Whatever Happened to Freedom of Speech in America?

Freedom, the professed foundation of American democracy, is degenerating into a myth. Even more, it has become the “honorable” means by which our imperialistically-motivated government oppresses and silences opponents abroad and critics at home. Washington’s goal of world domination could not be pursued without being wrapped in “freedom”—liberating others and protecting America’s enviable “freedoms.” Having their “freedom” guarded provides the rationalization by which many Americans allow themselves to be censured and manipulated into supporting the violation of other people’s freedom. Thus freedom of speech can be proclaimed as the constitutional heart of America. Yet, few prophetic voices risk confronting the political evils flourishing in “the land of the free.”

The Bush administration’s so-called “global war on terrorism” is a glaring example of how freedom is used in the service of American imperialism. President Bush interpreted the 9/11 attacks against America as an assault on our freedoms, charging, “They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.” (“Text: President Bush Addresses the Nation,” eMediaMill Works, The Washington Post, Sept. 20, 2001)

Never mind that numerous authoritative sources revealed that 9/11 was a reaction to America’s own oppressive policies, including supporting authoritarian regimes that denied freedom to people in Muslim countries. One such source is the report of the Pentagon’s own Defense Science Board which stated, “Muslims do not hate our freedom, but rather they hate our policies. . . . The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the long-standing, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and the Gulf states. Thus,” the report adds, “when America public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy.” (“’They hate our policies, not our freedom,’: Quietly released Pentagon report,” By Tom Regan, Christian Science Monitor, 11/30/2004)

But President Bush had already laid the foundation to dismiss such needed national self-examination with these anti –introspective words: “And make no mistake about it: This is good versus evil. These are evil doers. They have no justifications for their actions. There’s no religious justification; there’s no political justification. The only motivation is evil.” (“International Campaign Against Terror Grows,” Remarks by President Bush and Prime minister Koisumi of Japan in Photo Opportunity,” The White House, Sept. 25, 2001)

“Freedom” was the pretext for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Based on lies that American-hating Saddam Hussein had threatening weapons of mass destruction and ties to the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration marketed this unnecessary, pre-emptive criminal war to Americans as “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” And Bush put this horrible crime against humanity in the lofty terms of freedom: “By our efforts we have lit a fire . . . and one day that fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world (“President Bush’s Second Inaugural Address,” prepared text from The White House, NPR, Jan. 20, 2005)

That “fire of freedom” incinerated the lives of hundreds of thousands, to over a million, Iraqi civilians, uprooted millions more, turned some four million mothers into widows and their five million children into orphans, and left a trail of death and grief and “wounded warriors” in hundreds of thousands of American homes.

President Bush’s “fire of freedom” also gave rise to ISIS, or the Islamic state. The Bush administration’s war of choice against Iraq overthrew the Sunni minority rulers, replacing them with the Shiite majority, which joined the US in marginalizing and imprisoning Sunnis, a number of whom are now leaders and members of ISIS, which is creating its own “fire” of revenge and invasion and expansion.

In his piece on “ISIS: the inside story,” Martin Chulov makes clear the connection between America’s illegal war against Iraq and the rise of ISIS. He writes, “As ISIS has rampaged through the region, it has been led by men who spent time in US detention centres during the American occupation of Iraq. . . . Many of those released from these prisons– and indeed, several senior American officers who ran detention operations—have admitted that the prisons had an incendiary effect on the insurgency.” He quotes a senior Islamic State
albertsofficial, “who uses the nom de guerre Abu Ahmed,” who, with many other Sunnis, was imprisoned by US soldiers. “If there were no American prison in Iraq, there would be no IS now,” Abu Ahmed, stated, and added, “Bucca [Camp Bucca prison in southern Iraq] was a factory. It made us all. It built our ideology.” (theguardian, Dec. 11, 2014)

All of this evil, in the name of “freedom,” committed by a “Jesus-changed-my-heart,” prayerful, Christian-professing President Bush, who piously declared, “The road of Providence is uneven and unpredictable. Yet we know where it leads. It leads to freedom . . . freedom’s power to change the world. We are part of a great adventure: . . . to spread the peace that freedom brings.” (“Transcript of State of the Union address and cleared by The White House,” The New York Times, Feb. 3, 2005; tape of address).  Bush even transforms evil into godliness in repeatedly justifying the war crimes against Iraq with, “Freedom is not America’s gift to the world, it is Almighty God’s gift to every man and woman in the world.” (“Full text of President Bush’s Remarks,” The New York Times, Sept. 2, 2004)

And how did President Bush set the stage for his administration’s criminal war against the people of Iraq? On bended knee. At his March 6, 2003 news conference, he said, “My faith sustains me, because I pray daily. I pray for guidance and wisdom and strength.” And he continued, “If we were to commit our troops, I would pray for their safety. And I would pray for the safety of innocent Iraqi lives as well. . . . I pray for peace.” (“Transcript of Bush news conference on Iraq,” CNN.com, Mar. 6, 2003). Two weeks later, American military unleashed 21,000 pound “shock and awe” bombs on the people of Iraq.

It was not about anointing the people of Iraq with freedom’s “oil of gladness,” but about gaining control of their massive oil reserves. And about continuing an endless “war on terrorism” with its unending profits for the military/industrial/energy/intelligence complex.

Where were—and are—the prophetic voices in the face of such evil? And in the face of President Bush attributing his warmongering to “God?”

When President Bush began threatening pre-emptive war against Iraq, many faith leaders and their organizations protested, some strongly, the opposition of others carefully framed. But after Bush launched his war, the protests lessened, support the troops took over, and accommodation set in.

For many other Christians, President Bush’s illegal war against the people of Iraq was a godsend. University of Virginia professor of religion Charles Marsh wrote that “the war sermons delivered by influential evangelical ministers during the lead up to the Iraq war . . . rallied the evangelical congregations behind the invasion of Iraq,” resulting in ”an astonishing 87 percent of all white evangelical Christians in the United States supporting the president’s decision in April 2003,” and “recent polls indicate that 68% of white evangelicals continue to support the war.” Why? Marsh writes that evangelical leaders like Rev. Franklin Graham were “claiming that the American invasion of Iraq would create exciting new prospects for proselytizing Muslims.” (“Wayward Christian Soldiers,” The New York Times, Jan. 20, 2006)

Rev. Franklin Graham embodies the Christocentricism of numerous Christians that prevents them from emotionally loving their neighbors as themselves, as Jesus taught.   Their insecurities underlie a need to possess the one true religion, which leads them to want their neighbors to be like themselves. The Christocentricism of a Rev. Graham also prevents him from seeing his own hypocrisy in calling Islam a “very evil and wicked religion,” (“The Nation; Should Christian Missionaries Heed the Call in Iraq?,” By Deborah Caldwell, The New York Times, Apr. 6, 2003).   What he sees is a prayerful president’s criminal war against Iraq “creating exciting new prospects” for converting Muslims to his exclusionary Christian belief.

The Christocentric mindset is incapable of affirming other people’s right to believe differently. Rev. Graham can say, “I love Muslim people,” but there is a big catch: “I want Muslims everywhere to know . . . that Christ can come into their heart and change them,” he added, continuing, “They don’t have to die in a car bomb . . . to be accepted by God. . . . They can be free through faith in Jesus Christ and Christ alone.” (“National Day of Prayer: Franklin Graham Deserved to Be Booted.” By David Corn, www.politics.daily.com, 4/23/2010)

As reported, Rev. Graham’s organization, Samaritan’s Purse, was perched to follow in the devastating wake of the Iraq-invading US troops, and provide relief for “people who have lost their homes or are sick and hungry,” with another motive expressed by Graham: “God will always give us opportunities to tell others about his son. We are there to reach out to love them and to save them.” (“The Nation; Should Christian Missionaries Head the Call in Iraq?,” Ibid)

But first the invasion!  American hegemony and Christocentricism: two sides of the same imperialistic coin.

The incapability of many Christians to honor the freedom of belief of Muslims is seen in United Methodist-affiliated Duke University giving into pressure and reversing its decision to allow Muslim students to issue the Muslim call to prayer from the Chapel bell tower each Friday. Vice president for student affairs and government relations Michael Schoenfeld was quoted as saying, “What began as something that was meant to be unifying was turned into something that was the opposite.” He reported that “the university received hundreds of calls and e-mails, many of which were quite vitriolic . . . unlike any other controversy we have seen here                                              in sometime.” (“Duke University reverses decision, will not allow Muslim call to prayer at its chapel,” By Adam Bell, www.charlotteobserver.com, 1/15/2015).

Who provided much of the vitriol? Rev. Franklin Graham spearheaded it. He used his Facebook page to “call on donors and alumni to withhold their support from Duke until this policy is reversed.” His vitriol included, “As Christianity is being excluded from the public square and the followers of Islam are raping, butchering and beheading Christians, Jews, and anyone else who doesn’t submit to Sharia Islamic law, Duke is promoting this in the name of religious pluralism.” And when interviewed by The Charlotte Observer, his Christocentricism was on full display: “Duke should not allow the chapel to be used for the call to prayer. ‘It is wrong because it is a different god. . . . Using the bell tower, that signifies the worship of Jesus Christ. Using (it) as a minaret is wrong. . . . Islam is not a religion of peace.’” Tragically, many people agree with him. As reported, “His initial Facebook post has been shared more than 57,000 times and has more than 70,000 ‘likes.’” (“Duke University reverses decision, will not allow Muslim call to prayer at its chapel,” Ibid)

Islam is “not a religion of peace?” Which country, led by a self-professing born again Christian following “the ways of Providence,” has invaded other countries, its military killing and plundering people and requiring them to submit to its capitalistic “fire of freedom?” Which country has over 900 military bases around the world to impose its imperialistic will, and at the ready to make war? Which country’s religious leaders show up in the aftermath of a criminal war to evangelize its victims?

Where are the prophetic voices? In response, for example, to the academy award nominated film for best picture, “American Sniper,” which removes—and legitimizes—the criminal context of the Iraq War by humanizing and glorifying a soldier’s mass murder of over 150 Iraqi human beings. A blockbuster film which reveals the extent to which America is descending into a moral abyss.

Islam is “not a religion of peace?” Which country’s current president has continued a global “war on terrorism,” actually a war against various countries, with drone warfare that violates their national sovereignty, fills their skies with constant fear, and kills innocent women and children and men?

Where are the prophetic voices?

They are desperately needed in America, whose president has a “kill list” of suspected “terrorists,” including Americans, to be assassinated without the due process of a trial. It is American leaders, who also “illegally detained and tortured” suspected “terrorists” after the 9/11 attacks, “and lied about it to Congress and the world.” (“A Record of Torture and Lies,” Editorial, The New York Times, Dec. 10, 2014) With the brutal Guantanamo Bay detention camp another glaring contradiction of America’s democratic belief in the rule of law.

Where are the prophetic voices?

American freedoms are being undermined by the National Security Agency’s spying on every citizen in violation of the Fourth Amendment—surveillance not just to protect us, but to detect, monitor, intimidate and squash dissent. And on top of all of this deterioration of our democracy, the militarization of America before our very eyes– the blending of God and country, warring and worship.

Where are the prophetic voices?

Former President Bush, a United Methodist, who is condemned as an international war criminal in many parts of the world, has a library and museum named after him at Southern Methodist University. The fact that United Methodist leaders could approve of such a monument to this war criminal reveals the power of rationalization to deny and reinterpret the reality of Bush’s glaring war crimes.   And the fact that Bush and his United Methodist vice president Dick Cheney are front and center in media and political circles, instead of behind bars, reveals the extent to which evil can flourish in America’s “free” society.

Where are the prophetic voices?

One such voice was heard in response to Rev. Franklin Graham’s attack against Duke University’s Muslim students. Osama Idlibi, the leader of Muslims in Charlotte, pronounced the needed judgment: he reportedly “decried Graham’s earlier statements and called him ‘an Islamophobe.’” (“Duke University reverses decision, will not allow Muslim call to prayer at its chapel,” Ibid) Where were the prophetic voices of the United Methodist Council of Bishops and other faith leaders in response to this attack on a university’s academic freedom? This attack on a religious body’s right to exercise its fundamental freedom of belief?

Where are the prophetic voices?

Surely Christianity and Islam both embrace the humanness that makes for peace and justice. The Quran teaches, “You who believe! Show integrity for the sake of God, bearing witness with justice. Do not let hatred for a people incite you into not being just. Be just. . . . (5:8) Repel evil with good. And he who is your enemy will become your dearest friend (4: 33-34) . . . Peace is the best.” (4: 128)

Similarly, Jesus taught, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you love your enemies . . .” (Matthew 5:43-48) Also, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

Both religions embrace The Golden Rule. Jesus taught. “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12) The Quran puts it this way: “None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.” (An-Nawawi’s Forty, 13, 56 Hadith). And Judaism says it another way: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation, go and learn it.” (Leviticus 19:34)

Where are the prophetic voices in “the land of the free?”

Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center, is both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister. His new book, The Counterpunching Minister (who couldn’t be “preyed” away) is now published and available on Amazon.com. The book’s Foreword, Drawing the Line, is written by Counterpunch editor, Jeffrey St. Clair. Alberts is also author of A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, which “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review in the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. His e-mail address is wm.alberts@gmail.com.









Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center is both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister. His newly published book, The Minister who Could Not Be “preyed” Away is available Amazon.com. Alberts is also author of The Counterpunching Minister and of A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, which “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review of the book in the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. His e-mail address is wm.alberts@gmail.com.