Free Speech at the Golden Globes

February 6, 2015

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.

Jeremiah G. Dys

Jeremiah G. Dys, formerly of the Morgantown C&MA Church, now lives in Charleston, W.Va., with his wife and two children. He is the executive director and general counsel for the West Virginia Values Coalition. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24