The Briefing 03-12-15

The Briefing 03-12-15

The Briefing


March 12, 2015

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


It’s Thursday, March 12, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Fallout from OU fraternity racist chant reveals confusion of hate speech and speech crimes

We have to return to the controversy that emerged over the weekend after a video was released showing fraternity members – at a fraternity that is now shut down at the University of Oklahoma – singing a racist song and repeating a racist chant. The aftermath of the video was an immediate international controversy and once you see the video you can see that is for good reason. It’s very hard to believe; it’s shocking to see these privileged young white men singing a song that is on the one hand so racist and on the secondhand so threatening.

That’s what leads to the kind of conversation that comes days or perhaps even weeks after an incident of this kind of importance. You have people asking questions about what the event meant in retrospect. Was it overblown? Did administrators of the University of Oklahoma overreact? Just days after the University’s action in expelling two students for their leadership in the chant, there have been immediate questions asked about the First Amendment and about the freedom of students to say anything – virtually anything at all – in a public context.

There are a couple of things we need to note here quite carefully. First of all, there are particular obligations upon a public university, as a public institution, when it comes to the First Amendment. Let’s raise a basic question: is it within one’s First Amendment rights to say such racist and horrible things as those fraternity students did in that bus? The answer to that is probably yes; almost every legal expert that seems to be quoted in the media seems to say that the First Amendment – if it means anything – means the right to say the most horrifying things, even if they run right into the face of society’s moral convictions.

So one of the realities we need to reflect upon in terms of the aftermath of this story is that most Americans would not support, and the Constitution almost assuredly would not uphold, any attempt to arrest these students for a crime. One of the things we need to watch very carefully from a Christian worldview perspective, with religious liberty very much on the line, is that we do not support the criminalization of what is called the hate speech. We should not support an idea that has been gaining ground in constitutional circles on the left; arguing for instance in many arguments you now find rather regularly in law schools, that there ought to be laws on the books against moral statements against people even based upon their behavior.

For instance, there are claims that making any kind of statement of a negative moral judgment upon same-sex relationships and attractions should be considered a form of harm against individuals that would constitute a crime. We need to think carefully and make a distinction between hate speech and speech crimes. There is no doubt that the biblical worldview affirms the fact that speech can be filled with hate. Hate speech is a reality, and one that we need to take with absolute moral seriousness. But the moment you begin to criminalize speech you begin to draw a line that suggests that societies are deciding which messages are going to be the subject of a criminal prosecution and which are not.

This is no easy matter, but it has been very clear that the trajectory of American constitutional law has been to protect speech in terms of First Amendment rights and to resist, in terms of our First Amendment freedoms, any attempt to criminalize speech. But that doesn’t mean that you have to accept all speech as being within moral boundaries. And this is one of the issues that Christians need to think about very seriously.

The University’s response in the aftermath of the video was to shut down the fraternity – that’s the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter at the University of Oklahoma – and to expel two students. Now there were a good many more than two students on that bus – there were more than two students who were seen to be singing that racist chant on that bus – but there were two students identified as leading the chant and they were expelled. In the action from the University, President David Boren wrote letters to the two students, now former students, writing,

“This is to notify you that, as president of the University of Oklahoma acting in my official capacity, I have determined that you should be expelled from this university effective immediately,”

He went on to write,

“You will be expelled because of your leadership role in leading a racist and exclusionary chant which has created a hostile educational environment for others.”

Now at this point Christians need to think very carefully because there are those who would argue that any kind of moral statement concerning same-sex relationships might fall into the category of creating a “hostile learning” or “hostile educational environment” for others. But we need to note that the specific chant, the specific song that was being repeated by the students included an overt physical threat. They were threatening to lynch African-American students; not only did they say they would not ever allow an African-American young men to be a member of their fraternity, they went on and used language in which they positively stated that they will be quite willing for one to be lynched. That not only harkens back to one of the darkest days of America’s racist history, it also can be fairly understood to be the substance of a threat.

Some conservatives very concerned about the marginalization of free speech on America’s college campuses have suggested that Pres. Boren of the University of Oklahoma overreacted by expelling the two students. There are even some who have suggested that there may be legal action on behalf of the two students subsequent to their expulsion. I can’t speak to the likelihood of that kind of legal action, but I will speak in defense of the University of Oklahoma’s President. In this case I believe he made a very justifiable distinction between some speech that would merely establish a moral sanction and other speech in which there is an actual mention of physical harm.

Those who are concerned about the infringement of free speech on America’s college and university campuses are seeing a real problem, a very ominous development. Furthermore, those who are concerned about the language that Pres. Boren used, speaking of a hostile educational environment for others, are well aware of the fact that that language can be misused and misapplied. But I think we have to be very, very careful here. When we listen to that now infamous video of those fraternity members at the University of Oklahoma as they are chanting that song, we’re not only hearing a message of horrifying racism, we are also seeing an historical reference to lynching; something that wasn’t merely hypothetical – for lynching is one of the saddest chapters in American history, and the victims of all those lynchings were not hypothetical, they were all too real.

To speak of lynching African-Americans simply cannot be understood as merely the exercise of one’s First Amendment rights on American college and university campus. It is still the case that gaining admission to a college or university in America, even a public college or university, comes with certain responsibilities. And even if free speech is only free, if it extends freedom to language that we find reprehensible, morally reprehensible, that does not mean that all speech is commensurate with the privilege of being a student in college or university. The decision to expel those two students made by the President of the University of Oklahoma may be constitutionally debated, but in my view it is morally right.

2) UC Irvine student government attempts to ban American flag for sake of tolerance

Next, speaking of what’s going on at least some American college and university campuses, a recent headline from the Los Angeles Times, “UC Irvine group bans US and other flags in its lobby.” It may not appear to be a big story but as you look at the substance, it’s bigger than might first appear. Nicole Shine writing from Los Angeles Times says,

“In a push for what has been described as cultural inclusion, the student government at UC Irvine has voted to ban the display of all flags — including the American flag — in an area of the campus.”

She goes on to explain,

“A resolution adopted Thursday by the legislative council of the campus’ Associated Students calls for removing all flags from the common lobby area of student government offices.”

The story then quotes Matthew Guevara, he is the student who brought the motion. The resolution he brought says,

“The American flag has been flown in instances of colonialism and imperialism, [he went on to say in his resolution that flags, including the American flag] construct paradigms of conformity and sets homogenized standards.”

Now the resolution was passed 6 to 4 by the student legislative council. There were two abstentions. As Nicole Shine indicated the measure was likely to be short-lived and it was. The next day’s edition of the newspaper included the headline, Move to Ban Flag Display Vetoed. As she reported just a day later,

“[The] five-member executive cabinet overseeing UC Irvine’s student government on Saturday vetoed a decision to ban the display of all flags, including the American flag.”

And so the executive council stated,

“We fundamentally disagree with the actions taken by ASUCI Legislative Council and their passage of [the ban] as counter to the ideals that allow us to operate as an autonomous student government organization with the freedoms of speech and expression associated with it. “It is [speaking of these flags they wrote,] these very symbols that represent our constitutional rights… and our ability to openly debate all ranges of issues and pay tribute to how those liberties were attained.”

Now looking at the math (if math still matters), when you look at the 12 members of the legislative council and you consider the five-member executive committee, the reversal or veto of the action by the council by the executive committee can easily be overridden because all it takes is a two thirds vote of the legislative council. In other words, expect a third headline any day now.

But the reason I’m bring this story to our attention is because in terms of worldview there really is some pretty big significance here because this offers a window into the kind of thinking that is now becoming rather standard fare on America’s college and university campuses – especially the leading and most influential of those campuses. One of the first things you might think when you look at a headline like this is that these are simply college students who might be expected to do the kinds of things college students do. And this might be one of those things. But the second thing you need to recognize is that this kind of thinking doesn’t come from the college students, it comes now, rather regularly, from at least some members of the college faculty.

Many professors who are overwhelmingly on the cultural and political, the ideological left, they had been teaching this kind of message for some time now. It goes all the way back to the 1960s on many campuses and as many cultural observers have noted, those who were the protesters of the 1960s largely grew up and got tenure. They are now the professors of the current generation.

The language that was brought by this student referred to all national flags, but as all the media reports have made clear, the national flag of interest was he flag of the United States of America. And as many people noted, and there was considerable push back to this story, it’s pretty hard to claim a First Amendment right citing a constitution, the symbol of which you simply do not want to acknowledge. The self-contradictory nature of the student’s message was something that was caught at least by their own executive committee.

But the most important section of that resolution, that remember passed by six-four vote of the legislative council, was the section in which the young man wrote,

“Freedom of speech in a space that aims to be as inclusive as possible can be interpreted as hate speech,”

There is the danger in the misuse and the abuse of that hate speech category. You simply can’t look at that video coming from those fraternity members and not see it as hate speech. There is no other way to describe it. And while attorneys arguing about the first amendment can come to different conclusions in terms of constitutional law, there’s no one who see that video that can come to any other moral conclusion than that it is horrifyingly reprehensible.

But our attention to the misuse of that kind of argument points back to something happened just a few days before, states away, at the University of California Irvine where a student making an accusation that merely flying the American flag can be a form of hate speech; and making the argument that free speech and inclusion can be contradictory. These are arguments we’re going to have to watch very, very closely. And those of us who are committed to religious liberty are going to have to watch them especially closely.

3) ‘Homeland’ producers see Islamic State as too evil to represent on entertainment television

Next, when we’re thinking about the intersection of the Christian worldview and America’s entertainment culture, an important story appeared in the London newspaper, The Telegraph, yesterday; the headline, Islamic State deemed ‘too evil’ to appear in Homeland. As Colin Freeman reports for that British newspaper,

“The makers of the hit TV drama Homeland have ruled out featuring Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) in any future storyline, saying the group is ‘too evil’ to be portrayed on television.”

Well, that’s a very interesting statement. After all, you’re looking at a program that is “Homeland,” that bills itself as a realistic though fictional depiction of the challenges faced in the war on terror. That’s the very premise of the show “Homeland.” But is Colin Freeman reports,

“The producers [of ‘Homeland’], which depicts the CIA’s battles against terrorist foes, believe that dramatising the lives of the likes of Jihadi John would be unwise as it would give the group a ‘platform’.”

The word platform is the very word they used. Alex Gansa, who is the executive producer of “Homeland” said,

“… the group’s actions in beheading aid workers and journalists were also so unfathomable that it would be impossible for his script-writers to create characters with convincing back stories or motivations.”

From a Christian worldview perspective, this is a hugely important article. At the first level it tells us that even reality television can’t actually handle reality. That’s an important issue for Christians to understand. The entertainment culture may seek, may even claim, to present realistic depictions but real and Hollywood simply cannot go together. There is no way that any kind of entertainment product can actually represent a realistic depiction of something as important as the war on terror.

This new story comes as one of the most graphic affirmations of that point because right now one of the chief enemies in terms of terrorism of the United States is undeniably the Islamic state. And here you have a program that is seeking a realistic depiction of the struggles of the Central Intelligence Agency against terrorism that says they can’t actually feature any characters in the Islamic state because that would be to give the group a platform. Then they go on to explain that one of their great challenges would be to create “convincing back stories or motivations” for any character that would be represented as being from a group known as the Islamic state. From a moral perspective, from a Christian biblical worldview perspective, that’s hugely important. One of the things it tells us is that an entertainment program such as “Homeland” that characters are only meaningful to the audience if the character is inexplicable in some kind of moral terms. Here you have the executive producer of this program saying we can’t find any way to explain a sufficient back story or a set of motivations that would explain what someone like Jihadi John is doing in those videos.

Now at this point we have to step back and ask the question, is he being honest with us? Is it really true that they can’t come up with a convincing back story, they really can’t get into the motivations? Or is it true that they do not want to? That there will be no way they can offer any politically correct understanding of those motivations because to do so would raise a host of theological issues – which is to say they would have to confront the Islamic part of the Islamic state. My guess is that on this particular point there not being fully honest because there is plenty of evidence out there even in terms of mainstream media reports that would offer the back story and, when it comes to the videos that are being put forth by the Islamic state, they are absolutely explicit about their motivations. But the television program “Homeland” probably, in terms of our political culture, probably can’t be that explicit. That’s probably the real problem – that too is telling.

Speaking at a television festival at the Paley Center in Los Angeles that executive producer said,

“It’s very difficult to do because what they are doing on the ground feels so medieval and so horrible that you give them a platform on television I’m a little wary of,”

Well that’s a morally respectable statement; I can respect a television producer who says there are simply some things I don’t want to depict on television because they’re so immoral. But let’s be honest, it’s rather hard to take that argument coming from someone of the mainstream Hollywood culture. Because what they do represent, in terms of their entertainment products, is what can only be described as a routine immorality. It’s just an immorality they are more comfortable with depicting than other forms of immorality. And when it comes to the Islamic state they say that group feels “so medieval and horrible” that they don’t want to give that group of platform.

Now again, just taken it at face value: that is a respectable moral statement. One of the things we can respect is that at least someone in Hollywood seems to be acknowledging that they have the stewardship of the kind of platform. That’s a morally reassuring statement. Again, it just doesn’t seem to represent any kind of consistent moral responsibility on the part of Hollywood. I can’t speak about this executive producer, I can simply say that virtually every single major television channel, whether it’s on cable or broadcast, broadcast many narrative storylines that are on their face filled with immorality.

Speaking of the Islamic state in this potential storyline, Mr. Gansa said,

“Maybe this is too soon, maybe we don’t understand them well enough. It may be that they are just too evil to dramatise on television.”

Well that’s a very interesting statement when he says ‘maybe we don’t understand them,’ my guess is that’s not fully honest. I think the problem is we certainly do understand them. But when he says,

“It may be that they are just too evil to dramatise on television.”

Well, that’s also a very interesting statement and there may be some great moral truth in that. But that then raises the question, ‘what in the world are you doing with this program in which you are claiming to depict the actual challenges faced by the CIA and the American government? You can’t say maybe we don’t understand them well enough and then say they’re just too evil to dramatize on television. You can mean one of those things; you really can’t mean both of those things.

But before leaving this story there is another very important angle because as this executive producer is explaining his program, he points back to characters who had been depicted as terrorists in previous years, previous seasons of the program, and he says,

“There was a real effort to make their concerns and their lives understandable,”

He went on to say this is very hard to do with the Islamic state. His final words on the subject,

“I think to humanise or to create a sympathetic member of Isil right now is a very tall order, that I would be nervous about doing; I really would.”

Now once again, that can be a morally respectable statement. But how do you square that with what he claims as the achievement of his team in creating understandable stories of terrorists in previous seasons. What would those understandable stories be? He acknowledges that those terrorists were also about killing people in the name of their own terroristic agenda. How does that differ from the Islamic state? How does he create a moral scale in which one motivation for terrorism is morally superior to some other? He doesn’t exactly put it that way, but there’s no escaping that’s the evitable consequences of the moral equation he’s drawn here.

I’ll simply have to end with an even more important point from a Christian worldview. Those in Hollywood are morally responsible for what they produce, but we can’t leave moral responsibility there. We are equally responsible for what we watch. In a very real sense the true test of our worldview is what we find entertaining. For most of us, that’s a far more immediate question, a far more in evitable test.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to


Theological education is essential to Gospel ministry. Where you receive training is really important. As you consider God’s call on your life, we want to give you the opportunity to experience Southern Seminary at Preview Day on April 24th. For just $25 we will cover your two nights of lodging, as well as all of your meals on preview day.  For information visit

For more information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to

Remember the release of Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. Call with your questions in your voice to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058.

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.



Podcast Transcript

1) Fallout from OU fraternity racist chant reveals confusion of hate speech and speech crimes

It’s not Unconstitutional to be Racist, Huffington Post (Byron Williams)

Is University of Oklahoma frat’s racist chant protected by 1st Amendment?, Los Angeles Times (Matt Pearce)

2) UC Irvine student government attempts to ban American flag for sake of tolerance

American flag, others banned in UC Irvine student area, Los Angeles Times (Nicole Knight Shine)

Ban on American flag at UC Irvine reversed, Los Angeles Times (Nicole Knight Shine)

3) ‘Homeland’ producers see Islamic State as too evil to represent on entertainment television

Islamic State deemed ‘too evil’ to appear in Homeland, The Telegraph (Colin Freeman)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me using the contact form. Follow regular updates on Twitter at @albertmohler.

Subscribe via email for daily Briefings and more (unsubscribe at any time).