Take Care with the Words You Speak

November 04, 2009

More than 300 rabbis have issued a statement urging Americans to refrain from using Nazi references in the political discourse. Here is part of the statement:

The willingness of supporters of public policy positions to employ the demonizing rhetoric of Nazism not only does nothing to move conversation forward; rather, it has a chilling effect on people of conscience who find the appropriation of such imagery to be disrespectful of the victims and reinforcing of the politics of personal attack that has damaged public discourse in the United States. ... 'Sages,' warned the Rabbis of the Talmud, 'take great care with the words you speak.'"
Last week, Ethics Daily ran a good column by Richard V. Pierard, professor of history emeritus at Indiana State University, that critiqued Southern Baptist leader Richard Land for using Nazi comparisons in the health care debate. After initially defending his Nazi references, Land apologized to the Anti-Defamation League and promised to stop using such references. Yet, Land then reneged on the promise and defended the use of such references, claiming it was his free speech right. Pierard rightly criticized that argument:
No one is more committed to the principle of free speech than I, but I also realize that the words that flow from my mouth or pen do have consequences. I do not exercise this freedom as an absolute because I know it is possible for me to needlessly harm a person through the thoughtless and injudicious use of words.
He is correct. Just because we have a right to say something does not mean it is right to say it. Hopefully, Christian leaders like Land will in the future do a better job of setting an example of civility. It is truly great advice to "take great care with the words you speak."

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