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.” [1] 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.


4 responses to “FREE SPEECH

  1. Let me say this first, I do not think the riots in the Middle East are about free speech as much as it is about blind hate. You do not protest a movie by invading an embassy and murdering innocents. You do not protest “free speech” with missile launchers (that they just happened to have with them?)!

    Now, I believe in free speech with my choice to give up some of that freedom freely. It is not restricted by any governing party, but myself. I do this knowing full well that others will not offer me the same kindness and that is fine. It is my responsibility to ignore, or in most cases pity, ignorance and stupidity.

    For serious in depth understanding about what is legally not covered under free speech check out this link (sorry tried to hyperlink it, but this site seems not to be able to do that):

    • On your first part, I agree with you that some of the response has nothing to do with the film. But I do believe that some of the response is actually related to the theme of free speech.

      Good link, thanks! You should be writing this blog!

      • I do not draw the appeal like a Kurtis Hayden, but I will be following to see where this goes…

        I think my point is letting the government restrict your freedoms becomes a slippery slope very quickly (almost wrote slop, another reason why I should not be writing :). Things like defamation,slander, child pornography, etc… should be band because it is untrue and sometimes cases irreversible damage or in the case of child pornography it involves children. However, even defamation and slander are allowed, but the inflicted person can pursue legal actions after the fact, if the statement is proven untrue, which I am not sure how I feel about this model because it is set up as guilty until proven innocent.

        I would like to say child pornography is a common sense issues, but with no acknowledgment of a higher moral authority there can be no such thing. You say you do not believe in collective morality, but that is the best we can achieve in this world. Anything else allows the minority making the choices for the majority. I cannot think of untarnished benevolent dictator off the top of my head.

  2. I’m really glad to have you along for the ride, I’m hoping to get better at writing and get some more dialogue flowing here.

    The problem that I have with collective morality is that it too often goes unchecked, where because the majority believe a certain way, to be outspoken against them is a form of secular heresy (seen in cases of abortion, birth control, gay marriage, violence in media, etc [topics I hope to hit here at some point])

    But, overall, I agree that defamation, slander, child pornography should all fall outside the protection of free speech and that in a lot of cases they are common sense. But in cases where it’s the KKK or Westboro, it’s not so much “defamation” as it is just pure “hatred” that is motivating the speech. Do we let those things go unchecked because there’s a beauty in the ideal of free speech or should someone step in? It’s definitely a tough question to answer because I understand both sides of the coin. Disagreement is a good thing and differing opinions should be expressed in a diverse country such as ours, but I still feel so strongly that logical discourse is nowhere to be found in the views of certain groups, like the ones I mentioned. And in that case, where there is no pursuit of rationality, should free speech really be fought for?

    Right now, I’d have to say that because there is such a slippery slope (as you pointed out) that leads to a government censoring all opposition, we have to fight to maintain free speech for groups like those and the filmmakers who made Innocence of Muslims. But we must also confront them about their message as we perceive they’re in error.

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