Monday, February 20, 2006

What Freedom of Speech is Not

In light of the recent debate over the Danish cartoons, the Western Standard's decision to reprint them, and the response of some Muslim groups in demanding that the magazine be charged with hate crimes and applying to have its senior staff brought before the Alberta Human Rights Commission, I have been giving some thought to what freedom of speech is and what it is not. I decided to approach this apophatically. Here are a few of my thoughts.

I agree that freedom of speech is not the right to deliberately incite hatred against others but freedom of speech is not the freedom to only hear or read things that you find inoffensive or agree with. In addition, those who exercise the right to free speech properly cannot be held responsible if hateful individuals take their material and use it to spread their poison.

Additionally, freedom of speech is not the freedom to print only that which maintains the status quo of society. Free speech without the right to challenge what is sacred, to divide public opinion, to spread heresies, to enrage and to offend is impotent.

Freedom of speech does not mean that just because you can say something that you should. But it also does not mean that you should be pressured not to say something when you can.

Just a few preliminary thoughts; I welcome your comments.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

this is a tough one. I'm all for freedom of speech and think that it's a necessary part of civil society. However, when you have people who deliberately lying and spreading misinformation, it's hard to have a decent conversation by stirring the pot. Perhaps the best way is to say, "your blood be on your own heads" when the protests in the Islamic world start racking up body counts as we push forth the freedom of speech-- but is that loving our neighbor?

Perhaps, like we would wait until we had built a strong relationship with a friend before we confronted specific sins in their life, we must wait until the Muslim world is willing to mature a little before we can have a serious debate about religion, freedom of speech, and human rights.

-Matthew Loftus