Oct. 15, 2012
What do Islamist radicals and homosexual activists have in common? Not much, one would think, given the harsh treatment of homosexuals in many Muslim countries.
However, there is one thing they have in common. Both seek to stifle freedom of speech, if that speech is critical of themcritical, that is, of their religion in the one case, or of their sexual conduct in the other.
Jonathan Turley wrote an excellent piece in The Washington Post this weekend on the growing efforts to stifle free speech in the name of tolerance. Turley is a well-known professor at George Washington Universitys law school. Hes no conservativehe is currently leading efforts in court to legalize polygamy. However, Turley is sensible enough to realize that if speech is only free when no one takes offense to it, then it is not free at all.
Turley notes that efforts are under way to carve out exceptions to the principle of free speech in four areas. One is when speech is blasphemousthis is where some Muslims have called for limits on free speech. Another are is when speech is deceitfulas with the Stolen Valor Act, a law making it a crime to lie about having received military honors, which was struck down by the Supreme Court.
Below are the two sections in which he includes references to the issue of homosexualitywhen speech is [considered] hateful or when speech is [considered] discriminatory. Please note: Turley is not endorsing the speakers mentioned below, or their words. Neither am I, by reprinting this. However, using the law to punish someone in these contexts is shocking:
Speech is hateful
In the United States, hate speech is presumably protected under the First Amendment. However, hate-crime laws often redefine hateful expression as a criminal act. Thus, in 2003, the Supreme Court addressed the conviction of a Virginia Ku Klux Klan member who burned a cross on private land. The court allowed for criminal penalties so long as the government could show that the act was intended to intimidate others. It was a distinction without meaning, since the state can simply cite the intimidating history of that symbol.
Other Western nations routinely bar forms of speech considered hateful.Britainprohibits any abusive or insulting words meant to stir up racial hatred.Canadaoutlaws any writing, sign or visible representation that incites hatred against any identifiable group. These laws ban speech based not only on its content but on the reaction of others. Speakers are often called to answer for their divisive or insulting speech before bodies like the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
This month, a Canadian court ruled that Marc Lemire, the webmaster of a far-right political site, could be punished for allowing third parties to leave insulting comments about homosexuals and blacks on the site. Echoing the logic behind blasphemy laws, Federal Court Justice Richard Mosley ruled that the minimal harm caused . . . to freedom of expression is far outweighed by the benefit it provides to vulnerable groups and to the promotion of equality.
Speech is discriminatory
Perhaps the most rapidly expanding limitation on speech is found in anti-discrimination laws. Many Western countries have extended such laws to public statements deemed insulting or derogatory to any group, race or gender.
For example, in a closely watched case last year, a French court found fashion designer John Galliano guilty of making discriminatory comments in a Paris bar, where he got into a cursing match with a couple using sexist and anti-Semitic terms. Judge Anne-Marie Sauteraud read a list of the bad words Galliano had used, adding that she found (rather implausibly) he had said dirty whore at least 1,000 times. Though he faced up to six months in jail, he was fined.
InCanada, comedian Guy Earle was charged with violating the human rights of a lesbian couple after he got into a trash-talking session with a group of women during an open-mike night at a nightclub. Lorna Pardysaid she suffered post-traumatic stress because of Earles profane language and derogatory terms for lesbians. The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal ruled last year that since this was a matter of discrimination, free speech was not a defense, and awarded about $23,000 to the couple.
Ironically, while some religious organizations are pushing blasphemy laws, religious individuals are increasingly targeted under anti-discrimination laws for their criticism of homosexuals and other groups. In 2008, a minister inCanadawas not only forced to pay fines for uttering anti-gay sentiments but was also enjoined from expressing such views in the future.
Turley says, In the United States, hate speech is presumably protected under the First Amendment. He seems to be implying that horror stories like the three from Canada mentioned above will not happen here. However, the recent suspension of a Gallaudet University administrator, Dr. Angela McCaskill, merely for signing the Maryland marriage petition seems to indicate that we may be headed in the same troubling direction.