As one who has built his career upon plying and defending the First Amendment’s provisions of free speech, I watched with interest the now viral Golden Globes speech of Theo Kingma, president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. His words, given as a welcome to what may otherwise be considered an overpriced dinner accompanying one of the greatest acts of self-congratulation in media marketing, were inspiring.
Kingma’s words stand out in recent memory as unmatched by any Hollywood insider: “Together we will stand united against anyone who would repress free speech anywhere from North Korea to Paris.
It was this principle of free speech that helped fuel the Revolution in this country and, as enshrined in the First Amendment to our Constitution, is “a beacon that has reflected across the globe,” as Kingma so rightly describes. So synonymous is the concept of the American brand of liberty with the freedom of speech that one fails to distinguish between them.
As Kingma must appreciate, it is this freedom of speech that has actuated the very industry he addressed as they gathered in award celebration. Could Hollywood exist in Mao’s China? Stalin’s Russia? Hitler’s Germany? Would it find itself as unbridled in terms of speech and artistic expression as it is permitted here if it were relocated to today’s Syria? Yesterday’s Iran? Or tomorrow’s North Korea?
Kingma understands that the answer to such rhetorical questions is undoubtedly, “No.” That is precisely why his speech brought the luminaries of the silver and small screens to their feet. It is right and proper for us to stand against the suppression of the freedom of speech. Mr. Kingma is to be commended for setting his jaw squarely against the enemies of free speech.
It is in that spirit that I offer the following challenge: To any actor, producer, director, or member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, I challenge you to demonstrate your ongoing support of the freedom of speech by tweeting your support for marriage between one man and one woman.
If one does so and successfully avoids Hollywood’s infamous blacklist, you will complete my respect of your industry’s appreciation for free speech.
Let me give you a helping hand as those in the press association contemplate my challenge. Your tweet could express support for former New England Patriots running back and ex-Fox Sports play caller, Craig James. It might look something like, “Craig James should never be fired for supporting marriage between one man and one woman as a GOP candidate in a GOP primary in Texas.” Even though Craig lost that campaign and was subsequently fired by Fox Sports, perhaps it is the support of Hollywood that Craig needs to clear his good name. Surely your support of free speech compels your support of a man wrongly fired for expressing – through speech – his personal, religious beliefs.
Bob Eschliman could use the support of your august, free speech-loving press association. This award-winning journalist and editor-in-chief of the small town Newton Daily News spoke about his religious beliefs on his own blog and on his own time, yet found himself unceremoniously marched out the door of his newspaper – fired for speaking online about his beliefs. A, “Je suis Bob” tweet from a Hollywood Foreign Press Association reporter would be a profound morale boost to this middle-America, Navy veteran, husband, and father of two who has been standing in unemployment lines for almost a year just to keep food on the table for his family. A journalist, fired for something he wrote: such is the very antithesis of free speech.
Perhaps you would like to rally behind an African-American gentleman who was first in his family to complete college, let alone his two doctorates. This may make the best opportunity for any Hollywood insider, because it was free speech in support of a Hollywood writer that led to Dr. Eric Walsh being run off of the speaker’s dais at Pasadena Community College’s graduation ceremony. But, that free speech did not translate to Dr. Walsh. As a lay minister when he is not a professional in the field of public health, Dr. Walsh was fired by the State of Georgia because of his speech – speech in the form of religious sermons. Your tweet of support might look like this: “I support Dr. Eric Walsh. No one should be fired from their job because of what they say in their pulpit. #SermonsAreSpeech.”
In each of these cases, speech has been pitted against freedom. In each case, the speaker ought to be protected as fully and finally as any movie that salaciously depicts a head of state. Yet, what each person has received instead has not been freedom, but loss of employment, ridicule, and, generally, exile from those who consider themselves the bulwarks of polite society. Do only those with a Golden Globe receive the freedom of speech?
If the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association are unwilling to take up my challenge, I have reason to question their dedication to the principles of free speech. If Kingma is willing to grant freedom of speech to Charlie Hebdo, but not Kelvin Cochran, then perhaps his press association agrees more with the regulated free speech Frank Bruni described recently in the New York Times, willing for people of faith, “to believe what they do and say what they wish – in their pews, homes and hearts.”
Of course, putting religious speech on heart, house of worship, and home confinement is not free speech. It is tyranny: freedom for thee only if you agree with me. That seems to be the reigning – and false – notion of free speech today. That is why, I suspect, my challenge will not be accepted. A society committed to free speech should welcome the opportunity to disagree, but not punish, someone with whom they disagree. Presently, and to our great chagrin, ours is a society in which speech is not so free.
Were a member of the Hollywood elite to accept my challenge, chances are good that they would meet the same fate as Craig James, Bob Eschliman, or Eric Walsh. They would be ridiculed and belittled – side effects, certainly, of a healthy society dedicated to the freedom of speech. But, the response would go further, like Craig, Bob, or Eric, he who would accept my challenge would be punished by his employer and branded, “intolerant” in an industry that praises tolerance as the highest, greatest virtue. In other words, the free speech “from North Korea to Paris” that Kingma praised would somehow bypass Hollywood.
Standing ovations for freedom of speech are welcome, but limiting the beneficiaries of that basic of First Amendment guarantees only to those with whom we agree belittles the very fabric of the free speech upon which Kingma’s industry so rightly depends. In prime time, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s president has rightly hailed the benefits of free speech and the international response has been rightly supportive. After the champagne glasses have been stowed and the Golden Globes placed atop the recipient’s mantle is when words of inspiration are tested for their sincerity. Now is the time to test our resolve for free speech.
Will our collective commitment to free speech extend beyond the ballroom and permit the marketplace of ideas to be the economy that fuels our collective search for Truth? Or will we permit freedom of speech to be shackled to modernity’s intolerance of tolerance?
Only time will tell. Yet, as my boss, Kelly Shackelford and Dr. Albert Mohler wrote recently:
The First Amendment protects one’s religious belief — and also the speech that communicates such beliefs. Our world lacks diversity, not to mention courage and compassion, when freedom of speech is one-sided. Only when the freedom of speech is unfettered can we give voice to the causes that animate our souls. Because of free speech, we are able to understand our differences and, out of those differences, find unity — or, as the Founding Fathers put it: “E pluribus unum — out of many, one.” Unity is not uniformity.
Perhaps President John F. Kennedy’s advice is most apt, “The best road to progress is freedom’s road.” Kingma’s aspiration sends us down that road; Bruni’s illiberal and constricted version of free speech sets us back.
The golden moment of the Golden Globes may just be that Kingma helps us rediscover something that we never lost: a freedom that not only protects speech, but celebrates it.
That would truly be award-worthy.