in the shadows. It would never have been brought to light, and sometimes, things are much more dangerous when they hide. If they are brought out, all of their weaknesses can be exposed, and in this case, it seems that justice was served.
Finally, there are alternative ways that Christians can apply pressure and simultaneously affirm freedom of speech. First of all, we don’t have to send our students to that university or encourage them to enroll in Jarrar‘s class. We do not have to donate money to the University. These things very well might cause the University to consider hiring decisions more carefully in the future which would be a victory as well. She has tenure, she cannot be fired as a general rule. However, changing the culture of the American university system at large to actually consider who they hire is good. This may prevent such ridiculous characters from being hired in the future and allow our students to have higher-quality education from thoughtful professors. This does not violate the professor’s freedom of speech and is not firing her for her views, but it does bring about a level of conscientiousness that needs to take place in so many institutes of higher education.