By Tom Ehrich

Throngs flooded the streets of Paris yesterday after three religious extremists murdered 10 journalists and two policemen as retribution for satirizing the Prophet Muhammad.

Never mind that the publication "Charlie Hebdo" also satirized other religions. These three declared "holy war" because their religion had been lampooned.

Some of the Parisians filling the streets were speaking up for freedom, including that most challenging freedom: the freedom to speak offensive words.

Many have lived through totalitarian oppression and want no more of that.

Others in the streets saw this massacre as an opportunity to denigrate Muslims. "Europe for Europeans!" they shout.

In other words, like anti-Semites before them, they want more totalitarian oppression, as long as it serves their vision of purity.

This is a challenging moment for the French, as it is for others in the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Greece and the United States, who face religious extremism and changes in the national complexion.

For Americans facing unrelenting pressure from right-wing religionists, violence in Paris shows us what is at stake.

We have our own history of religious and racial violence, of course, much of it repression of minorities, women and homosexuals in the name of God, as perverted by haters.

The fact that some of those haters now hold elective office and wear pin-striped suits when they rant doesn't make it any less disturbing. Moves to legalize discrimination against gays are just an example of hatred in action.

Freedom of speech is the foundation of democracy. And it is the first target of would-be tyrants. They intimidate or close newspapers and TV stations, they criminalize certain forms of free speech, they unleash thugs to terrorize dissenters.

As the editors of "Charlie Hebdo" apparently understood, there is no safety in freedom. Forces of repression are relentless and are increasingly disposed to violence. All we can ever do is push back and stand for freedom.

Religious bullying isn't free speech or freedom of religion. It is just bullying, like other forms of bullying that wrap themselves in the flag or in majority attitudes.

Bullies have the right to speak freely. They have the right to vote and to hold office. But they don't have the right to use violence against those who disagree -- that is simply criminal assault and homicide. Nor do they have the right to legislate discrimination -- that is simply unconstitutional.

The streets of America have been full, too, with people protesting attacks on freedom.