The Limits of Free Speech


The popular catchphrase of free speech defenders is a quote attributed to Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Civil libertarians often defend and support the notion that the right to freely express offensive opinions is a bedrock human right that should not be abridged except under very narrow circumstances—typically for hate speech that directly incites violence against a person or group of persons. However, I support broader prosecution of hate speech—defined here as speech that disparages a person or class of persons based on an immutable characteristic (colour, race, origin, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and age), or their occupation, family or marital status, and religion or lack of religion. Proscribing hate speech more broadly would, I believe, foster a more inclusive, tolerant, and safer society.

Many western countries already do criminalize hate speech in a more encompassing way, although enforcement is often weak and spotty. A typical example is Canada, where it is illegal to “expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt…on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination” (Canadian Human Rights Act) and to “wilfully promote hatred against any identifiable group” (Criminal Code of Canada). The United States, however, stands almost alone in its veneration of free speech at almost any cost. The U.S. Supreme Court insists that the First Amendment protects hate speech unless it constitutes a “ true threat” or will incite imminent lawless action.

But societies should take action against hate speech without requiring that a few specific words by themselves must directly and immediately incite violence, or be likely to. That sets a very high bar and is difficult to prove. It also allows purveyors of hate to evade responsibility simply by not making explicit calls for violence. Further, our new digital world raises the stakes—the Internet has spawned a proliferation of hate speech along with useful information such as bomb-making instructions or the home addresses of abortion providers. This has enabled others to commit violence long after the words were first published.

Violent acts of hate are generally preceded by hate speech that is expressed publicly and repeatedly for years, including by public figures, journalists, leading activists, and even the state. Some examples include Anders Behring Breivik’s terrorist acts in Norway (June 2011), the assassination of Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller (May 2009) and other abortion providers in the 1990’s, the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsis (1994), the ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina (1992-1995), and the Nazi Holocaust.

Courts of law should be able to look at broader patterns of hate speech in the culture to determine whether a hateful atmosphere inspired or contributed to violence, or would likely lead to future violence. When hate speech is relatively widespread and acceptable (such as against Muslims or abortion providers), it’s not difficult to see the main precursor to violence—an escalation of negative behaviour or rhetoric against the person or group. Dr. George Tiller endured a previous assassination attempt and a decades-long campaign of persecution waged by the anti-abortion movement, which worsened over time, especially in the last year or two of the doctor’s life. Anders Behring Breivik had actively opposed multiculturalism for years and had immersed himself in Christian Right propaganda about the supposed threat of Muslim immigration to Europe, a view popularized only in recent years by a growing army of anti-Muslim bloggers and right-wing journalists.

As these examples illustrate, we can often pinpoint the main purveyors of hate speech that lead to violent crimes. In the Norway shootings, the killer Breivik relied heavily on writings from Peder Jensen (“Fjordman”), Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, Mark Steyn, Jihad Watch, Islam Watch, Front Page Magazine, and others. Such individuals and groups should be charged with incitement to hatred and violence. Similar culpability for the assassination of Dr. George Tiller should rest on the shoulders of the extremist anti-abortion group Operation Rescue and Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly.

In general, anyone spewing hate to an audience, especially on a repeated basis, could be held criminally responsible. This would include politicians, journalists, organizational leaders and speakers, celebrities, bloggers and hosts of online forums, and radical groups that target certain categories of people. We also need to hold people in accountable positions to a higher standard, such as government employees and contractors, ordained religious leaders, CEOs, and the like.

Criteria by which to assign culpability could include a speaker’s past record of prior hate speech against a particular person or group, how widely and frequently the views were disseminated, and the specific content and framing of their views. In cases where violence has already occurred, judges could determine how likely it was that the violent perpetrators had been exposed to someone’s specific hate speech, and hand down harsher sentences accordingly.

The Harms of Hate Speech

The apparent assumption of free speech defenders is that offensive speech is essentially harmless—that is, just words with no demonstrable link to consequences. But questioning whether speech can really incite someone to bad behaviour seems irresponsibly obtuse. Obviously, words have consequences and frequently inspire actions. A primary purpose of language is to communicate with others in order to influence them. If that weren’t so, there would be no multi-billion dollar advertising industry, no campaigns for political office, no motivational speakers or books, no citizen-led petitions, no public service announcements, and no church sermons, along with a myriad of other proven examples where speech leads others to act.

The majority of hate speech is targeted towards gays, women, ethnic groups, and religious minorities. It’s no coincidence that straight white men are generally the most ardent defenders of near-absolute free speech, because it’s very easy to defend hate speech when it doesn’t hurt you personally. But hate speech is destructive to the community at large because it is divisive and promotes intolerance and discrimination. It sets the stage for violence by those who take the speaker’s message to heart, because it creates an atmosphere of perceived acceptance and impunity for their actions. Left unchecked, it can lead to war and genocide, especially when the state engages in hate speech, such as in Nazi Germany.

Hate speech also has serious effects on its targets. Enduring hatred over many years or a lifetime will take a toll on most people. It can limit their opportunities, push them into poverty, isolate them socially, lead to depression or dysfunction, increase the risk of conflict with authority or police, and endanger their physical health or safety. In 1990, the Canadian Supreme Court stated that hate speech can cause “loss of self-esteem, feelings of anger and outrage and strong pressure to renounce cultural differences that mark them as distinct.” The court agreed that “hate propaganda can operate to convince listeners…that members of certain racial or religious groups are inferior,” which can increase “acts of discrimination, including the denial of equal opportunity in the provision of goods, services and facilities, and even incidents of violence.”

In democratic societies that stand for equality and freedom—often with taxpayer-funded programs that promote those values by assisting vulnerable groups—it makes no sense to tolerate hate speech that actively works to oppose those values. Further, hate speech violates the spirit of human rights codes and laws, diminishing their purpose and effect. A society that allows hate speech is a society that tolerates prejudice at every level—politically, economically, and socially—and pays the consequences through increased discrimination and violence.

Answering Objections from Hate Speech Defenders

The most popular solution to the problem of hate speech is “more free speech.” This seems to make sense on the surface, and sometimes works well in practice. For example, there are many outspoken atheists who do a good job of publicly defending themselves and their fellow atheists from the prejudice and hatred too often expressed by religious people. But even if the targets of hatred can ably defend themselves from verbal violence, why should they have to? Why should a democratic society privilege the right to free speech over the well-being and privacy of those with less privilege?

Most vulnerable groups, however, do not have a level playing field on which to respond to hate speech against them. They are often outnumbered, out-resourced, and out-funded by the haters, simply because of their disadvantaged position in society. Sexism and racism are still thriving in the 21st century, which means women and most minority groups have a harder time getting published and heard and taken seriously in mainstream society. Which brings us full circle—perhaps one of the reasons sexism and racism are still so prevalent in modern society is because free speech is exercised largely by the privileged at the expense of the unprivileged.

A common objection to prosecuting hate speech is that it might endanger speech that counters hate speech. For example, a critique may repeat the offending words and discuss their import, or it may subvert the hate message in a subtle or creative way that could be misunderstood by some. But context is everything when determining whether speech is actually hateful or not, so this objection seems nonsensical. Any reasonable judge should be able to discern the difference in intent or effect behind a hateful message and the speech that critiques it.

Another objection is that prosecuting hate speech removes accountability from those who actually commit the violence, turning violent perpetrators into victims of hate speech. But no-one is suggesting that hate speech causes people to act against their will or takes away their personal responsibility. Typically, hate speech creates an environment in which a person who is already sympathetic to the views of the speaker feels validated and encouraged to take action, with a reduced fear of punitive consequences and even anticipation of praise and support from the in-group that shares their views. Nothing prevents a hate-inspired murderer from being prosecuted in the same way as any other violent murderer—in fact, many countries mete out harsher penalties for hate-motivated crimes. But those who inspired the murderer should also be prosecuted separately under hate speech laws.

Many people seem to treat freedom of expression as an almost sacred, inviolable right, but this is far from the reality. In constitutional democracies, free speech is already justifiably restricted in a multitude of ways by law or policy, even in the United States. The quintessential example of prohibited speech is falsely shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre. Besides hate speech itself, some other generally accepted prohibitions of speech include:

  •  Sedition (advocating force as a way to change the government)
  • Threats
  • Defamation (libel and slander)
  • False or misleading advertising
  • Buffer zones around abortion clinics that prevent anti-abortion protesters from harassing patients and staff
  • Quiet zones near hospitals or schools
  • Municipal bylaws restricting the location, size, type, content, and display of signs, posters, objects, ads, etc.
  • Profanity on public airwaves
  • Publication refusal, censorship, and the right to edit enforced by news websites, online forums and blogs, newspapers, magazines, radio, and other media
  • Company confidentiality policies (such as employees being prohibited from sharing trade secrets or talking to the media)
  • Gag orders or publication bans in contracts, court cases, and settlements

In practice, courts will look at circumstances on a case-by-case basis to see where a balance should be struck between freedom of expression and some other value or right. No single right trumps another in all circumstances, not even the right to life. For example, Canada’s constitution (Section 1 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms) allows a fundamental right such as freedom of expression to be limited to protect someone else’s fundamental rights, such as the right to life or liberty—or in the case of abortion, women’s right to safely access a necessary medical service, which courts have determined outweighs the protesters’ right to protest outside clinics.

Some current legal restrictions on free speech are not on the above list because they are clearly illegitimate. One of those is insulting your country’s head of state, currently illegal in at least eight countries, mostly in western Europe. This offence is called “lese-majesty,” a holdover from the days when kings were divine. But if political leaders are immune to criticism or ridicule, they have far too much power over the people and the country cannot be a true democracy. In general, the public must be allowed to pass judgment on public figures, because the latter owe their position to public support in the first place, which should not be coerced or bought. For example, public figures in the U.S. are not protected from defamation unless it was done with malice—knowledge of falsehood or reckless disregard for the truth. 

Many countries also criminalize blasphemy—the criticism of religious doctrines or practices. But the desire to protect religion from criticism is simply a reflection of the insecurity of believers who doubt their own beliefs. Blasphemy laws have more in common with hate speech actually, because they often result in hateful rhetoric and violent acts against the “blasphemers.” Further, many religious people have a tendency to confuse hate speech with dissent, such as Catholics who hurl accusations of “bigotry” when someone criticizes Church policies or dogma. But hate speech is personal—it is directed against people based on their identifiable characteristics. Dissent on the other hand is speech against other opinions, beliefs, or positions. Dissent is an essential component of a free democracy, and it includes blasphemy. In other words, you should be free to attack Catholic policies that protect abusive priests, but it would be hateful to say that all Catholic priests are pedophiles.

Examples of Anti-Abortion Hate Speech That Should Be Prosecuted

The history of violence against abortion providers makes a very strong case for prosecution of those who disseminate hate speech against them. Almost all of this violence has occurred in the U.S., which makes a compelling argument for limiting First Amendment protections of hate speech.

On a Sunday morning in May 2009, abortion provider Dr. George Tiller was assassinated while attending church in Wichita Kansas. The killer, Scott Roeder, had been planning the act for some time and had gleaned information about the doctor’s movements from Operation Rescue—an anti-abortion group that Roeder was actively involved in and donated money to. This radical group had moved to Wichita in 2002 for the sole purpose of driving Dr. Tiller out of business, and in the seven years leading up to his murder, Operation Rescue (OR) engaged in a relentless campaign of hate and harassment against him, including aggressive picketing, numerous articles and press releases, baseless criminal charges, frivolous lawsuits, and trumped-up grand juries convened against him. (Dr. Tiller was fully vindicated in every legal battle.)

Two years before the assassination, Roeder posted on OR’s blog, urging people to attend Dr. Tiller’s church. He himself attended the church a few times, and also participated in OR’s pickets outside Dr. Tiller’s clinic. Roeder was in regular contact with OR’s President Troy Newman, as well as Senior Policy Advisor Cheryl Sullenger, who was convicted in 1988 of conspiring to bomb a California abortion clinic. When Roeder was arrested, Sullenger’s phone number was found on a post-it note on the dash of his car. Sullenger later admitted having several previous conversations with Roeder, in which she gave him information on Dr. Tiller’s habits and whereabouts, including his trial dates. In the months before the murder, Roeder had attended at least one court hearing—sitting beside OR’s President Troy Newman—to hear Dr. Tiller defend himself against scurrilous charges brought by OR.

It’s clear that Roeder was not a “lone wolf.” Perhaps Roeder did not directly involve anyone else in his plans, but no-one develops their views in a vacuum. Dr. Tiller’s murder was the natural culmination of over 20 years of anti-abortion harassment and violence directed at him and his clinic, much of it by Operation Rescue. Roeder had been immersed in OR’s violent anti-abortion rhetoric for years, so his beliefs and compulsions were fed by that environment, and thrived on it. Obviously, it played an encouraging role in the violence he committed.

Another key person who helped fuel the fire was Fox TV commentator Bill O’Reilly, who has about 3 million listeners. Between 2005 and 2009, Bill O’Reilly and his guest hosts talked about Dr. Tiller on 29 episodes, including just one month before the assassination. The most common epithet repeated many times by O’Reilly was: “Tiller the Baby Killer.” Other comments by O’Reilly included: “[Tiller] destroys fetuses for just about any reason right up until the birth date for $5,000.” He ‘s guilty of “Nazi stuff.” “This is the kind of stuff that happened in Mao’s China, Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union.” He “has blood on his hands.” He’s “a moral equivalent to NAMBLA and al-Qaida.” He operates a “death mill” and a “business of destruction.” “I wouldn’t want to be [him] if there is a Judgment Day.” Although O’Reilly didn’t specifically incite someone to murder Dr. Tiller, he put him in the cross-hairs, providing enough motivation and encouragement for someone to carry out the unspoken deed.

Of course, it wasn’t just Dr. Tiller and his clinic that were the targets of ongoing harassment and inflammatory hateful rhetoric. The reign of terror directed at clinics and providers across North America has been going on for 35 years—including 9 previous murders and 20 attempted murders of doctors or clinic staff, 100’s of arsons and bombs and butyric acid attacks, and 1000’s of death threats, stalking, clinic invasions, vandalism, aggressive pickets, and hate mail. Some shootings in the early 1990’s were directly preceded by “Wanted Posters” put out by anti-abortion groups on the doctors, complete with their home and clinic addresses and often their photographs. Doctors David Gunn and John Britton were murdered by anti-abortion extremists and had been featured on wanted posters, along with George Tiller, who was shot and wounded in 1993. (The murder of a fourth doctor on a wanted poster, George Patterson, could not be conclusively linked to an anti-abortion extremist.) The posters were deemed by a federal court in 2002 to be a “true threat” under the FACE Act, federal legislation that protects clinics from violence. Noting that the posters had preceded the murders, the court said it was the “use of the ‘wanted’-type format in the context of the poster pattern—poster followed by murder—that constitutes the threats,” not the language itself. With this decision, the judges overturned a lower court ruling that had deemed the posters and a related website to be “protected speech” because they did not directly threaten violence.

Conclusion

When people and courts defend hate speech against abortion providers as “protected speech,” it must be asked: Why are abortion providers required to risk their lives so their persecutors can have free speech rights? Why should doctors constantly have to look over their shoulder in fear, go to work in bullet-proof vests, pay out of pocket for security guards and other expensive safety measures, keep their home address a secret and their curtains permanently drawn shut, and see their children ostracized and bullied at school, just so their persecutors have the right to call them “baby killers”? Why does the right to free speech allow members of this vulnerable minority to be openly defamed and targeted for decades until they’re finally assassinated? And why do the families of the slain victims have to suffer in their grief and loss, because free speech was deemed more important than the lives of their loved ones?

The idea that vulnerable persons and groups should have to tolerate hate speech against them in the name of freedom of expression—often over decades or a lifetime—is offensive. We’re talking about peoples’ lives after all—this is not just a philosophical debate. The right to free speech is a fundamental value, but it should not be allowed to outweigh the basic human rights of other people, especially their right to life.

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Follow Joyce Arthur on twitter: @@joycearthur

  • gordon-gladesville

    If views like this pass into law, we are not far from the day where we imprison people who quote the Bible with approval. Actually, that has already happened, so time for Christians who believe what the Bible says to put their affairs into order.

  • gordon-gladesville

    If views like this pass into law, we are not far from the day where we imprison people who quote the Bible with approval. Actually, that has already happened, so time for Christians who believe what the Bible says to put their affairs into order.

  • joyce-arthur

    Presumably you no longer support slavery, even though the Bible does. Maybe it’s time to bury the anti-woman and anti-gay verses, too.

  • schmooma

    This comment was removed for violation of RH Reality Check‘s commenting policy.

  • thenine

    This comment was removed for violation of RH Reality Check‘s commenting policy.

  • bennett

    You say, “Proscribing hate speech more broadly would, I believe, foster a more inclusive, tolerant, and safer society.” I disagree.

    Proscription of, for example, theft discourages theft because it is a volitional act; the thief chooses between “desire for free stuff” and “possibility of prosecution”, and we hope that the latter weighs more heavily. Tolerance is not volitional, any more than is religious (or any other) belief, and prosecution will, at best, encourage a pretence of tolerance. You cannot make intolerant people tolerant by encouraging them to behave as though they actually were tolerant, any more than you can create compassion in your neighbour by stealing his money and giving it to the poor.

    There are certain things which we should not tolerate, but free discourse of opinions is not one of them.

    I distinguish between speech and violence. Christian fundamentalists are entitled to tell me that I, a non-believer, am going to hell, just as I am entitled to tell them that they’re idiots. Jihadists are entitled to tell me that I should be beheaded, just as I am entitled to tell them that the Koran is simply a collection of paper, just like a phone-book or a toilet-roll. None of us is entitled to use violence, physical or otherwise, to affect the opinions of another, nor to enlist the state to do so on our behalf.

  • randomcomment

    Just where does the Bible support slavery?

  • forced-birth-rape

    Exodus 21:7

    If a man sells his daughter to be a maidservant or bondwoman, she shall “not” go out [in six years] as menservants do.

  • calculus

    This comment was removed for violation of RH Reality Check‘s commenting policy.

  • crowepps

    Jamey Rodemeyer, 14-Year-Old Boy, Commits Suicide After Gay Bullying

    In the wake of their loss, the Rodemeyers hope to carry on a message of anti-bullying and acceptance. “To the kids who are bullying they have to realize that words are very powerful and what you think is just fun and games isn’t to some people, and you are destroying a lot of lives.”

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/20/jamey-rodemeyer-suicide-gay-bullying_n_972023.html

  • crowepps

    You cannot make intolerant people tolerant by encouraging them to behave as though they actually were tolerant.

    While I agree with you that it is impossible to change what people think, the point of using social pressure to encourage civil tolerance in public is to allow each person to hold their own opinions while still getting along with their neighbors.  A pretense of tolerance is all that is required.

    While fundamentalists certainly have a right to tell people they’re going to hell and atheists certainly have an equivalent right to tell them they’re idiots, everybody else in the area wishes they would both just shut up, because the two of them have seized the public space that is supposed to be shared by everyone and are preventing their fellow citizens from being able to use it in peace.

    I agree with you that short of violence, the government can’t get involved in sorting out whether the content of speech is acceptable or whether it is not.   One’s fellow citizens, however, can label hateful, loud, denegrating or bigoted speech RUDE and disruptive to the social harmony they value, and shun those who insist on braying it forth as though they have the right to fill all public spaces with their nastiness.  There is a right to speak and a right to criticise not just the content of the speech but any lack of consideration demonstrated in speaking and the speaker themselves for their self-centered sense of entitlement.

     I would note that “inciting to riot” and “calling for a lynching” are forms of violence. 

  • dougterrapin

    This is another example of how extremists or single issue fanatics are always authoritarians.  Ms. Arthur apparently missed the most basic justification for virtually unlimited free speech, which is that once you start down that path virtually any sort of speech can be banned.  She implicitly assumes that the limits of speech will always be determined by herself and like-minded people.  It never occurs to her, or other progressives who favor hate-speech laws, that those exact laws could be used to silence their point of view.  Don’t think so?  Try criticizing Islam (which is a pro-life reliegeon) in Europe and see where that gets you.

    Another point missed by the hate-speech progressives is that history provides absolutely no support for the notion that hate-speech laws reduce discrimination.  The Weimar Republic conducted scores of prosecutions against anti-semetic speech.  See  here:

    http://leobaeck.oxfordjournals.org/content/36/1/151.extract    for example.  And over three hundred hate speech prosecutions in a few years did what?  At best, nothing. 

  • bj-survivor

    Meant to post this as a reply to randomcomment.

  • bj-survivor

    Old Testament

    Leviticus 25:44-46 NLT — However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you.  You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land.  You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance.  You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way.

     

    Exodus 21:2-6 NLT — If you buy a Hebrew slave, he is to serve for only six years.  Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom.  If he was single when he became your slave and then married afterward, only he will go free in the seventh year.  But if he was married before he became a slave, then his wife will be freed with him.  If his master gave him a wife while he was a slave, and they had sons or daughters, then the man will be free in the seventh year, but his wife and children will still belong to his master.  But the slave may plainly declare, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children.  I would rather not go free.’  If he does this, his master must present him before God.  Then his master must take him to the door and publicly pierce his ear with an awl.  After that, the slave will belong to his master forever.

     

    Exodus 21:7-11 NLT — When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are.  If she does not please the man who bought her, he may allow her to be bought back again.  But he is not allowed to sell her to foreigners, since he is the one who broke the contract with her.  And if the slave girl’s owner arranges for her to marry his son, he may no longer treat her as a slave girl, but he must treat her as his daughter.  If he himself marries her and then takes another wife, he may not reduce her food or clothing or fail to sleep with her as his wife.  If he fails in any of these three ways, she may leave as a free woman without making any payment.

     

    Exodus 21:20-21 NAB — When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished.  If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property.

     

    New Testament

    Ephesians 6:5 NLT — Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear.  Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ.

     

    1 Timothy 6:1-2 NLT — Christians who are slaves should give their masters full respect so that the name of God and his teaching will not be shamed.  If your master is a Christian, that is no excuse for being disrespectful.  You should work all the harder because you are helping another believer by your efforts.  Teach these truths, Timothy, and encourage everyone to obey them.

     

    Luke 12:47-48 NLT — The servant will be severely punished, for though he knew his duty, he refused to do it.  “But people who are not aware that they are doing wrong will be punished only lightly.  Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given.”

     

    ———————————————————-

    The astounding ignorance of scriptures which most Christians, notably Dominionists and other fundamentalist types, express never ceases to amuse me...‘Twas actually reading the bible for myself that caused me to reject Christianity. Slavery, rape, incest, genocide are all par for the course within the pages of The Sweetest Story Ever Told.

  • datasnake

    …for erring on the side of more free speech. The probability of error is just too high, especially when you take into account class disparity. Imagine, for the sake of argument, that a tougher hate speech law gets passed and somehow isn’t overturned by the SCOTUS. At BEST, it would have been ineffective because the Operation Rescue douchecannons could just argue that Dr. Tiller was a public figure and thus not protected.

    The alternative is even worse. Any law strong enough to stop Randall Terry and Bill O’Reilly could be abused WAY too easily. Imagine if Sarah Palin had the power to back up her cries of “blood libel!” with criminal charges (“what they said about me is as mean as anything O’Reilly said about Tiller!”). Imagine if Dominique Strauss-Khan had been able to have Nafissatou Diallo jailed (“Calling me a rapist is just as bad as calling Dr. Tiller a muirderer!”). Of course these are blatant misuses of the law, but too often the courts favor whoever can afford a better lawyer (hell, the 14th amendment is most commonly cited to preserve the rights of CORPORATIONS), and you can bet that wouldn’t be the chambermaid.

    On top of the effects of such a law, there’s the effect of passing it. Curtailing free speech would go over like a lead balloon, and we would get to look forward to right-wing control of the white house and both chambers of congress, possibly even a couple more conservative supreme court judges.

    And those are still the comparatively mild alternatives. The worst case, which I am VERY sad to say is not as far fetched as it would have been a few years ago, would be if the wingnuts saw it as one “government intrusion” too many and decided to try out their “second amendment remedies”.

  • alanye

    Voltaire:

    “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

     

    Joyce Arthur:

    “I disapprove of what you say, and I propose to jail you for demanding your right to say it.”

  • joyce-arthur

    Doug – The idea that “virtually any speech could be banned” once we start down that path is the slippery slope fallacy – not convincing at all, lol. You just have to set reasonable parameters. I think what I’m driving at in my article is that we need to – and could – develop more consistent, reasonable and fair international standards for what is hate speech and how/when to prosecute it. This would be difficult to do, but not necessarily impossible. It would also never be perfect but perhaps we could at least improve things by preventing some of the more outrageous current injustices, e.g, blasphemy laws, lack of prosecution of Islamic clerics calling for murder, and heavy-handed use of current hate laws. (In my article, I explain why blasphemy is not hate speech, btw.) 

    I’m not in the habit of using hate speech so would not worry about the effect on myself. If you understand the concept that one person (a Christian, a Muslim, an African-American etc.) does not represent their group/race, and that stereotypes also don’t apply to all of the group (or maybe not any!), then you should have no problem staying within the law.

    Regarding the Weimar Republic, I don’t know anything about that, but you can’t extrapolate from one example. Besides the link you gave me was for the first page which said “German courts [in the Weimar Republic] achieved an uneven but generally positive record of sheltering Jews from their detractors.” So if what you sent me concludes differently, it’s obviously debatable. In general, I think hate crime laws are a fairly new phenomenon, and their effectiveness would really depend on the specific country and culture and how well their justice system worked. If it’s corrupt, then yes, hate speech laws would be a bad idea!  And there’s a lot to be said for using cultural education mechanisms to reduce hate speech, rather than the law. But the law should be there to back it up for at least egregious cases. And really, that’s all I’m talking about in the article – the truly egregious cases.

  • joyce-arthur

    Thanks Datasnake, I appreciate your criticisms. Certainly, passing a hate speech law in the U.S. would be an almost impossible feat. Maybe I’m an idealist, and I’m just stating what I think would be just, the way things should be.  However, insulting Sarah Palin would not be hate speech, unless say, it’s done on the basis of her gender alone in a particularly vicious way. Otherwise it might be defamation, which is already against the law. Same with calling Strauss-Khan a rapist, that’s defamation, not hate speech. I guess Dr. Tiller was a public figure, although not a willing one, the anti-choice fanatics really made him into one. But it wasn’t just about him anyway, he often took the brunt of abuse for other providers. I didn’t make this point in my article, but when taken all together, the various harrassment and persecution campaigns he endured over the years should certainly have been seen as a true threat, especially in light of the previous doctor shootings including his own – and it should have been prosecuted as a threat accordingly – BEFORE he got assassinated!  The legal need for “imminence” is overrated, I think.

  • colleen

    Same with calling Strauss-Khan a rapist, that’s defamation, not hate speech.

    I don’t know. It would only be defamation if he did not rape her and, after all, his sperm was on her person, her clothing and the walls. At least one newspaper was calling her a prostitute in order to explain this and  how this was accomplished in the 9 minutes she was in the room. How fortunate that there will be a civil case in this matter.

    Perhaps Mr Strass-Kahn mistook her for a pillow mint.

  • crowepps

     This would be difficult to do, but not necessarily impossible. It would also never be perfect but perhaps we could at least improve things by preventing some of the more outrageous current injustices, e.g, blasphemy laws, lack of prosecution of Islamic clerics calling for murder, and heavy-handed use of current hate laws.

    At this point we can’t even guarantee students in public schools safety from bullying, because Christian parents insist their children have a freedom of religion right to label their fellow students abominations and urge them to kill themselves.  I’m sure laws could indeed be passed against the type of unpopular hate speech you list, and could indeed be enforced against the unpopular minorities.  Such laws would not be constitutional so long as popular anti-gay, anti-abortion and anti-feminist hate speech was allowed to continue flowing forth from groups who claim to represent popular majorities.  I certainly can see our country passing laws that say it is hate speech when atheists criticize Christians, for instance, but find it difficult to imagine the reverse passing any legislature.

     ”German courts [in the Weimar Republic] achieved an uneven but generally positive record of sheltering Jews from their detractors.” So if what you sent me concludes differently

    I think Doug’s point was that there were laws against hate speech against the Jews, and the courts did enforce those laws, and it obviously had no effect whatsoever in eliminating or reducing anti-semitism, which continued to flourish because it was popular.  Laws cannot change minds, only punish bad behavior.

     

    Maybe instead of laws against “hate speech”, we need better and more easily enforced laws about slander and libel.  My first step would be to remove the ‘defense’ of ‘I get to say vile things because that’s my religious belief’.  Whether it’s a person’s religious belief or not, they shouldn’t be allowed to flat out LIE about other people by saying “they want to teach kindergarten children how to have sex”.  What the Constitution won’t allow us to forbid could become the basis for a really severe CIVIL financial penalty for lying.

  • ack

    If you look at this issue in terms of social justice movements, this becomes an even more fascinating discussion. I utilize Jackson Katz’s work about violence against women on a regular, if not daily, basis. He developed an activity called “The Pyramid of Oppression.” Essentially, it breaks down the ways in which dominant groups oppress minority groups. The base of the pyramid is language. The words we use to dehumanize certain groups (women/girls, LGBTQ folks, racial minorities, religious minorities, etc) create an environment in which more overt and/or physically violent forms of oppression are possible. If men weren’t taught to refer to the women they have sex with as bitches, sluts, and worse, then the people who feel entitled to rape would also be less likely to rape.

     

    To give an example, which I ALWAYS preface with the fact that racism is by no means dead in this country: 60 years ago, it was perfectly acceptable to say the “n” word in public. It was acceptable for white people to tell racist jokes to white strangers, and it was rare for anyone to speak up even if they felt it was inappropriate. And the violence perpetrated by white people against black people was rampant and unpunished. Today, that language and those jokes are far less acceptable. And the death of Daniel Byrd, in one of the most horrific hate crimes I’ve seen during my lifetime, made national news. People were nearly universally horrified. That wouldn’t have been the case 60 years ago.

     

    Language shapes our existence.

     

    That being said, I wonder about prosecution of hate speech. I agree that criminalizing an act is usually the first step in eradicating that behavior. If we look at domestic violence laws, for instance, making it illegal was a giant step in grassroots movements. But I also think that as society ages and younger generations become more accepting of people who don’t look, talk, or act like them, this conversation is missing a giant piece of the puzzle. It’s well-known that hearing an admonishment from a peer is usually more powerful than a punishment from someone in authority. In general, regarding oppression, what we need is a massive, grassroots, community-based education effort that talks about this inflammatory language and what it means.

     

    Now, when we address the language associated with abortion and the health care providers who perform it, we’re working with a closed system. Anti-choicers surround themselves with like-minded individuals. But there is probably an opportunity to talk to young people about addressing inflammatory anti-choice language in their peer groups in a way that challenges it without turning people off.

     

    Sorry for the long post, but I do think about language a lot. It can help or hurt. Bill O’Reilly needs to think about the actual effect of his words and make a decision about what he wants to say. He may not be responsible for what Roeder did, but he’s accountable for his words. In the same way, everyone who tells a sexist joke in front of DV offender is accountable for what he said, even if he didn’t give her that black eye.

  • ack

    What the Constitution won’t allow us to forbid could become the basis for a really severe CIVIL financial penalty for lying.

     

    This is amazing. crowepps for Senate?

     

     

     

  • dougterrapin

    All right, I usually don’t bother to respond to this kind of inanity, but I’ll try this time.  You see, the notion of the slippery slope has absolutely nothing to do with my post.  You see it that way because you think of putting a gag on people you don’t like as a nice, good, helpful thing.  Thus, you see the possibility of the gag being put on you as being somewhere “down the slope.”  But, in fact, there is no slope.  All we are talking about is a shift in focus.  You say that there should not be blasphemy laws?  Every religeon is a minority in the U.S., so every religeon can claim that they need to be protected from hate speech, just like any minority.  You see a difference because you hold a certain point of view.  And you assume that these laws you proposed will always be written and enforced by like-minded people so they will never be interpreted in a way you do not like. 

  • journeyman

    Quote ; ” However , I support broader prosecution of hate-speech defined here as speech which disparges a person or class of persons based on……. ” ” religion ” .

    I’ve noticed a fair number of deletions in the comment section , so I will attempt to keep my discourse as tip-toe as possible to avoid the same fate .

     

    I think you are making a very typical hyper-liberal , control-freak , neo-authoritarian post-enlightement West– mistake here . I am really not in favour of De-facto Shariaizing free-speech which whether intentional or not would happen by default .

    The neo-liberal left have attempted to take the egalitarian concept of equality , tolerance and non-discrimination which was reserved for gender and race , and expand it to cover IDEAS, but for some mysterious reason only one IDEA in particular –Islam , although I expect that to be denied .

     

    Apart from several others , this is where your error in judgement lies .

    Religions –like philosophical and political ideologies , are Belief-Systems , but to put them under an even more general heading , they are in fact IDEAS .

    We must not take the neo-liberal concept of equality and non-discrimination and confer it upon IDEAS . If anything is going to circle around and bite you in the butt , you can be sure that will .

     

    Bolshevism , Communism , Nazism , Shintoism , Scientology , Astrology , Christianity , Socialism . Liberalism , Conservatism and Islam are all IDEAS.

    The 1948 United Nations Declaration of Universal Human Rights was created in response to WW2 totalitarian ideologies .

    It is the corner stone upon which all Western liberal enlightenment values depend upon for their existence .

    It is to defend our right to criticise , ridicule , scrutinize , satirize , insult , offend and laugh at political , philosophical , religious IDEAS . There is no such right as the right not to be offended .

    The UN Declaration is there to not to protect religions from people , but to protect people from religions ( IDEAS ) .

     

    It is clearly the Breivik massacre that brought this on .

    Not the Unibomber quoting the enviromentalist movement , including Al Gore in his manifesto ?

    ( Do we prosecute Al Gore ? )

    And as usual , not the divinely codified , mandated malice against all unbelievers in the Koran , sanctioned and validated by the most respected spokesmen of everyday – mainstream Saudi Wahabbist schools of jurisprudence .

    Here are some statistics . Since 9/11 , 2001 , there have been 17, 000 fatal terrorist attacks perpetrated by Muslims .

    According to Euro-Pol ;

    Left wing terrorist attacks in Europe ; 2010 , 45 .

    Right wing terrorist attacks in Europe ; 2010 , 0

    Which Left wing radical authors do we censor and prosecute for ” hate-speech ” ?

     

    to be continued ——

  • crowepps

     Since 9/11 , 2001 , there have been 17, 000 fatal terrorist attacks perpetrated by Muslims .

    Most of the fatalities from which have been Muslims.

     

    Free speech laws cannot be different for Muslims than they are for anyone else, because that would be bigotry and religious persecution.  Even with the temptation of also being able to stifle the hate that flows forth from the fundamentalist Christians, the anti-gay quoters of Leviticus, and the ProLife activitists’ prayers as weapons, I’m afraid there’s no way that will ever work.

  • joyce-arthur

    Hate speech is about disparaging persons, not ideas. And the identifiable groups I list in the first paragraph are the common ones already listed in current hate speech laws, except for occupation which I added. The “religion” category just refers to a person’s identification as a member of that religious group and denigrating them on that basis alone, e.g, saying that someone is a terrorist simply for being a Muslim. While we are free (or should be) to critique the doctrine of Jihad or the historicity of Mohammed.

  • crowepps

     I agree that criminalizing an act is usually the first step in eradicating that behavior.

    This is the second step.  The first step is people coming to an agreement that the behavior violates someone’s rights.

     

    If the Southern system of Jim Crow had been as subtle as that in place in the North, if it hadn’t been deliberately designed to make provision of services to the different races as visibly and obviously UNequal as possible, if they had been content with merely separate and hadn’t felt compelled to be ridiculously cheap and vilely abusive as well, segregation would probably still be in place.

    In general, regarding oppression, what we need is a massive, grassroots, community-based education effort that talks about this inflammatory language and what it means.

    Many portions of our community are already having discussions about sexist language and racist language and homophobic language.  We’re headed that direction.  Personally, I don’t see us making much progress so long as people are watching reality shows structured around shaming and blaming people for being obese, for being unmarried mothers, for wanting to be performers when they have little talent, for buying their families the wrong kinds of food, or whatever is the current ‘laugh at the freakshow exhibits’ flavor of the month.

    Considering it entertainment to judge other people harshly and watch them be berated and humiliated  by snotty, condescending lip curlers doesn’t give me a lot of hope.

  • journeyman

    —-continued

    ” In real life we don’t choose between good and bad , but between two evils “

    George Orwell .

    Quote ; National Review On Line ;

    ” Nearly two years after the deadline by which the Kingdom’s educational curriculum was to have been completely refromed .

    As the U.S. Commission on International Relgious Freedom wrote to the president last week –

     

    ” This promise remains unfulfilled “

     

    Saudi textbooks teach , along with many other noxious lessons , that Jews and Christians are

    ” enemies ” and they dogmatically instruct that various groups of ” unbelievers ” –apostates

    ( which includes Muslim ” moderates ” who reject Wahabbi doctrine ) – polytheists -

    ( which includes Shiites ) and Jews should be killed .

     

    Under the Saudi Ministry’s method of rote learning , these teachings amount to indoctrination , starting in first grade and continuing through high school , where militant jihad on behalf of

    ” Truth ” is taught as a sacred duty .

    They are shipped and distributed by a vast Sunni infrastucture established with Saudi oil wealth to Muslim communities throughout the world .

    Their reactions though have alternated over the years between insisting that reforms have already been made and stalling for time by stating that reforms would take several years to complete , banking on the hope that American attention would drift . “

    End Quote ;

    I just don’t understand .

    In WW2 , were all Germans fanatical Nazis ? No , of course not , in fact only a ” tiny minority “

    Where all Japanese fanatical Shintoists ? No , of course not , in fact only a ” tiny minority “

    In Mao’s China and Stalin’s Russia , where all Russians and Chinese fanatical communists . No , but in the end did it matter ?

    Let’s imagine that my name is Robert Spencer or Mark Steyn , and there are 50 million followers of Stalin in the West, the Stalinist manifesto and hundreds of party headquarters commissars teach the violent overthrow , subjugation or conversion of all non-Stalinists and the goal to install Stalinism in the West . They form Stalinist no-go enclaves and have a birth rate ten time that of the native population . I decide to start a blog and write books to expose the supremacism , clandestine duplicity , double-speak, race -card playing , victimhood tactics and malice, sexist oppression , violent homophobia , pathalogical animosity and threat to democratic liberal values that this ideology and its apparatchiks pose to the West .

    Not once do I suggest using violence , and in fact none of my detractors can point to anything I said or writtén that does .

    There comes a day , when a young Norweigan anti-Stalinist who has read my work and that of many other anti -Stalinists , writes a 1500 page manifesto . He fills it full of anti -Stalinist quotes from figures such as Jefferson , Churchill , Richard Dawkins , the enviromentalist fanatic Unibomber , Mark Steyn , Robert Spencer and myself which are highly suspicious and critical of mainstream orthodox Stalinist stealth-revolutionary intentions –and then in anger at the increasing inroads that Stalinism appears to have made in his homeland , he decides to go and massacre 68 people

    He also just happens to state in his manifesto , that all those anti-Stalinists whose he quoted ,

    have , much to his disappointment , never supported the use of violence against Stalinists .

     

    Am I to understand that you would then advocate the prosecution of anti-Stalinists and the criminalization of anti-Stalinist / Stalinization ” hate -speech / truth speech ” ?

  • joyce-arthur

    Sorry, my post above is responding to Journeyman…

  • journeyman

    ´My post , which took about 40 minutes to formulate seems to have disppeared ?

     

    I wrote a follow on post which took about 60 minutes to write and have just posted it .

    No doubt that will disappear as well , making a mockery of my effort .

  • journeyman

    ´My post , which took about 40 minutes to formulate seems to have disppeared ?

     

    I wrote a follow on post which took about 60 minutes to write and have just posted it .

    No doubt that will disappear as well , making a mockery of my effort .

  • aelfheld

    The Weimar Republic had ‘hate speech’ provisions – considering what came after, your advocacy of the same loses much of its force.

     

    Anders Breivik lifted much of his ‘manifesto’ from Ted Kaczynski and quoted Churchill, Gandhi, Orwell, Jefferson, John Locke, Edmund Burke, Bernard Shaw, and Mark Twain, not to mention the U.S. Declaration of Independence.  Breivik also cited the New York Times – more than he cited Steyn.  By your rather loose and self-serving criteria those authors and publications would be banned.

     

    What you propose are laws against blasphemy – an attempt to protect your secular faith from criticism by labeling such as ‘hate speech’. 

     

    Totalitarians of your ilk – and your assumption that you have both the right and the ability to judge for others what they can see and hear establishes your totalitarian bona fides – have always cloaked your efforts to enslave others in high-minded language.  That your goal is the establishment of a system that claims ownership not just of one’s person but of one’s very thoughts is carefully elided.

     

    But then it’s certain you’ll simply write off the above as another ‘example’ of ‘hate speech’.

  • crowepps

    Many people have difficulty separating persons and ideas.  In fact, I would say just about everybody does.  That the problem with the ridiculous notion of “hate the sin, not the sinner”.  It isn’t “the sin” that is being refused housing, losing a job, being beat up on the street, or going to prison.

    Personally, if I recognized their names, I would be very reluctant to rent a room in a theoretical motel to any of the Phelps’ clan, and if I saw a customer coming with a bunch of disgusting fetus photographs I might feel a temptation to discover the van they had reserved  for rental was mysteriously unavailable.  As a private citizen, I get to have preferences in ideas, and might feel reluctant to ‘facilitate’ spreading them, but my only option to do so is to illegally discriminate against the people who hold those ideas.

  • journeyman

    Would somebody please tell me why everytime I leave the site and then return , that both my comments which have taken a couple of hours to write seem to have disappeared ?

    I have managed to discover that only my comments do not have an orange coloured top line .

    And If I click on a kind of half visible ID name that I can see my own comment .

    Any chance of assistance please ?

  • journeyman

    Joyce Arthur

    Would you be so kind as to spare me from having any more of my time abused and inform me as to if my two comments have been deliberatley censored / deleted or not ?

    Regards

    Journeýman -

  • crowepps

    I see all the posted comments, whether they are fully visible at the individual article or not, because I read the comments where they are posted chronlogically, on the front page under “comments”.  This allows me to see the comments without clicking around from one article to another.

    Comments with a gray header have received low ratings and been downgraded.  As I understood the original concept of the ratings system, it was an effort to stop the comments threads from being unmanageablely hogged up by “walls of scripture”, people repeatedly posting their personal obsessions, “walls of links”, personal nastiness, and spam.   I very rarely rate anything, but will downgrade something if it contains  personal comments, hate speech or spam.

    It was NOT my understanding that “I don’t like your idea” was supposed to be given low ratings.  If this persists, you could send an e-mail to one of the site owners and see if they are willing to check whether someone is abusing the rating system.  I would note that using phrases like “a very typical hyper-liberal , control-freak , neo-authoritarian post-enlightement” comes across at least to me as saying nasty things about the person with whom you are exchanging posts. 

  • crowepps

    This is a distinction without a difference.  ALL the purveyors of bigoted hate speech BELIEVE what they’re saying is the truth, whether it’s Timothy McVeigh believing in White Supremacy or Ted Kaczynski believing educated people were destroying things or Eric Rudolph believing bombing the Olympics would somehow ‘punish America’ for legalizing abortion.

    Islam and the violent exortations in the Koran are responsible for the jihadism movement and its terrorism by exemplified by Al Queda in exactly the same way and to exactly the same degree that Christianity and the violent exortations in the Bible are responsible for the White Supremacy movement and its terrorism as exemplified by Terry McVeigh and Lawrence Brewer, or the Anti-Abortion movement and its terrorism as exemplified by Eric Rudolph and Scott Roe, or the Anti-Immigration Movement and its terrorism as exemplified by Shawna Forde.

  • beenthere72

    Your comments are still there and still readable.  

  • crowepps

    Your comments are still right here, and it isn’t necessarily the author of the article in question who downrated them.

     

    I would note that posting a bunch of anti-Muslim ranting kind of proves her point.  While her article suggests censoring bigotry generally on the grounds that it betrays our obligation to be tolerant, your argument to the contrary comes across not as a defense of free speech but instead as the alarm of a bigot who wants to make sure he’s not held responsible for his own hate speech, on the grounds that he uniquely among all the other haters is “right” and so should get an exemption.

  • journeyman

    To tell you the truth , your explanation as to what has happened to my comments or why they have been deleted , makes no sense whatsoever to me .

    I have never come across a site like this in four years of blogging . I won’t make this stupid mistake again .

    To waste three hours of my precious life for nothing .

    I should have known that anyone who would suggest criminalizing the people on your list would also delete my comments .

    How dum of me .

    Quote; ” I would note that using phrases such like — ” a very typical hyper-liberal , control-freak , neo-authoritarian post enlightenment “

    comes across at least to me as saying nasty things about a person with whom you are exchanging posts “

     

    It’s nowhere near as nasty as saying to a Neo-Liberal Fascist – ” Deranged Pathalogical Altruism “

     

     

  • crowepps

    As was promised in my recent post on commenting we have just added a comment rating tool along with a few other upgrades to the comment sections.   Readers who are logged in will see the new rating tool at the top right of each comment.  You can rate comments from one to five (except for your own) and comments at least two votes and an average rating of two or less will be initially grayed-out and hidden from view.  You will, however, be able to read these comments by clicking to reveal them. 

    The average rating of each comment is shown to the right of the title, in the header of each comment, and above the rating tool.  The goal of this new tool is to highlight comments the community of RH Reality Check readers find to be substantive and thoughtful and minimize comments deemed by the community to be less worthwhile.  We’ve also made a few other small tweaks including fixing the paragraph spacing on comments (so you don’t need to add an extra line break between your paragraphs anymore) and indenting replies beyond the first to make it easier to follow a conversation.

    We want to know what you think. Try out the new tool and let us know your opinion here in the comments section of this post along with any suggestions you might have.

    http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/blog/2010/09/28/rating-comments

  • joyce-arthur

    Hi Journeyman, I saw and read your long comment, and responded to it – my response is above but I was puzzled when it appeared underneath someone else’s comment and I couldn’t see your comment anymore. I don’t know what happened to it and I’m sorry if it was deleted. (not by me!!!)

  • journeyman

    ” Anti-Muslim ranting ” ” bigot ” = moral superiority blank check .

     

     

  • joyce-arthur

    Journeyman, your anti-Stalinist example makes no sense to me and is rather preposterous. That’s like saying that a pro-choicer who’s upset at all the violent hate speech spewed by the anti’s, would turn around and commit the same type of violence that the anti’s are encouraging with their speech, even though that’s exactly what the pro-choicer is against and upset about in the first place. Contradictory and unlikely! 

    Also, making an analogy between anti-Stalinist speech and anti-Muslim speech is a bit apple and oranges.

    Crowepps, I really appreciate your thoughtful comments on this issue.  Thank you, your criticisms and cautions are well-stated and well taken. I’m still learning and thinking a lot on this issue.

  • joyce-arthur

    That’s really an over-the-top mischaracterization of my position, lol. 

    Reread my defintion of hate speech and what I said about blasphemy and dissent. Calling me a totalitarian is not hate speech because it’s not disparaging me based on me being an woman or atheist or other characteristic/category that needs protection from discrimination. It’s just an insult. Btw, I’m not offended because I knew I had to be prepared for such when I published the article.

  • joyce-arthur

    Journeyman, I trust you saw my comment above?-

    Hi Journeyman, I saw and read your long comment, and responded to it – my response is above but I was puzzled when it appeared underneath someone else’s comment and I couldn’t see your comment anymore. I don’t know what happened to it and I’m sorry if it was deleted. (not by me!!!)

    As Crowepps noted though, your comments are still there, just reduced in stature or something.  I have not been rating your comments.

  • crowepps

    It’s quite possible that you didn’t intend all that as anti-Muslim ranting at all.  I wasn’t talking about your beliefs, but my REACTION to your post.

     

    You do realize you’re exchanging posts with more than one person here, right?

  • joyce-arthur

    Doug, you kinda framed it as a ‘slippery slope’ thing, so that’s why I went there.

    Yes, there’s always a risk that laws will be misinterpreted or enforced unfairly, which is a deeper problem within the culture or justice system than just hate speech laws themselves. It’s not a good reason to not have laws. The current laws around hate speech are already not fair or enforced well, blasphemy being a good example. Crowepps mentioned the difficulty of separating speech against ideas from speech against people, which is a good point. But I still think that some careful and reasonable criteria could be drawn up and applied via a social consensus, to arrive at a better and more accountable situation than what we have now.

  • journeyman

    In the trial of Geert Wilders , the court stipulated that Wilders was not being prosecuted on the grounds that his statements or opinions about Islam were false . ( Just as my fellow commentator here who used the expression ” anti-Muslim rant ” and ” bigot ” did not claim anything in my comment was false )

    The court stated that the trial was not about the truth of falsehood of his views , but was about if he had broken the law by expressing them .

    ( i.e . The Laws on Racial and Relgious Hatred )

    As I have attempted unlike a vast majority of the liberal intelligensia , to educate myself about Islam , it just so happens that I recognised a striking and disturbing parallel between the Dutch court’s interpretation of the Law and Saudi Wahabbist Sharia Law .

    Sharia Law does not concern itself with if your criticims of Islamic ideology are true or false , nor does it care .

    All it cares about is if you have ” insulted ” Islam’s ” honour ” or its prophet . In other words , the ” defamation of Islam ” blasphemy law .

    In Islam , the penalty for insuting Islam or its prophet is death .

    Thanks to the progressive liberal left , in Europe , free speech is becoming 7th century Wahabbi Sharia compliant .

    The UN’s OIC ( 57 nation states of Islam ) has been attempting to have “defamation of Islam ” criminalized by Western goverments under Western Law for many years .

    You dreams might come true .

    Let me see . Is this correct ? These people that you would like to see prosecuted . You have read their work , you’ve had regular updates from all these blogs like Robert Spencer’s Jihad Watch once a day for the last 5 years . You have immersed yourself in every aspect to do with Islam for some years , and your meaning is that they are not telling the truth , are dishonest or just ignorant or ill informed ? Or perhaps full of hate . just like a hobby or something ?

  • journeyman

    edited

  • crowepps

    The ACLU has a number of different position papers at their web site, and a lot of explanations, but the site is so packed that it’s necessary to do a LOT of clicking around to see it all.  The subject links at the bottom of the pages are often overlooked, but very helpful.

    http://www.aclu.org/files/assets/Statement_House_Financial_Services_Countering_Jihadist_Websites_Sept_2010.pdf

     

    In addition, the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University has all of the Supreme Court’s cases sorted by topic and easily available on the internet here:

    http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cases/topics/tog_freedom_of_speech.html

    It is really, really interesting to read the actual decisions which they published and see what facts they were dealing with and just how they parsed out what freedom of speech requires over many years.  I certainly don’t agree with all of their decisions, especially “money=speech”, but their decisions make it clear they weren’t just trying to hit the middle ground but instead sometimes very reluctantly having to recognize a real right of people to hold and state opinions even though others object.

  • joyce-arthur

    Obviously I share most of your concerns as stated above, Journeyman, so not sure why you say “Your dreams might come true.”  You don’t seem to get that I think there’s a critical distinction between blasphemy and hate speech, between attacking ideas vs. people. What I said about Brievik and those who appear to have incited him is: 

    “Anders Behring Breivik had actively opposed multiculturalism for years and had immersed himself in Christian Right propaganda about the supposed threat of Muslim immigration to Europe, a view popularized only in recent years by a growing army of anti-Muslim bloggers and right-wing journalists.”

    I.e., my concern is about demonization of Muslims, the people, as all being more or less similar in their allegedly destructive potential against Europe. As Haroon Siddiqui says, Mark Steyn wrote “a 4,800-word piece portraying Muslims as a menace to the West.” Steyn was acquitted for that in Canada, and maybe he’d be acquitted by an international court too if they looked closely at any possible influence he had on Brievik. But I feel the matter should at least be investigated.

  • colleen

    Would somebody please tell me why everytime I leave the site and then return , that both my comments which have taken a couple of hours to write seem to have disappeared ?

    Sure.

    Your comments are greyed out or disappear because readers have decided you are trolling . May I suggest that you read the commenting policy and the rest of the About Us section?

  • crowepps
  • julie-watkins

    Thanks for the links. I think if people leave when asked it’s a valid form of protest — so some politicians & speakers try to limit who can attend “public” events.

    Somewhere I read a question on if the rules for dissing officials of other governments have more stringent rules — since it’s “international”. Not that I agree, but it may be part of the reason why this incident was more strongly punished.

  • crowepps

    Must say, 54 hours of community service is NOT what I would personally call “strongly punished”.

    First Amendment or no First Amendment, unpopular speech was NOT protected in the past, around the turn of the century, and it was fairly routine for radicals and anarchists and union organizers and other soapbox speakers to be beaten to their knees and hauled off by the cops.  It is indeed a good thing that the Courts have been widening and making more absolute the ability to state one’s opinion.  It can only be a good thing to hear all the views of all the people involved, SO LONG AS the opposing view has an equal right to be heard.

    HOWEVER, now the Courts have the much more delicate task of finding the balance between two speakers, each of whom is trying to prevent the other from speaking, and between the speakers and the general public right to peacefully enjoy shared civil spaces.  In the case in question, each student individually interrupted the speaker for only a few moments, but the fact that they had organized, so that the cumulative effects of ALL of their statements was to completely disrupt his speech and make it impossible for him to get his points across, meant that THEY were censoring his speech and violating HIS freedom to state his position.  IMO they did indeed go over the line.  They were not punished for speaking but for preventing someone else from speaking.

    Another place this balancing test is being worked out right how is with abortion protestors and street preachers.  Abortion protestors are going to court asking that the 30 foot rule be abolished, because they claim they have right to get in the path of other people and force them to slow down to facilitate the delivery of their “message”.   According to them, it is not sufficient that they be able to speak, other people ARE OBLIGATED to listen to them spew hate and lies, and the government cannot prevent them from INSISTING ON their right to pour filth in other people’s ears.  To hear them, anything short of grabbing people and holding them in a headlock while they scream at them should be legal, because their right to deliver their message is far, FAR more important than the right of ordinary citizens to go about their lawful business without being pestered by nutcases.

    Street preachers are now using hand amplifiers/bullhorns, and setting up at the fringes of farmer’s markets and public gatherings, insisting that their ability to give their ’message’ has priority over the ability of everyone else to use the public space.  They claim a right to be exempt from noise ordinances because of their religious freedom.  The Constitution, however, forbids government from giving a preference to religion, and instead provides that ALL speech is equally protected, so that ALL people who wish to deliver a “public message” would have equal rights.  Won’t it be pleasant for all of us when ”BIG SALE TODAY AT TOODLE’S DEPARTMENT STORE” is played at high volume out of the sound van as it drives around the city?

    In addition, there is some experimentation with free speech zones, which is a very mushy area of the law that has not yet been clarified by the Courts.  The article below has some interesting points, but the one in which I am most interested is this concept: “There has to be a way for the preachers to still reach their intended audience, which is the festivalgoers.”  At what point do the religious drama queens/kings who think their demand that they always, ALWAYS are entitled to be the center of attention at every event everywhere, finally get told to shut up and leave the rest of us alone?

    http://www.mountainx.com/article/4957/ACLU-Asheville-must-protect-free-speech-rights-of-street-preachers

    The comments under the article are instructive.  What are the rights of the festivalgoers who want to enjoy the festival and DON’T WANT TO LISTEN to religious whackaloons shouting at them and personally insulting them?  Are we going to end up with more incidents like this?

    http://www.mountainx.com/blogwire/2011/tension_culminates_in_assault_on_bele_chere_street_preacher_video

  • julie-watkins

    delete

  • alanye

    Congrats for another small step toward tyranny. The purpose of free speech isn’t to protect popular speech but the unpopular. You obviously fail to comprehend that, so I won’t be bookmarking this site.

     For anyone who wishes to use my password, it’s Political Correctness Run Amok. A long one but pertinent.

  • julie-watkins

    I consider being under threat of 6 months (?) prison time to be “severly”, especially when it was for a political protest. Totalling up, it’s going to be a lot more than 56 hours.

    Especially when there doesn’t seem to be much arresting & community service for anti-abortion protestors who DON’T leave when asked and disturb the peace week after week.

    I’d accept the “people want not to be yelled at” arrests & trials better if there wasn’t such a double standard

  • wendy-banks

     bigot is a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices, especially one exhibiting intolerance, and animosity toward those of differing beliefs. The predominant usage in modern English refers to persons hostile to those of differing sex, race, ethnicity, religion or spirituality, nationality, language, inter-regional prejudice, gender and sexual orientation, homelessness, various medical disorders particularly behavioral disorders and addictive disorders. Forms of bigotry may have a related ideology or world views.

    From Wikipedia

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bigotry

     

    Not to mention being trollish and off-topic for this site…

  • crowepps

    The judge could have imposed a more severe sentence, but instead imposed one in proportion to the offense, one which would not impact their ability to attend classes.  I expect this will be appealed, and it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if it were overturned, because political speech SHOULD be one of the types most carefully safeguarded.

    In my personal opinion, instead of being extra careful with political speech, the Courts instead give a disproportionate amount of license to speakers who CLAIM the motivation for their ‘free speech’ is religion.  People who are protesting global warming can be herded into ‘free speech zones’ out of sight and sound of the persons in government they are attempting to ‘petition’, but whackaloons screaming personal insults at people apparently can’t be prevented from following people down the street and saying incredibly foul things to them.  Of course, since religion these days means ‘whatever I make up’, the difference between a street preacher and a schizophrenic can be hard to discern and I can certainly understand that police officers are neither Constitutional lawyers nor psychiatrists.

    While I understand that anti-abortion protestors have every right to say whatever they wish, in my personal opinion, they should NOT have a right to disrupt the functioning of a legal business, or to virtually ‘kidnap’ strangers and force them to be their unwilling audience.  Let them have their protest, somewhere exactly as far away from the clinic entrance as the global warming and anti-world bank protestors are kept from the passing limosines for “security reasons”.  I don’t see any reason why a bunch of bank presidents and politicians should receive more personal protection or be guarded more carefully than women walking into a clinic.

  • prochoiceferret

    “Rating” comments … Congrats for another small step toward tyranny.

     

    Uh oh… somebody call this guy a waaaambulance, he’s suffering a rhetorical infarction!

  • crowepps

    And speaking of selective enforcement, after that nauseating shot of an obnoxious street preacher being allowed to say whatever he likes, here is one of some Wall Street protestors, committing the outrage of walking on the sidewalk! in a direction the police didn’t approve of, being corraled in netting and maced.  I guess if they wanted to be left alone they should have been carrying plastic fetuses.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moD2JnGTToA&feature=player_embedded

    I don’t know if the rest of you believe going on with the topic of free speech and protesting is a distraction from the purpose of this site, but I am focusing on it right now because the article about what limits should be put on free speech brings up important points.  In addition, I sincerely believe that the issue of who can protest, and how they can protest, and the government/police response to the protest, and how much inconvenience the protest can inflict, are very important to the reproductive rights issue.

    The Wall Street protestors were not allowed to be within TWO BLOCKS of their goal.  The people against whom they are protesting aren’t even necessarily aware they are there.  The police are reacting harshly and punitively, are ‘punishing’ people with pepper spray and physical force, for daring to be present at all.  That being so, why is Randall Terry allowed to assert a ‘right’ to force his pamphlets into people’s hands, a ‘right’ to  speak directly in the ears of people who don’t want to listen, a ‘right’ to step in front of people walking and force them to change their path?  Why are clinic protestors allowed to play passive aggressive games of hit me with the vehicles entering the clinic?  Shouldn’t he and the signs and trucks and bullhorns, the whole revolting crying, screaming, praying street theater, all be moved off to where they apparently belong, at a park a couple blocks away?

    In my opinion, the extreme license given to the protestors acts as a government endorsement of their message, in that just walking through the gauntlet of protestors is a prepunishment for daring to even THINK about having sex/getting an abortion, an attempt to inflict enough of a guilt trip so that women’s lives will hopefully be permanently ruined, another barrier to women’s independence and freedom by continuing the religious tradition of making being female as unbearable as possible and inflicting as much suffering on women as possible.

  • julie-watkins

    I was watching Amy Goodman on the Democracy Now webcast of Troy Davis execution. There were 50 peole left in the pen (many people thought the Supreme Court delay would be a matter of days, not hours and had left). This was after dark, of course. More than ten police cars come lights and sirens blaring. And a helicopter overhead. No explanation, of course. Disgusting. What, 50 hungry people — no food allowed & many had been fasting — they’re going to riot and break down the prison walls? No: it was to intimidate & torment. What a shameful display.

    What the law permits (or does itself via police), they promote. Question authority or systemic oppression — pushed into a pen away from public (private) sidewalks of the ruling class. Do the job of the ruling class by enforcing gender norms and female subserviance, the police allow (promote) the disturbance of the peace. Also punishing the neighbors who tolerate/support the women’s clinice. Such a transparent show of power.

  • prochoiceferret

    The police are reacting harshly and punitively, are ‘punishing’ people with pepper spray and physical force, for daring to be present at all.  That being so, why is Randall Terry allowed to assert a ‘right’ to force his pamphlets into people’s hands, a ‘right’ to  speak directly in the ears of people who don’t want to listen, a ‘right’ to step in front of people walking and force them to change their path?

     

    One difference I’ve noted: Whenever police do anything to restrict anti-choice protesters’ actions, there’s always a court case aggressively pursued by the likes of Liberty Counsel or the Alliance Defense Fund. It’s become such a cause-and-effect certainty that police often feel they have to walk on eggshells to avoid inevitable legal action even when enforcement is directly intended to protect public safety.

     

    It doesn’t seem to me that police abuse as in the case of the Occupy Wall Street protests is litigated with the same aggressiveness, if at all. Is it because there’s no well-funded group around willing to do so, or is it really just a night-and-day difference in the deference given to such cases by judges? I’ve wondered.