In today’s “On the Square” essay, First Things columnist Elizabeth Scalia draws attention to a recent episode in the “war on Christmas” and the war on the “war on Christmas,” both of which have grown rather tiresome over the years. Scalia notes that the cynical author of a recent blasphemous exhibit at the Smithsonian understands freedom of speech to be exactly the opposite of what it is:
Depictions of atheists, communists, or exploitated Crucifixes are risk-free ventures. There will always be a Gopnik ready to call such depictions “smart” and an insecure, media-cue’d gentry ready to embrace them for social cache, and a publicly funded art establishment eager to fund them. There will always be a career to be made.
Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom of Speech” shows us a working-class man standing amid his neighbors. By the tilt of his gaze we know he is speaking to someone elevated, perhaps seated at a bench or dais—someone in authority. There are no nightsticks in sight, as there would have been and would be today in too many places in the world. There is no commissar, monitoring his comments, demanding either his acquiescence or his silence. There are only people, not all agreeing, yet giving a man his say. Somewhere behind him is, undoubtedly, a reporter from the local newspaper, a young Gopnik, free to write whatever he wants.