For the Best

How do you grieve the death of a life you almost knew – a dream you were living & forced to wake up from? What do you do when you feel called out of something you felt called into?

I poured my whole heart and soul into working with my students, and huge parts of my identity were wrapped up in the work. I thought I would be with them for several years, but God has other plans for me and for the church. Losing this position has been deeply emotional, and my identity has been shaken. This is one of the most difficult and painful experiences I have ever lived. But I’m learning.

I wanted to share how my spirit has been encouraged through all this. I get a verse of the day on my phone. I think they are pretty random, and we need to be careful with verses out of context. But I do believe that God uses these to talk to me, and this is what I feel He’s been telling me over the last week.

Wednesday.

I learned my position was being cut, and they gave me a couple days to decide if I wanted to try and do my job part-time. Matthew 5:10, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Let me be clear – no one is persecuting me. But I was really definitely attacked by the enemy that day, so this was good to hear.

Thursday.

I had to tell the church I was officially moving on, and then I had to tell my whole team. Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” There is a lot of anxiety here for me. I don’t know what’s next. I have so many questions. But every time I think of this, I feel like my heart is being wrapped up in a blanket of peace.

Friday.

The announcement went out, and I had to write a letter to our families. Proverbs 16:9, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” I had a plan. I had so many plans with my students and for my students. But God is in control here, and He’s the one leading, and I know He has a better plan for them and for me at work here.

Saturday.

Things got very quiet. I started to feel very lost. Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Those words made me feel found again

Sunday.

I haven’t had a Sunday with my students since March, and I had no idea that was my last one. So the grief became very present and very real. And I got 1 Peter 5:10, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered for a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” Right now, I’m in that suffering for a little while part, but I know that soon I’ll be restored, strong, and faithful again.

Now these verses came from all over the place, and they are all very different. And right now, I’m all over the place, and all the hurts and hard things I’m dealing with are very different. But we have one great God who just covers & comforts it all. And He is working to redeem and restore and bring us to better and better. And it will all be better. If there is one thing I want my students to take from me and my story and my time with them, this is it: Sometimes everything sucks and we have to suffer, but God is doing some beautiful refining work.

I don’t always know what is going to happen next. I have no idea what is coming next for me. But I wholeheartedly trust that God is in control and whatever is next is going to be for the best.

I know, and I hope you know – God has already won.

Where is the Media Free?

When examining both Chinese and American free speech laws, numerous complexities arise. The Chinese government tries to use the “privilege” of free expression to seem less totalitarian. Still, they practice complete control and censorship over what common citizens might think or say. All content is monitored and censored by the government their speech laws are oppressive of their citizens’ rights.

America is on the other side of the spectrum. Where the Chinese government is quick to silence any criticisms, the American government is frequently a proponent of free speech. Even the nation’s leader will jump to the defense of the people’s First Amendment right. This was seen when Obama defended the Trump supporter because America “respects free speech” (Abbey-Lambertz par. 7).

As discussed throughout this series, American free speech laws are more liberal than Chinese free speech laws, and American citizens have easier access to uncensored truth. How can one discover the truth for themselves if they cannot grapple with it openly? All people everywhere deserve access to the unbiased truth, and they deserve to openly wrestle with their opinions. This is how people become well-informed citizens.

Courtesy of How Stuff Works

Freedom of speech is indeed a privilege, but it is granted to Americans as a Constitutional right. Bearing in mind the oppressiveness of the Chinese free speech laws, an American citizen should be increasingly grateful. They should be careful to speak, knowing and appreciating the weight of their words. In a world where people are denied the right to seek the truth and express their opinions, Americans should be conscious of their freedom and learn how use it intentionally.

Abbey-Lambertz, Kate. “Obama Shouts Over Crowd To Defend Trump Supporter At Rally.” The Huffington Post. HPMG News, 04 Nov. 2016. Web. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/obama-defends-trump-supporter-video_us_581cebe0e4b0d9ce6fbc0910

A More Direct Comparison

We discussed some history, looking at how the governments have shaped modern practices in both countries. We looked at modern conditions. Let’s take a moment to revisit some key differences between American and Chinese free speech practices.

Freedom of Opinions

As mentioned before, the Chinese are only allowed access to sites that are regularly monitored by their government. In America, one can safely post their opinion as long as it does not include child porn, libel, or copyright infringement. Meanwhile in China, every opinion is scrutinized by the Communist Party and filtered through the state’s best interests.

Removing the Mask

The Chinese “free-speech elite” makes it appear that their government grants freedom of expression as a privilege to a few fortunate members of society. However, common citizens have no platform where they can openly express their opinions. The government monitors and censors all content that is distributed publicly, revealing how oppressive their speech laws are regarding their citizens’ rights.

On the other hand, American free speech laws are protected by the First Amendment. Still, content is subject to limited censorship. When compared to the Chinese laws, American laws are for more progressive in their execution. Now, what does this mean for the press in both countries? Since the Chinese government regulates their media so intensely, it would seem that the United States’ press is less censored.

Renowned street artist Banksy’s commentary on Free Speech. Courtesy of the Clyde Fitch Report.

China: Missing Information?

In an article for The New York Times, Beijing writer Hung Huang explains that their media censorship has in some respects loosened up. Specifically, she claims that her magazine has not been censored for the past four years, even though they have published some fairly sexual photoshoots. Because of this, she argues that Chinese citizens do not feel censorship like most Westerners assume they do (Huang par. 1).

Censorship Does Happen

She recognizes, however, that the state does censor political information. For example, when Chinese infants were sickened by contaminated baby formula, no state-operated media reported on the debate (par. 4).

Another example of Chinese media censorship happened when the wife of the director of the Chinese Olympics channel disrupted a news conference to inform the world of her husband’s extramarital affair. This incident happened on live television, but no other stations dared report on it, and the only video of it that was posted on the Internet was later removed by censors (par. 6).

Christopher Lee as evil mastermind Fu Manchu in 1965. Courtesy of CBS News.

Huang put it best when she wrote, “Yes, Fu Manchu as Big Brother is among us.”

par. 4

From Huang’s article, it can be inferred that most of the Chinese media’s censorship goes unrecognized. So, it is probably safe to assume that most common Chinese citizens do not even realize that they are being deprived of knowledge. Their television stations are under rigid control (par. 6). As discussed earlier, their journalists are frequently imprisoned, and their Internet is regularly monitored and blocked.

They do not understand that they are uninformed because they do not know anything else. They only know media filtered through their Communist government. Even if they want to further research an issue, they can only pull from sources that their government has deemed unthreatening to the Communist agenda.

American Freedom and Misinformation

How Much is too Much?

Clearly, the constitutional right of free speech reigns supreme in America. But how much freedom is too much? Some argue the autonomy of the American media has led to issues being blown out of proportion. Further, they propose that many American citizens are misinformed.

In an article for The Washington Post, Jennifer Hochschild and Katherine L. Einstein explain how American politics contains several great examples of how citizens can be misinformed. Many citizens have expressed concern over a media bias.

An editorial cartoon on media bias. Courtesy of The Boston Globe.

The media tends to exaggerate problems while highlighting the issues that it wants voters to focus on. By controlling what the people see, the media can paint a positive or negative picture of a candidate, and these pictures can often be far from the truth.

Consequently, American voters have pieces of information that might contain facts, but do not accurately reflect the situation. Ultimately, they end up making misinformed decisions, but they are not completely uninformed (“No, We’re Not Arguing from the Same Facts” par. 7). Hochschild and Einstein go on to deduce that:

“In some cases –such as parents’ refusal to vaccinate or Americans’ belief that the Iraq invasion was necessary in order to eliminate the country’s weapons of mass destruction–people died because of the choice to act on misinformation. In other cases–such as opposition by the uninsured to the Affordable Care Act or liberal African Americans’ support for confirming Clarence Thomas to be a Supreme Court justice—people have relied on false ‘knowledge’ to make choices that ended up violating their own interests as they defined them.”

par. 6

Here, Hochschild and Einstein assert that misinformation is a serious problem because it leads people to act contrary to their actual beliefs. Still, it is important to note that the access to accurate information is available to American citizens.

Even though certain media outlets may be biased, any American citizen can easily pull news from the Internet and properly research their beliefs. If an American citizen is misinformed, they are at least partially responsible for themselves. While their opinion might have been influenced by media bias, there was no reason not to research the topic.

Hochschild, Jennifer, and Katherine L. Einstein. “No, We’re Not Arguing from the Same Facts. How Can Democracies Make Good Decisions If Citizens Are Misinformed?” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 21 July 2015. Web. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2015/07/21/no-were-not-arguing-from-the-same-facts-how-can-democracies-make-good-decisions-if-citizens-are-misinformed/

The Espionage Act vs. Free Speech

The Pentagon Papers

Even though there is risk involved when releasing classified information, the First Amendment typically trumps the Espionage Act. The Pentagon Papers case set the precedent.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara commissioned the papers, and they were officially titled “Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force” (“Pentagon Papers” par. 1). In 1971, small portions of the Pentagon Papers were leaked to the media and distributed throughout the country. They revealed that the U.S. was intentionally expanding its role in the war, even after President Lyndon B. Johnson promised that he would not.

Lawsuits followed. Ultimately, the Supreme Court allowed the press to publish government secrets when The New York Times ran the truth about the Vietnam War (“Pentagon Papers” par. 4).

The New York Times ran the story on their front page in June of 1971. Image courtesy of The Real News Network.

“Pentagon Papers.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web.

Legal Action

In China

Chinese government uses legal punishment to silence dissenders. David Volodzko, national editor for The Korea JoongAng Daily, reported that “in 2005, China had 32 journalists arrested,” and “ten years later, that figure was up 65 percent” (“Is Free Speech in China Really Getting Better?” par. 5). Looking at these statistics, it is clear to see why the Committee to Protect Journalists deemed China the “worst jailer of the press” (Omari par. 1).

Unsurprisingly, the Chinese do not stop at their journalists. They also arrest common people for writing about their opinions without approval from the state. In January 2003, two men were sentenced to nine and seven years in prison for “unlawful operation of a business” (“Freedom of Expression in China” par. 14). Here is the tragic reality: they were caught publishing love poems without the authorities’ permission. Their citizens have limited access to the news, and their journalists have the constant threat of punishment looming over them. This is not a safe environment for citizens to express their opinions.

In America

In some cases, exercising free speech in the U.S. does not come without opposition. The publication of classified information creates tension between the First Amendment and the Espionage Act. Basically, the Legal Information Institute states the Espionage Act is the addition that:

“Whoever knowingly and willfully communicates, furnishes, transmits, or otherwise makes available to an unauthorized person, or publishes, or uses in any manner prejudicial to the safety or interest of the United States or for the benefit of any foreign government to the detriment of the United States any classified information… shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.”

“18 U.S. Code and 798 – Disclosure of Classified Information” par. 1

In other words, anyone who wittingly makes classified information available to anyone who is unauthorized for such knowledge will be fined or jailed for up to ten years. America’s Future Foundation writer Ken Silva explains that “attorneys for the largest publications in the country routinely advise editors that articles containing classified information must be vetted by the U.S. government” (“Can Journalists Go To Jail For Printing Classified Information?” par. 4).

This seems to contradict the First Amendment, thus rendering the act unconstitutional. After all, if one must withhold information, how can their speech be considered free? One might argue that this limitation hinders free speech. The Espionage Act can be used to prosecute the media for revealing government secrets. Many argue that this is contradictory to the First Amendment as well (Silva par. 10). We will discuss more on that in our next post.

Women protesting the Espionage Act near the White House. Courtesy of Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

Volodzko, David. “Is Free Speech in China Really Getting Better?” The Diplomat. The Diplomat, 23 Sept. 2016. Web. http://thediplomat.com/2016/09/is-free-speech-in-china-really-getting-better/

Omari, Shazdeh. “China Is World’s Worst Jailer of the Press; Global Tally Second Worst on Record.” Committee to Protect Journalists. CPJ, 17 Dec. 2014. Web. https://www.cpj.org/reports/2014/12/journalists-in-prison-china-is-worlds-worst-jailer.php

“Freedom of Expression in China: A Privilege, Not a Right.” Congressional-Executive Commission on China. N.p., n.d. Web. https://www.cecc.gov/freedom-of-expression-in-china-a-privilege-not-a-right

“18 U.S. Code and 798 – Disclosure of Classified Information.” Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School, n.d. Web. https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/798

Silva, Ken. “Can Journalists Go To Jail For Printing Classified Information?” America’s Future Foundation. AFF, n.d. Web. http://americasfuture.org/can-journalists-go-to-jail-for-printing-classified-information/

Violence in the Media

In China

When riots broke out in Hong Kong, people on mainland China had no idea. The Chinese government censored their news to ensure their citizens would remain uninformed. According to USA TODAY journalist Calum MacLeod, the 2014 Umbrella Revolution saw Hong Kong citizens shielding themselves from tear gas and pepper spray behind umbrellas as they cried out for democracy. Since 1997, China has claimed to rule over Hong Kong as “one country, two systems” (qtd. in MacLeod par. 10). People living in the same “country” had no idea their neighbors were even in danger. To keep the Chinese people in the dark, the government blocked popular social media sites like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube (par. 10). The Umbrella Revolution is only one example of how the Chinese government controls what information the citizens can access.

The Umbrella Revolution. Courtesy of CNN.

In America

Compare this to the freedom of the press in the United States. A great example of how intensely the American public is permitted to react presents itself in the 2014 Ferguson Riots. TIME Magazine testified that after Michael Brown was shot dead by officer Darren Wilson in August 2014, racial tensions in Ferguson, Missouri quickly turned into full-blown riots described as “nights of protests marred by spasms of violence” (Drehle et al par. 1).

Everyone in America was aware of the conflict, and the shot was heard around the world; even Chinese news outlets commented on the issue. Xinua news writer Li Li wrote that “the Ferguson incident once again demonstrates that even if in a country that has for years tried to play the role of an international human rights judge and defender, there is still much room for improvement at home” (qtd. in Leavenworth par. 5). Commentaries this strong are rarely published without the state’s consent (par. 6).

When the Ferguson riots occurred, debates were raging across the United States. The POLITICO Magazine article “In Missouri, Ferguson is Still Burning” details how the debate played out. Most citizens used social media platforms to express their opinions. Most notably, the activist group Black Lives Matter demanded some of the media spotlight (Severns par. 14). They still protest police brutality against black people, trying to raise awareness of the problem. This issue is still hotly debated, and it is often in direct conflict with the U.S. government, calling police brutality into question. Others were calling for a militarized police force to calm down the riots. Common citizens were demanding that Obama act (par. 11-13). Even American celebrities are expected to use social media platforms to influence people into action (par. 20).

Ferguson Riots. Courtesy of BBC.

MacLeod, Calum. “‘Umbrella revolution’ opens wide.” USA Today n.d.: Newspaper Source. 30 Sept. 2014. Web.

Drehle, David Von, et al. “The Tragedy Of Ferguson. (Cover Story).” Time 184.8 (2014): 22-27. Academic Search Premier. Web.

Leavenworth, Stuart. “China Chides U.S. over Ferguson Violence, American Racism.” McClatchyDC. N.p., 19 Aug. 2014. Web. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/world/article24772003.html.

Severns, Maggie. “In Missouri, Ferguson Is Still Burning.” POLITICO Magazine. POLITICO LLC, 31 July 2016. Web. http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/07/2016-missouri-ferguson-gubernatorial-election-racism-214127.

Laying the Framework: How Does Free Speech Look?

In China

In China, freedom of expression is viewed as a privilege, not a right. The Congressional-Executive Commission on China explains that this privilege is only extended to elite members of Chinese society. The “free-speech elite” is made up of citizens who hold prominent financial, political, and academic careers (“Freedom of Expression in China” par. 2). For example, only senior members of the Communist Party can publish criticisms or opposing viewpoints. Specifically, Li Rui, former aide to Mao Zedong, published a letter asserting the following:

Li Rui. Courtesy of BBC News.

“The key is reforming an aged political system that is obsolete, and speeding up the development of democratic politics so the country can truly embark on a course of peace and stability characterized by democracy, science, and rule of law… Only with democratization can there be modernization. This has been a global tide from the 20th century, especially the Second World War, onward, and those who join it will prosper while those who resist it will perish.”

qtd. in “Freedom of Expression in China” par. 4

In other words, Li directly called for greater democracy, claiming that reforms were necessary for achieving modernity in China. The Chinese government basically claims to support the idea that freedom of expression is a privilege, but they reserve the right to punish their elite for using this privilege.

Common citizens are not allowed public forums free of censorship. Consequently, their citizens have no platform where they can openly express their opinions (“Freedom of Expression in China” par. 8). In the peer-reviewed article “Censorship and Deletion Practices in Chinese Social Media,” Dr. David Bamman et al writes that China practices complete censorship, aiming to prevent “all access” (par. 4) to social media resources. He goes on to describe how their domestic social media sites are programmed to delete posts with sensitive language. To give their citizens a sense of false liberty, the Chinese authorities allow them to post their criticisms on a government-monitored forum. By law, the forums must be licensed, the posts must be constantly monitored, and inappropriate posts must be taken down (“Freedom of Expression in China” par. 16).

In America

For the common citizen in America, freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment. The Bill of Rights states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” (amend. I).

As far as free speech, take note that the First Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law […] abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press” (U.S. Const. amend. I). Put simply, this seems to mean that there can be no legal action taken against someone who wants to express their opinions. Despite this apparent freedom, American media is subject to censorship.

Dr. David Bamman et al calls this “soft censorship” because the law “allows access, but polices content” (“Censorship and Deletion Practices in Chinese Social Media” par. 4). Specifically, the United States government prohibits display of child pornography, libel, and media that infringes on copyright or other intellectual property rights (Bamman et al par. 4). According to Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute, libel is when someone publishes something that defames another person’s character, causing them to be disliked, damaging their reputation, and harming their business (“Libel” par. 1).

Additionally, the Constitution asserts that copyright laws are put in place not only to protect intellectual property, but they also “promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited time to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries” (U.S. Const. art. I sec. 8). Even with these laws in place, it is not difficult to find this prohibited content. These restrictions are in place for the benefit and protection of American citizens.

Beyond this, some social media organizations choose to filter what their users can post. Facebook does not allow users to post anything “hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence” (qtd. in Bamman et al par. 4). Social media users are expected to moderate each other, and they can report or block other users for offensive content. However, no legal action can be taken unless it contains child porn, libel, or copyright infringement.

“Freedom of Expression in China: A Privilege, Not a Right.” Congressional-Executive Commission on China. N.p., n.d. Web. https://www.cecc.gov/freedom-of-expression-in-china-a-privilege-not-a-right

Bamman, David, Brendan O’Connor, and Noah Smith. “Censorship and Deletion Practices in Chinese Social Media.” First Monday. 05 Mar. 2012. Web. http://firstmonday.org/article/view/3943/3169

“18 U.S. Code and 798 – Disclosure of Classified Information.” Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School, n.d. Web. https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/798

“The U.S. Bill of Rights.” National Archives. The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 17 Sept. 1787. Web.

Bamman, David, Brendan O’Connor, and Noah Smith. “Censorship and Deletion Practices inChinese Social Media.” First Monday. 05 Mar. 2012. Web. http://firstmonday.org/article/view/3943/3169