MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
When Joe Randazzo heard about Wednesday's attack on the French satirical weekly Charlie Hedbo, it hit close to home. He's the former editor of The Onion. He's been thinking about what it means for his colleagues and the rest of us, and he sent us this commentary.
JOE RANDAZZO: When I was editor there, the only person manning The Onion's front entrance was our petite, tattooed office manager, Jesse. We used to joke that she was the only thing standing between us and some heavily armed radicals, should any ever become enraged by something we put in print. Now, that joke makes me feel sick to my stomach. 12 people were murdered, apparently for doing the very thing The Onion does - satire. I admit it scares me. This is radical ideology taken to an abhorrent new low. An attack, ultimately, on what? An idea?You can't kill an idea by murdering innocent people, though you can nudge it toward suicide. Even in the most repressive medieval kingdoms, the need for a court jester was understood, the one guy allowed to tell the truth through laughter. It is, in many ways, the most powerful form of free speech because it is aimed at those in power or those who spread hate. Satire is the canary in the coal mine, a cultural thermometer. It has to push, push, push the boundaries of society to see how much it's grown. In America, free speech is so important, the men who wrote the Bill of Rights put it first, but they followed it up with our right to bear arms. To me, that's always been a pretty strong message. But in this state of widespread social change, we need to make sure that the ideal of the Second Amendment never, ever trumps the power of the first.Extremists don't speak for Islam any more than the Westborough Baptist Church speaks for Christianity, but the threat to freedom is real, and it comes from within. We cannot, should not police our own thoughts or the thoughts of our fellow citizens. The First Amendment does not just protect our free speech, it protects all expression, including religion. An ideal worth dying for? I think it is. But should we have to pay for it with blood? I pray to God not. And it doesn't matter that I don't quite know how to believe in God, this week I'm praying anywhere.
BLOCK: That's Joe Randazzo. He's an author and comedian and former editor of The Onion. A longer version of this essay first appeared on msnbc.com.
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