Sanitized Soap Box Loses its Cleaning Power: Another Freedom-of-Speech Loss Story

sword eater

Buskerfest 2013 was underway tonight in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Virtually any kind of street performer you could think of was represented, and people roamed the free event at will, dropping a dollar in an artist’s tip jar if they were pleased, walking on by if they were not. The audience was quite diverse, and seemed to represent a good cross section of age and ethnicity in our city. The occasional spurts of light rain kept it cool if damp; overall, people looked amused. Our granddaughter was enthralled.

But my husband and I were disappointed.

You see, it was a sadly sanitized event.  Not that it was squeaky clean…there were provocatively-clad belly dancers. There was plenty of goth dress, with abundant piercings and tattoos–among the performers and the audience members.  

But there were no Christian performers that I could see or hear. Also no Jewish or Muslim ones. Faith and religion apparently had no place at the festival.

sad clownThe audience arrived on foot from every direction, many with children in tow, a few walking their dogs. Some pushed strollers, even wheelchairs. As we got closer to the orange-barricaded block, we could hear music coming from several different directions. Swirls of color caught the eye: a garish clown made balloon animals; white-faced mimes raised gloved hands in greeting; a silver-skinned “living statue” did a robotic dance; another in neon green would move, then stop, then move some more, drawing the crowd with him. There were jugglers, miscellaneous guitar players, a string quartet, break-dancers. Two different tables sported signs and offered literature from an organization called “Food Not”. There were  face painters, henna tattoo painters, and vendors of jewelry.

soapbox clip artA friend of ours had registered to perform. He is an excellent spoken-word artist whose free-style, almost rap-like, poetry is strongly Christocentric. He borrowed a crate to use as his “soap box” and had a sandwich board made. On one side it read, “Thank you for not stoning me”, which I thought was rather amusing. The other side asked simply, What do you think about Jesus Christ?”

By the time we arrived, he wore no signs.

He’d been asked to take them off.

So much for free speech.

With no visuals to draw a crowd, and without his own portable sound system, he looked discouraged. He’d just finished a poem, and after talking with us for a moment, he moved his crate over against a nearby building. I don’t know whether he performed any more, since it started raining harder and we headed back to our car.

I’ve since looked at the registration form and combed the website for any guidelines which would have tipped our friend off that he wasn’t going to be welcome. “No performance too quirky” was one of the slogans for this year–no disclaimers were listed, e.g., “religious performers excepted…they’re beyond quirky.”

Since this event was sponsored by our city’s “Downtown Improvement District” perhaps they were squeamish about seeming to sanction an overtly Christian performer. Sounds like yet another failure to understand the difference between allowing and endorsing.  

If the sign had said something really incendiary, like “Jesus is the only way to heaven”  (see John 14:6)…then I might be able to understand the attitude that resulted in our friend losing his signs. But even then, he was simply expressing his opinion…and as Bill Whittle pointed out in a recent Mr. Virtual President video–see it in JTR’s post here

“You don’t have a right not to be offended in this country.”  

I know that religious persecution is going to get worse. And I know that Jesus said we should be glad when we are mistreated for His sake:

God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.

(Matthew 5:11-12 NLT)

1930s Portrait Of Man With Gag In MouthBut what if we never get the chance? I don’t think our friend would have minded if people had “mocked” or said “evil things about” him…because at least they would have been engaging with the message.  

But in a culture where the powers-that-be seem bound and determined to prevent substantive conversations from even starting, where for fear of offending someone our freedom of expression is taken away…

we all lose.

23 responses to “Sanitized Soap Box Loses its Cleaning Power: Another Freedom-of-Speech Loss Story

  1. I think this is the first time I have responded to one of your posts. So first let me say I love the site and your posts. I have responded to some of your brother’s posts before and have said the same thing I am going to say here: HOW DARE THEY!

    It’s freedom of speech, not freedom of speech as long as it suits you. I am not very religious, however as I have stated before I love discussing/debating my beliefs. I am really scared of the way this country is heading. No one should be shunned for their beliefs or told they cannot tell others what it is that they believe in. I have no idea who is right when it comes to religion but I WANT to hear all sides.

    I just don’t understand people’s reasoning in picking and choosing how to apply our rights and thinking that they don’t apply to everyone…

    • godsbooklover

      Dragon! Thank you so much for your comments. I appreciate you as a thinking person who knows that we need to have a right to open communication about ideas. Otherwise, we will lose the very language to discuss these ideas, and they will cease to exist. I don’t think that every bad choice in this regard is part of a Big Brother conspiracy. I think it’s more likely part of a poorly-thought-out attempt to keep everybody ‘happy’…except the people whose rights have thus been trampled. I keep going back to Bill Whittle’s statement. Darn it, we do not have the right not to be offended. That would be the opposite of free speech. But what some people don’t seem to realize is that if our goal is to offend no one, we will actually offend, and permanently cripple, everyone. Stop back to dialogue soon! GBL

  2. Reblogged this on Political Musings-At the Sunset of My Life and commented:
    Everyone should read what Dr Benjamin Carson has to say about political correctness. This is the land of the FREE and our FREE speech rights should be protected at all costs!!!!

    • godsbooklover

      Thank you, Gene! Yes, Dr. Carson should be held up as a great mentor, thinker, and advocate. But he too is being stifled by the thought police. Sad.

  3. Reblogged this on Aewl's Abode and commented:
    My heart mourns the slow chipping away of our freedoms that I fought to preserve during my service to our great nation while in the U.S. Navy.

    • godsbooklover

      Thank you for visiting and for reblogging, Aewl…but more importantly for your service to our country. God bless you! (Our dad is retired Navy, also!)

  4. It saddens me that this happened to someone at Buskerfest he had every right to be there as anyone else. It also saddens me by some of the comments I read above about the “sadly sanitized event. Not that it was squeaky clean…there were provocatively-clad belly dancers. There was plenty of goth dress, with abundant piercings and tattoos–among the performers and the audience members.” ???? What did that have to do with anything? Why put the other performers down because of something the “City” did. I and my husband were both performers at Buskerfest. We also would be grouped in with the “goth” dressed, tattooed and pierced performers AND we are both Christians. My husband is an ordained minister. Also, our friend Sam had a scheduled performance and he is a Christian performing artist, he performed and even went over his time. So before you judge the other performers, just to make a point, maybe you should take your own advice “where for fear of offending someone our freedom of expression is taken away…” I just felt the need to say something because I do feel for your friend he should not have been told to take his signs down, but I was offended that I and the other performers were judged by mere appearances.

    • Thank you for your comment, Eva. I’m glad you weighed in, as someone else who was there. I think I may have been being over-clever in my use of “clean”…since I led with the soapbox, and talked about “sanitized” I wanted to paint a fuller picture of what I DIDN’T mean by that. I certainly didn’t mean to offend you or anyone else. I’ll admit I’m not a big fan of tattoos and body piercing, which has as much to do with my age as anything.

      You can choose to be offended by that if you wish.

      To clarify: I did not find any of the acts (as far as I could tell) to be objectionable or foul. But neither did I hear or see anyone (other than my friend) who appeared to be presenting religious content. I wrote based on the impressions of an hour or so of attendance, and my experience was very much colored by my disappointment in my friend’s treatment. I didn’t claim to be reporting on the entire extent of the event, nor was I judging anyone (other than, perhaps, those who made the decision to make him take his signs off).

      Thanks again for reading, and for sharing another part of the picture. I hope you’ll visit this site again.

  5. Sadly, this is a growing trend in the United States. Christians are taught that being persecuted is a sign of faith, so we take the loss of liberty quietly, while atheists, minorities, etc., are taught that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, so they control the public discourse. The organizers of the event are probably quite certain your friend won’t return with 100 of his friends to picket the place, so it’s safe to ask him to take down his signs, but let an atheist do the same thing and they’d probably give him a choice location, because they know he’ll come back with 100 friends and picket.

    I don’t know the solution to the problem. We violate our closely held beliefs if we get aggressive over such treatment. Do you have 100 friends willing to write politely pointed letters of protest to the organizers about this? We’ve had some good outcomes with that here in Alaska.

    • Thanks for your suggestion, Aurora. That’s an excellent idea! I already plan on doing some letter-writing.

  6. Pingback: More Thoughts on Free Speech, Public Places and Pirates | Two Heads are Better Than One

  7. livinrightinpgh

    I’m of a mind to believe that if your friend had a sign reading: “What do you think about Mohammed?”, the organizers of the event wouldn’t have taken the same action. I think the comment by Aurora nails it.

    • godsbooklover

      We can speculate endlessly about that, but until it happens…we can only wonder. I kinda wish some Muslims would proselytize, just to see whether our suspicions are true…it would be nice to be proven wrong! I’d far prefer to fight for across-the-board freedom of speech, and unite as many groups as possible on the same side of the table. Silly, idealistic me.

      • livinrightinpgh

        With respect to having it occur at YOUR event? Yes, I guess we would have to take a “wait and see” approach. However, given the accommodations that have been made to Muslim students in public schools (foot baths, prayer time, etc), the odds of being right are likely in my favor.

  8. Just the beginning. We have lost our God loving country. Freedom of speech only applies to approved subjects and then only if it is derogatory to our former freedom loving way of life.

    God help us.

  9. Too bad. Disturbing. I couldn’t help thinking of the Canyon walk Nick Wallenda did. In a post interview he you could see he literally thanked God almost every step of the way. I guess that would have been banned or controversial.

  10. Jon Michael Necaise

    I was a volunteer for this event and know Adam. I also know the reason he had to take his sign off. they emailed him the rules of nothing political or religiously charged. Though I don’t agree with them having him take the sign off, I understand why. They want people to have fun. There were some people taking offense to his sign without listening to what he was saying. the organizers didn’t want people to be offended.

    • godsbooklover

      And therein lies the problem…we never want anyone to be offended, and we end up trampling someone’s civil rights in the process. Please read my follow-up post from yesterday: for more on the legal aspect of what I feel was a very unfortunate decision on the organization’s part.

    • godsbooklover

      And thank you, Jon, for commenting. I appreciate you taking the time to visit this blog.

    • But, Jon, if they didn’t want people to be offended, why didn’t they publish a list in advance of the event to see what OTHER participants might be “offensive” to others? Frankly, if this was an event centered on “fun” with none of the participants being “political or religious”, then WHY would they permit FoodNotBombs to participate? They are a militantly political group, and could be “offensive” to any number of people. Please know that I’m NOT directing these comments to you, personally, but putting them out for thoughts.

      The whole “offended” routine is getting old. and I concur with GBL’s follow up comment. The whole thing reminds me of “A South Park Christmas” where everyone in town is so “offended” by some aspect of Christmas (be it a tree, Santa, a manger scene, carols, etc.) that they end up with a big, bland, NOTHING. Even the mistletoe gets the boot.

      NOT being offended is NOT a right.

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