Sunday, July 31st 2016

“Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” Controversy Over Religious Speech

A stick figure drawing originally intended to depict Muhammed was changed by a Muslim student to instead depict Muhammed Ali.

South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have created successful careers on pushing the limits and making fun of just about everyone. In the popular Comedy Central program’s 14 seasons the show has created humor around celebrity scandals, national news events and even religious leaders.  No one seemed safe from Parker and Stone’s outrageous and sometimes controversial cartoon portrayals, however unwanted or undeserved the attention.

For South Park’s 200th episode it was no surprise that the creators aimed to cross even more lines. Bringing back several of the celebrities they had previously mocked, the episode was based on a class action lawsuit brought on by Tom Cruise against the small mountain town to end the celebrity embarrassment once and for all. Things became controversial however, when Cruise agrees to drop the lawsuit if the town can give him the Muslim prophet Mohammed, who he believes to be the one person immune from satire and ridicule.

The episode contained several references to the name Mohammed and a mascot costume that supposedly hid the prophet from view. Although seemingly innocent compared to depictions of other religious figures the show has mocked such as Buddha, Moses, Jesus and Joseph Smith, many felt as though South Park had finally gone too far.

As part of their religion, Muslims do not believe in any literal depiction of Mohammed, including any kind of drawings or cartoons.  After Parker and Stone received a warning from a Muslim organization that some interpreted as a threat, Comedy Central censored future episodes of images and references to Mohammed and did not allow an uncensored version of the episode to appear on Parker and Stone’s South Park Studios website.

But there’s a fine line between censoring potentially offensive material and compromising free speech. Under the First Amendment, unpopular or controversial material is protected as long as it is not obscene. Even hate speech, or speech based on characteristics such as race, gender, religion or sexual orientation is allowed as long as it does not incite imminent danger.

Those who felt cheated by the South Park censorship took to the internet May 20 to voice their concerns with “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day”. With over 81,000 fans on Facebook, users uploaded thousands of pictures and images portraying Mohammed onto the site.

The backlash was severe, however, causing Pakistan to block sites such as YouTube and Facebook over sacrilegious content. After two weeks of blocking the site, a Pakistani court ordered on Monday for access to Facebook to be restored.  However, the formation of a counter-Facebook group called “Against Everybody Draw Mohammed Day”, actually attracted more fans than the original group.

Was it right for Comedy Central to back out on the Mohammed episode, even when South Park is known to attack everyone somewhat equally? Did the cable program decide to take the high road in hoping not to offend or the safe road after receiving threats?

Either way, the best part about freedom of speech is that you have the right to choose what you want to share. Those opposed to “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” could have easily tuned out or chose to protest while those in support found several outlets to express themselves. No matter what your beliefs, freedom of speech will allow you to share your thoughts, even if others choose not to.

Posted by Rachel on June 2, 2010 at 5:06pm.

2 Responses to ““Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” Controversy Over Religious Speech”

  1. avatar Aoirthoir An Broc says:

    Actually the high road is in choosing to express your freedom. I know a lot of folks, especially Muslims, keep saying that with freedom comes responsibility to not offend. Alright, let’s pretend this is true for a moment. Why does that responsibility not extend to monotheists, including Muslims?

    “There is no god but Allah [or Jehovah or Jesus or Ahura Mazda or...]” denies ALL of the Pagan gods. For centuries monotheists (including Muslims) have smeared this claim in the faces of we Pagans. We believe in multiple gods and goddesses. It was always blasphemous (sacrilegious) to deny any of them. It is offensive and hurts us (Pagans) in multiple ways. Emotionally we have to continually reaffirm to our children about our gods, a hurt the monotheists (including Muslims) could care less about inflicting on us. I won’t do more than merely mention the pogroms of monotheists against Pagans in areas where monotheists move into, either wiping out or nearly wiping out us Pagans. The other insults and hurts if listed could fill many pages.

    So do Muslims do as they ask? They ask that we not offend their religion. Do they then not offend the religion of others? The answer is simply no. So it seems that the mantra “with freedom comes responsibility” is a mantra reserved truly, even to them, for comic books. It’s most definitely not a two way street.

    Freedom is indeed a sacred thing. If there is a responsibility in regards to it, it is the duty to exercise it, so it shant be lost. Anything less is what is truly offensive.

  2. avatar Rachel says:

    You bring up an interesting topic. I do not know much about Pagan and Muslim history, but it makes sense to me that all religions should have a mutual respect for one another.

    Whether it is all Muslims that are disrespectful or just the extremists is another question. Although I agree that this type of expression was well within our freedoms, personal choice should still play a role in what people are comfortable doing and expressing. Instead of unintentionally offending innocent Muslims, I can see why some chose to not exercise their rights in this situation. For most I’d say it wasn’t out of fear, but because of mutual respect.

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