Why proselytizers don’t have to be silent and we don’t have to listen?

winkle, kateI’ve been away from CSU for almost three months and something is missing.

Just like in Fort Collins, I walk to school every day past the city plaza and after class I walk home.

I have never been stopped by someone “asking a few questions” or had to avoid hefty religious debate-screaming. You’d think it would be a breath of fresh air.

However, in place of “Can I ask you a few questions?” the few (very few) people who do stop me ask, “Can I have a few cents?”

Just like in Fort Collins, this question catches me off my guard and, although I’m not lying when I say I don’t have change, I still feel the dual guilt and relief at rejecting their requests. It’s a little reminder of home.

Some may say I am lucky to not have to deal with constant overt evangelism, but the lack of public speech reminds me that the history of the United States and Spain are very different.

Under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco — a name you don’t want to say too loudly on the streets in Spain — people were oppressed economically and ideologically. An attempted autarky worsened the economic crisis following the Spanish Civil War, and those who did not align with Franco’s conservative Falange party either conformed or disappeared.

Everyone was Catholic, or pretended to be. Everyone was Spanish — “Una, grande y libre” (One, great and free), according to a nationalist movement slogan. Intentionally and ironically, people were not free to speak dialects other than Castilian or practice their native culture.

Certain speech was silenced in Spain from 1939 to 1975.

In contrast, America was born with the cries of liberty resounding throughout the land. People speak freely and practice (or not) whatever religion they choose. The U.S. Government has no power to mandate religious practices and no right to curtail speech according to the constitution.

For Spain, that which was established at America’s birth developed in the transitional period after Franco’s regime ended. Society reacted in the opposite extreme of the oppression and the years before reaching equilibrium were characterized by “sexo, drogas y rock & roll.” Many young people dressed and acted like characters from the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

As social rebellion mellowed, freedoms increased and so did cultural pride. People from the area around Barcelona again spoke Catalan, citizens of the Basque country spoke Basque, Galicians spoke Galician, and so on.

And yet, the Spanish today are not confrontational. Their religion and their cultural pride are not about evangelism. After so much oppression, people don’t want to force ideas on to anyone on the street. Mostly, they are content with their freedom and proud of their heritage.

Americans tend to take our history for granted — fed our whole lives on notions of free speech and personal liberty, we forget how sweet they can be. The sounds of people condemning religion, sharing religion, pontificating on the LSC Plaza, should be music to our ears. We have the freedom to speak. We have the freedom to listen. We have the freedom to share and to ignore and to absorb.

Next time you cleverly avoid egregious evangelism with an on-the-spot excuse, give thanks that you don’t have to listen and that proselytizers don’t have to be silent.