Culture

Americans Can't Afford to Miss 'The Free Speech Apocalypse' on Thursday

Imagine a world where free speech is under assault at the very institutions dedicated to open dialogue and learning. Imagine a school where certain ideas inspire automatic hatred, and mobs slander a person’s character based on what he believes. Now open your eyes, because that world is here.

In a special one-day release, the movie “The Free Speech Apocalypse” will hit select theaters across America this Thursday. This film about the suppression of free speech and the eroding of America’s Christian values is sure to cause a stir, as it presents a timely and important view of the intolerance and vitriol which threaten to undermine our country’s very foundations.

Racist, Sexist, Anti-Gay!

A crowd of angry students chant, “Racist, Sexist, Anti-Gay, Douglas Wilson, go away!” Douglas James Wilson, evangelical pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, and senior fellow of theology at New Saint Andrews College, addressed a crowd at Indiana University on April 23, 2012. Footage from this event forms the centerpiece of the film, as rabid students shout Wilson down, ask impertinent questions, and protest outside, dancing crazily to raucous chanting.

“Douglas Wilson, you’re not welcome here!” one student shouts. “You believe slavery is ideal, women are inferior, gays deserve death or exile!” The students shout Wilson down, all the while declaring, “we respect free speech.” They justify their actions by calling Wilson’s presentation “hate speech.”

“It’s pure rage — it feels like a temper tantrum,” explains Benjamin R. Merkle, president and fellow of theology at New Saint Andrews College. Merkle called such protests “an assertion of raw power by claiming victimhood.” In a telling scene, the movie presents student protestors using makeup to bolster the victimhood narrative. “We’re painting our faces as if we’ve been hit or harassed in some way,” one young man explains.

Wilson rationally lays out a Christian worldview to this rabid crowd, and they continually respond without even considering his words. One student begins his question by openly admitting he hadn’t listened to Wilson’s remarks.

Liberal ideology crushes free speech in other examples beyond the Indiana University speech. “The Free Speech Apocalypse” also features an interview with Aaron and Melissa Klein, cake shop owners who were fined $135,000 for refusing to bake a cake for a lesbian wedding ceremony. The denied couple claimed that the Kleins had “mentally raped” them, causing “loss of appetite” but “weight gain,” and both “insomnia” and oversleeping.

In addition to these central episodes, the film touches on the more questionable case of Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, who refused to issue marriage licenses to any couple following the Supreme Court’s decision for gay marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges. While she claims to be following her Christian conscience, many consider it her duty as an elected official to follow the law or resign from her post. The film seems to take her view on the matter.

Texas Senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz makes an appearance, declaring, “This began when a handful of unelected judges decreed they knew better than the American people and they were going to write into the Constitution a right that doesn’t exist.” Another candidate, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, also chimes in on abortion, explaining how the science disproves the idea that an unborn baby is “just a clump of cells.”

Abandoning the Christian Roots of Free Speech

Toward the film’s close, Wilson zeroes in on the fundamental struggle. He declares that, by rejecting America’s Christian heritage, “we’re throwing away our liberty, our right to speak freely.”

“Free speech, liberty of conscience, having a right to certain fundamental religious convictions, that came out of fundamental Christian convictions,” Wilson says. In an email statement to PJ Media, the pastor expounded further on the connection between Christian heritage and the ideals of a free society.

Wilson traced the ideas of free speech and liberty of conscience to the Reformation and “the early Reformation heritage of the American colonies.” Specifically, he pointed to John Milton’s defense of free speech in the “Areopagitica,” and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He suggested Douglas Kelly’s book The Emergence of Liberty in the Modern World.

The major tenets of Christianity favor free will, the separation of church and state, and a view of human beings made in God’s image. Jesus Christ’s suggestion to “give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s” set up the more fundamental life with God as separate and above the concerns of the state, as discussed in St. Augustine’s The City of God.

Further, the idea that human beings are made in God’s image means that our minds are equipped with the ability to think God’s thoughts after Him – when it comes to scientific laws and to morality. These key notions helped build the bedrock for the liberties Americans enjoy.

The prosperous plant of modernity grew from the fertile soil of Christianity. “I believe that the Reformation was the time when many of these ideas came into their own,” Wilson explained. “But I don’t believe they started there. I regard this as the work of Christendom generally.”

Free Speech Apocalypse

Americans today are poisoning that soil, however. Wilson drew on Jonah Goldberg’s book Liberal Fascism, tracing the “suppression of dissent” to the time of the First World War and arguing that “progressives are the natural enemies to liberty.” During World War I, President Woodrow Wilson expanded the government into nearly all spheres of life, created a bureaucratic war economy and suppressed those who would question America’s enmity with Germany. These events opened the Pandora’s box of silencing ideas in the name of freedom.

In the name of sexual freedom and rejecting all constraints on identity, today’s Progressive activists jettison the very bedrock of free speech and liberty of conscience. They also ridicule America’s founding because it did not promote equal rights regardless of race, sex, and gender.

Throughout the film, Wilson mentions the “War between the States,” his term for the Civil War. Wilson told PJ Media that he would rather avoid this subject, but “it is not possible to confront the same-sex agenda with intellectual honesty without being willing to address this topic.” The Bible clearly condemns homosexual behavior, but it allows for slavery (even though Paul writes to Philemon that he should accept his slave Onesimus back “no longer as a slave but as a brother”).

Gay marriage activists claim that if a modern Christian disagrees with the Bible to say that slavery is wrong, then he or she can also disagree on homosexuality. This argument fails for many reasons — the Bible presents human beings as created in complementary parts, “male and female,” and saving souls was more important than abolishing the universal evil of slavery to the Biblical authors.

Although Wilson declares that slavery and racism are sins, the students still call him racist. While the pastor’s doubts about Lincoln and arguments about the federal government gaining too much power as a result of the Civil War may be off-putting, he presents rational positions on substantial issues, to which the students’ response is only anger.

Filmmaking Flaws

While it presents an important message, “The Free Speech Apocalypse” uses jarring techniques and at times can feel like a piece of propaganda. In an email statement to PJ Media, director Darren Doane described himself as “a pretty simple punk rock director,” and this style shows throughout the film. Using constant ominous music, jumping from scene to scene and interview to interview, the documentary has the sense of motion and urgency Doane intended, but also a low-budget feel. While a soundtrack with ominous music makes sense for a film about the death of free speech, the effect is overdone. Combined with black-and-white scenes of celebrity apologies and footage from the “Nineteen Eighty-Four” movie (made in 1984) spliced in at seemingly random times, “The Free Speech Apocalypse” feels like a genuine dystopia.

Throughout the movie, Doane chops up interviews and switches back and forth between them. Wilson will start speaking about freedom of speech, and then suddenly you have Aaron and Melissa Klein talking about the suit against them, and then you get a clip of Big Brother from Nineteen Eighty-Four. Then it’s back to Wilson for the next point, maybe a few more words from the Kleins, and a celebrity giving a silly but “heartfelt” apology.

In his comments to PJ Media, Doane explained why the movie has this jittery quality. “Documentaries can get boring,” the director wrote. “One testimonial after another. I want my films to move. I’m a pretty simple punk rock director — three chords and just play the heck out of them.” Make no mistake, playing “the heck” out of them is exactly what he does — and it’s exhausting.

Scenes of Wilson’s pickup truck also form a recurring theme throughout the movie, to the likely confusion and even boredom of an audience. Only toward the end does the succession of pickup scenes finally make sense, as Wilson pulls up to the dump and talks about throwing away America’s Christian culture.

“It seemed appropriate,” Doane told PJ Media, since Wilson takes out the trash every Saturday. “Doug deals with people’s trash locally and, on a bigger scale, takes on the trash culture of the world. Doug is dealing with trash and being treated like trash at Indiana University — so it all seemed perfect.”

This sort of central recurring theme tying in to the film’s message is a great artistic touch, but rather than clarifying the movie, it throws the audience for a loop. Worse, it has the potential to add boredom to the film’s confusing and jarring qualities.

The film’s style does have some redeeming features, however. All the footage from the Indiana University altercation is real — the audience is seeing what actually happened, and that’s cool even if it is a bit tedious. This footage lends credibility to conservative complaints that are far too easily dismissed by a skeptical media.

Also, the film’s very creepiness serves its purpose well — this movie is a warning, a cautionary tale of what will happen (and is already happening) to free speech and religious liberty if we reject our Christian heritage. The truth and dire nature of this warning makes all the difference and validates what might otherwise seem propagandistic and poorly made.

So, by all means, go watch “The Free Speech Apocalypse” – it’s an important warning about a progressive movement out to destroy free speech and liberty of conscience. Wilson shows how to make a stand against such terrible odds, and conservatives should learn from his example.