Mimesis Law
21 August 2019

Jack Chick’s Contributions To Free Speech

October 27, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Jack Chick died October 23, 2016 at age 92. If you’re not familiar with his name, count yourself among the blessed to have never seen a “Chick Tract,” a small “comic book” handed out usually by Evangelical Christians as a means of “witnessing” to those in need.

A sampling of Chick’s work reveals every “deviant” behavior as a gateway to hell, be it drugs, homosexuality, or Dungeons and Dragons. Some would consider his work “hate speech,* and celebrate his death. If you’re a believer in the First Amendment, it’s time to remind yourself Jack Chick’s work is a legacy of why we must protect the speech we disagree with most.

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From a criminal defense perspective, one need only to peruse the section marked “Drugs/Alcohol/STDs” to see Chick’s views on addiction and the “war on drugs.” Just one sip of the demon liquor, pop one pill, or one hit of acid and you’ve taken your first step towards hell or the murder of a family member. The “Gangs” section turns up a tale where “Carlos Gomez,” an incarcerated Latino gang boss, meets an African-American preacher while in lockup and magically “forgives” the man who murdered his little brother. If one is so inclined to peruse even further outlandish racially charged “salvation,” take a look at the “Black Tract Series,” containing some of Chick’s work “tailored for black audiences” or “redrawn with black characters.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization with its finger firmly on the pulse of what constitutes “hate speech” or “hate groups” in the United States, designated Chick Publications an “active hate group” in 2014. Simply handing out one tract in a child’s Halloween candy bag at your local church’s Halloween ministry requires an apology and subsequent hand-wringing, as Pastor Kenny Cousar of Hillsboro, Ohio’s Northview Baptist Church, found in 2011. When a Chick Tract called “Mean Momma” made its way into the church’s selection of Halloween offerings for children, the negative reaction was so strong that Pastor Cousar wrote the following on his church’s Facebook page.

Annually, our church has a ministry of passing out Gospel tracts with our candy to children as an outreach to our communities. Unfortunately, we did not realize that one of our tracts was not appropriate. That is our fault for not paying attention to the tract in the first place. Our church does not endorse this type of extreme methodology that was represented in this particular tract, and we can assure you that we will not let this happen again. In our zeal to get the Gospel out, we were careless…

Pastor Cousar’s apology wasn’t enough to keep him from being labeled an “Ethics Dunce” by Jack Marshall, the head of a company called “ProEthics.” Marshall took Cousar to task over handing out “Mean Momma” on Halloween, saying a church had no business “proselytizing” with Chick Tracts on a “kid’s holiday.”

Halloween isn’t a proselytizing opportunity. The pastor says handing out pamphlets has been “well-received” in the past. Well received by whom? Show me an 8-year old who is happy that he got a religious pamphlets in his bag instead of a Snickers bar, and I’ll show you one weird kid.

It is unfair and presumptuous to hijack a kid’s holiday to pursue a personal or organizational agenda. That means that you hand out candy on Halloween…If you don’t want to participate in the spirit of the tradition, then turn off your lights and hope you don’t get egged, while I’ll hope that you do.

Putting aside the unintentional hilarity of that quote coming from a failed lawyer running a company creating “ethics” Continuing Legal Education courses, it also serves as a dangerous virtual canary in the coal mine against free speech and the First Amendment. Someone with a license to practice law and who pretends to educate other lawyers over what is “ethical” in practice felt it “ethical” to tell a church what was “appropriate behavior” on a holiday, and then advocate for vandalism of private property over handing out a “pamphlet.” If anyone committed a sin in this debacle, it’s Jack Marshall for making people dumber on the Internet while wielding a law license.

Jack Chick may have been a “racist” and a “bigot” in the eyes of those who viewed his work. While Chick never revealed much about his life to suggest either label appropriate, the fact his tracts caused so many to take up arms against the “comics scaremonger” and revel in his consignment to a “badly drawn hell” show why it’s important to allow those with views we despise to express them, instead of shouting them down or making those views illegal. It’s hard to imagine one person Chick expected to see in hell disagreeing with that point of view.

In May of this year, Fault Lines contributor Andrew King outlined without knowing why reflecting on Jack Chick’s passing is incredibly important. Sometimes he gets things right.

Ultimately, if the culture of free speech is undermined, then eventually the legal protections for speech will be too. And weakening legal protections for speech will lead to the criminalization of speech. Most of us forget that noncompliance with state demands ends with compulsion…Criminalization of speech leads to people with guns taking you to jail…In addition to the legal protections, we should care about the private suppression of speaker such as Milo and others. But also we need to be on guard for the criminalization of speech that “seems like a good idea.”

After you finish reading this post, and the others at Fault Lines today, go read a Jack Chick tract. Do not celebrate his death. Do not revel in his passing, even if it seems like fun. Instead, use the moment you see crazy, three paneled rhetoric about addiction leading to Satanism as a time of reflection. Remember that in this age where feelings matter more than law, the constitutional rights of men and women like Jack Chick to say things you disagree with most are incredibly important. Failure to do otherwise means when the speech you think criminalizing “sounds like a good idea” becomes your own, you are the one who will scream for protection as you’re fitted with shackles.

*Since this is Fault Lines, we get the benefit of knowing constitutional scholars told us there’s  no legal definition of “hate speech.”

6 Comments on this post.

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  • Bruce Coulson
    27 October 2016 at 11:20 am - Reply

    If for no other reason than if you didn’t approve of Jack Chick, you certainly don’t want to be in his company by attempting to suppress free speech. (cf. Howard Hallis’s legal issues with Chick Publications when Hallis posted a parody of a Chick tract…something that Jack Chick was unamused by.)

    • Greg Prickett
      27 October 2016 at 4:14 pm - Reply

      You can always hope to be eaten first…

  • JAV
    27 October 2016 at 4:32 pm - Reply

    Reading the classic anti-RPG tract Dark Dungeons is an essential part to one’s geek-cred. As kid I read it and laughed, realizing how unlike my tabletop experiences it was.

    So in my experience, I agree, Jack Chick taught me a valuable lesson on how to handle speech I don’t agree with.

  • JAV
    27 October 2016 at 5:39 pm - Reply

    As a lapsed Catholic, I can also recommend “Death Cookie”. Man had a knack for titles too I guess.

  • David Meyer-Lindenberg
    27 October 2016 at 6:11 pm - Reply

    He had a lot of nothing to say. We’ll miss him.

  • Jeff Davidson
    28 October 2016 at 8:13 pm - Reply

    Marshall must have some kind of hang-up about religion. He also declared the Pope an Ethics Dunce for opining on global warming, saying that the Pope should speak only to religious issues. Why the care of creation is not a religious issue he did not explain.