Thursday, June 24, 2010

Pondering The Rights Of Free Speech Limitations

I understand that most European countries — Canada as well — have laws limiting speech against religion, race, or nationality... inflammatory or derogatory speech that either accidentally or purposeflly elicits anything from hurt feelings to violence.

Not in America.

I don't know the details of exactly what these Christian missionaries said or did (when the cameras weren't rolling... see below) at a Muslim festival in Dearborn, Michigan, this past weekend that caused their arrest. But if they were armed only with words and Christian literature, then their arrests were a huge violation of their right to free speech.

Oh... and here is video that seems to show them doing absolutely nothing (and saying absolutely nothing) other than handing out copies of the gospel. They were told by police that they can't be within 5 blocks of the event with their Christian tracts.

But: I'm thinking now of the "God Hates Fags" people that picket funerals and spew Biblical hate at anybody within earshot: Say what you want about them, they are the undisputed masters at ensuring their right to free speech. Even they (all sue-happy, law-degree-holding, free-speech fanatics) often/always have to be some distance away from the target of their "protests" when they show up. If those particular people are forced to stay back 5 blocks, it must be a legally-enforceable free speech restriction that they cannot dispute. I never minded that restriction before; I thought it wasn't a bad idea.

But now I have to do a little thought exercise, because this situation in Dearborn is what happens when the limitations we impose upon free speech are used equitably and without prejudice to the content of a group's speech: If I can support keeping one group of people 5 blocks away from another group of people because the first group's speech is so hateful that it makes everyone in the second group angry, why can't I support keeping another group of not-so-hateful people 5 blocks away from a group of not-so-offended people because their speech may make someone angry?

I can't. Not anymore.

It's called learning. It's a lifelong process.


TheMindFantastic said...

Canada doesn't to my knowledge (I am not a lawyer) that blocks speech against a religion but it has 'Hate Speech' laws, which is why the Members of the Westboro Baptist Church are not allowed to come here to protest, and have been denied in the past. If there was a law that blocked speech against religion the Scientologists would have used it without hesitation on anyone they deemed saying things against them.

But I agree its an interesting situation in the US free speech is paramount even if its against another, but then I can understand from a safety perspective that allowing two groups to yell and scream at one another is just going to create a situation which the police will have to control eventually. Though in the situation you mentioned even calmly protesting handing out religious tracts could be seen as a potential paperwork nightmare if it wasn't managed.

I don't know where I sit on such matters, perhaps best that I am not a US citizen and have to determine which is the better course of action, support free speech and arrest assaults, or let everyone say anything just let them keep a distance from one another if it could turn into a brawl even if that breaks the spirit of the amendment.

Mom said...

I can remember my high school history teacher pointing out what this video pointed out. All laws are for all the people. It doesn't matter if you are a criminal, or a model citizen. If you break the law - you must heed the consequences. Therefore, all laws need to be thought out carefully so that all types of conditions/ events are clearly noted. Laws cannot favor one over the other. It's obvious that the law at Dearborn portrayed in this video makes us uncomfortable. But the law is the law. If a law proves to be unjust, it must be tagged as such. The police are there to uphold the law. However, it certainly makes it food for thought.

Anonymous said...

Freedom in the USA is dying faster than family values and patriotism that used to be held so dear.

It's odd to see the fall of the Roman Empire happening right before our eyes.