Pope Francis on free speech: ‘You cannot insult the faith of others’

c. 2015 Religion News Service

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis on Thursday (January 15) condemned last week’s terrorist attack on the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo but warned there were limits on freedom of expression.

Speaking to journalists as he flew from Sri Lanka to the Philippines on a weeklong visit to Asia, the pope said freedom of expression was a “fundamental human right” and stressed that killing in the name of God was an unacceptable “aberration.” 

“You don’t kill in God’s name,” Francis said.

However the pope, who has made a point of reaching out to Muslims, Jews and other faiths, said there were limits to self-expression when it involved insulting or ridiculing people’s faith. “You cannot provoke, you cannot insult the faith of others,” he said. “You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

By way of example, the pope referred to Alberto Gasparri, who organizes the papal trips and was beside him on the plane.

He said if Gasparri cursed his mother, he could “expect a punch,” and at that point he gestured with a fake punch towards him, saying: “It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

Freedom of expression has remained a hotly contested issue since Islamist terrorists stormed the office of the weekly known for mocking Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Several cartoonists were killed in the first of three days of terror attacks that rocked France and claimed the lives of 17 victims and three terrorists.

On January 8, four French imams on a visit to the Vatican issued a statement denouncing the violence and appealing to people whatever their faith to do more to promote a “culture of peace and hope.”