Thursday, June 29, 2006

Making free speech a crime

Cinnamon Stillwell:

Roman Catholic Robert Smith is fired from an appointment on the Washington Metro transit authority board by Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich for the crime of saying that he doesn't approve of homosexuality.

Journalist and author Oriana Fallaci cannot visit her native country of Italy for fear of being thrown in prison because of a lawsuit brought against her by the Italian Muslim Union for the crime of "defaming Islam."

British neo-Nazi David Irving is sentenced to three years in prison in Austria for a 1989 speech in which he committed the crime of Holocaust denial.

College Republican Steve Hinkle is found guilty by California Polytechnic State University (San Luis Obispo) for "disruption" for the crime of putting up a flyer advertising a black conservative speaker.

What do the above examples have in common? They are the logical outgrowth of a dangerous trend sweeping the Western world: the criminalization and censorship of speech.

Outright censorship and draconian speech codes have long been a staple of Third World authoritarian regimes. But Western democracies and in particular the United States (where the First Amendment is supposed to reign supreme) have always prided themselves on protecting free speech. Yet because of the creeping reach of political correctness, one can now be put in prison, lose a job, be kicked out of school or be otherwise censored simply for uttering an unpopular opinion.

It's called hate speech. If there ever were a more Orwellian concept, it would be difficult to find. For much like the concept of "thought crimes" in George Orwell's novel "1984," hate crimes and hate speech suppose intent on the part of the "perpetrator" that may or may not have any basis in reality. What is often mere criticism or disapproval is labeled "hatred" and thus made worthy of punishment. Such a perspective demands that one think only nice thoughts about others. But when it did it become law that we have to like everyone?

While bigotry is indeed unpleasant, it is not in and of itself a crime. Whether one acts on that bigotry or incites others to violence in accordance is another matter. The old adage, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me," comes to mind.

Even highly objectionable speech such as Holocaust denial should not be criminalized. Such speech would be better fought on the battlefield of ideas than in the courtroom. The academic frauds and conspiracists pushing Holocaust denial should have their work thoroughly discredited and challenged, not censored.

Metro Board Member Fired for Comment on Gays

Trial over Italian Islam 'insult'

Holocaust denier Irving is jailed

Cal Poly punishes student for 'disruption'

Free speech in Europe: mixed rules

Talk Show Host Graham Fired By WMAL Over Islam Remarks

The UN's Coming International Code of Unacceptable Speech

Gays have emerged as the new protected class in America


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