Freedom of Speech versus Religious Sensitivity
(Topic recommended by @JoeClayAllDay)
This is a topic that has come to the forefront with the release of the film “Innocence of Muslims” and the reactions from Muslims in Egypt and Libya. However, this has been a recurring issue in the US for quite a long time. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has fought for the freedom of speech of groups largely deemed as hateful such as the KKK, modern Nazi groups, and the Westboro Baptist Church. In their own literature, the ACLU maintains, “the principles of the First Amendment are indivisible. Extend them on behalf of one group and they protect all groups. Deny them to one group, and all groups suffer.”  Freedom of speech is a good thing. It’s a great thing. The freedom of speech afforded us in the Constitution of the United States makes this type of website possible. It makes dialogue (the whole point in starting this thing!) a reality and that’s part of the reason that it saddens me to see how we’ve squandered it.
What I think is hard, is that speech that is hateful and mean spirited to a specific group of people that may not be classified by the Supreme Court as “hate speech” is so horrific to the spirit of an individual or group on the receiving end. To be an African American and have to watch the KKK hold a public rally, knowing their feelings towards African Americans, is something completely unimaginable to me. So where’s the line? Moreover, did “Innocence of Muslims” cross it?
I think to address this topic fully; a few prerequisite questions must me answered:
1. Is there a limit to free speech as presented in the First Amendment?
2. Who is able to decide the limitations to freedom of speech?
My answers would be that, yes, there is a limit to free speech in cases where it implies/causes harm to another individual. In a perfect world, there would be no limit on free speech because people wouldn’t say hateful things to one another. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world and so we need to allow questionable speech in order to have meaningful conversations that melt away the presuppositions and inaccuracies of hateful speech.
The answer to number 2 is a much more slippery slope in my opinion. I for one don’t believe in any sort of “collective morality” where the thoughts and ideas of the majority dictate the guiding morality of the day. That’s what we generally live under in the US and I think it’s failed us. So, I’m not really sure who should have the authority to draw the line. I’d have to default to the Supreme Court because they are charged with making sure that, as society progresses (and I use that term loosely), the laws governing the land are in line with the Constitution, and I think that’s at the heart of the issue here.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic, and please post any resources that you know of to understand the issue even more.