Archive | Freedom of Speech Restricted by Thugs

Indian State Government Temporarily Blocks Release of Spy Thriller, Citing Fear of Riots by Muslims

Agence France-Presse reports:

The southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu on Thursday defended its ban on a new film …. Spy thriller “Vishwaroopam” was forced out of cinemas after Muslim groups complained that they were portrayed in a negative light ….

Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram said her government was forced to impose the 15-day ban to prevent unrest across the state, because there was “every apprehension” that protests outside cinemas would turn violent….

She said the state did not have enough police to maintain law and order outside more than 500 cinemas that were due to show the movie.

[The director of the film], travelling to Mumbai on Friday for the film’s release there, has reportedly agreed to modify his movie to appease the protesting groups…. [The film] has already passed the country’s censorship board….

Acclaimed British author Salman Rushdie also faced the wrath of Muslim groups on Wednesday, forcing him to cancel a trip to the eastern city of Kolkata for a promotional event for the film “Midnight’s Children”.

Rushdie, whose novel “The Satanic Verses” is seen as blasphemous by some Muslims, was also forced out of India’s biggest literature festival last year after apparent threats to his life.

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U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Testimony on the First Amendment and Anti-Muslim/Anti-Islam Speech

I was invited to testify on this subject at today’s U.S. Commission on Civil Rights briefing on Federal Civil Rights Engagement with the Arab and Muslim American Communities Post 9/11, so I thought I’d pass along my written remarks. You can read them in PDF form here, or in plain text below (though without the footnotes). My sense from the questions was that at least some commissioners (and not only the conservative ones) found the subject matter of the remarks interesting.

* * *

October 29, 2012

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
624 9th St., NW
Washington, DC 20425

Dear Members of the Commission:

I entirely agree that the religious freedom rights and free speech rights of Muslim Americans, as well as all other Americans, should be protected. I have publicly spoken out, for instance, in favor of applying religious accommodation law to Muslim employees as well as to others. I have condemned attempts to criticize Muslim office-holders for taking their oath of office on a Koran. I have spoken in favor of extending mosques the same property rights extended to other property owners, and against attempts to exclude mosques from particular areas. And I agree that the government should take steps to make Muslim Americans, like Americans of all religions, feel welcome in America.

At the same time, attempts to make adherents of minority religions feel welcome should not end up suppressing the free speech rights of others who seek to criticize those religions. Islam, like other belief systems — Catholicism, Scientology, libertarianism, feminism, or what have you — merits evaluation and, at times, criticism. And under the First Amendment, even intemperate and wrong-headed criticism is fully constitutionally protected. Yet unfortunately attempts at suppression of criticism of Islam have been distressingly frequent.

Universities: Thus, for instance, San [...]

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D.C. Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Ordered to Accept Bus Advertisement

The advertisement, which the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority was also ordered to run a few months ago, is this one:

The D.C. agency originally accepted the ad, scheduled to run Sept. 24, but then “deferr[ed]” it indefinitely on Sept. 18 “due to the situations happening around the world at this time” (apparently referring to the riots and murders overseas that were apparently partly contributed to by the YouTube release of the “Innocence of Muslims” video). Last Friday, a federal district court concluded that this likely violated the First Amendment, and ordered that the ad run starting 5 pm Eastern today. No word on whether the MTA would have likewise banned an ad quoting Hillary Clinton’s condemnation of the Libyan consulate attackers — who likely saw themselves as indeed waging “jihad,” though against America rather than Israel — as a “small and savage group,” or the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s claim that “The ‘Freedom Flotilla’ bearing supplies in May 2010 was savagely attacked by the Israeli navy.”

UPDATE: A quick thought on the underlying constitutional question, largely based on my earlier post and also this one: I sympathize with the arguments that the government, acting as service provider, should be able to exclude material that is likely to greatly alienate or offend some of its customers, while still making money from material that won’t have that effect. But the Court has generally rejected this argument, at least when it comes to the government’s discriminating within the category of ideological expression. The Court has concluded that viewpoint-based restrictions, even on government property that isn’t a “traditional public forum,” are unconstitutional. And this makes some sense, given just how much money and property the government owns (especially once one goes beyond just access to physical property, and gets to access to broadly [...]

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English Screening of “Islam: The Untold Story” Cancelled Because of Threats

From The Guardian (UK) (Sept. 11, 2012):

Channel 4 has cited concerns over security as the reason for cancelling a planned screening at its headquarters this week of a documentary film questioning the origins of Islam.

Islam: The Untold Story, which claimed there was little written contemporary evidence about the origin of the religion, sparked more than 1,000 complaints to Channel 4 and the media regulator after it was broadcast two weeks ago.

Its presenter, the historian Tom Holland, was also the focus of substantial criticism, as well as abuse, on Twitter.

The channel said in a statement on Tuesday: “Having taken security advice we have reluctantly cancelled a planned screening of the programme, Islam: The Untold Story. We remain extremely proud of the film, which is still available to view on 4oD.” …

[S]ources close to the channel said the screening had been cancelled after advice was taken from “relevant security authorities”….

The Daily Mail (UK) offers more: “Channel 4 has been forced to cancel a screening of the controversial documentary Islam: The Untold Story, after the presenter was threatened with physical violence.”

UPDATE: I at first failed to include the Daily Mail quote, which is a bit more specific on the nature of the security concerns; sorry about that. [...]

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Why Punishing Blasphemous Speech That Triggers Murderous Reactions Would Likely Lead to More Deaths

In recent days, I’ve heard various people calling for punishing the maker of Innocence of Muslims, and more broadly for suppressing such speech. During the Terry Jones planned Koran-burning controversy, I heard similar calls. Such expression leads to the deaths of people, including Americans. It worsens our relations with important foreign countries. It’s intended to stir up trouble. And it’s hardly high art, or thoughtful political arguments. It’s not like it’s Satanic Verses, or even South Park or Life of Brian. Why not shut it down, and punish those who engage in it (of course, while keeping Satanic Verses and the like protected)?

I think there are many reasons to resist such calls, but in this post I want to focus on one: I think such suppression would likely lead to more riots and more deaths, not less. Here’s why.

Behavior that gets rewarded, gets repeated. (Relatedly, “once you have paid him the Dane-geld, you never get rid of the Dane.”) Say that the murders in Libya lead us to pass a law banning some kinds of speech that Muslims find offensive or blasphemous, or reinterpreting our First Amendment rules to make it possible to punish such speech under some existing law.

What then will extremist Muslims see? They killed several Americans (maybe itself a plus from their view). In exchange, they’ve gotten America to submit to their will. And on top of that, they’ve gotten back at blasphemers, and deter future blasphemy. A triple victory.

Would this (a) satisfy them that now America is trying to prevent blasphemy, so there’s no reason to kill over the next offensive incident, or (b) make them want more such victories? My money would be on (b).

And this is especially so since there’ll be plenty of other excuses [...]

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Administration Seeks to Have “Innocence of Muslims” Removed from YouTube

The LA Times reports:

Administration officials have asked YouTube to review a controversial video that many blame for spurring a wave of anti-American violence in the Middle East.

The administration flagged the 14-minute “Innocence of Muslims” video and asked that YouTube evaluate it to determine whether it violates the site’s terms of service, officials said Thursday. The video, which has been viewed by nearly 1.7 million users, depicts Muhammad as a child molester, womanizer and murderer — and has been decried as blasphemous and Islamophobic.

According to the story, YouTube reviewed the video earlier this week and concluded that it was “clearly within” the website’s guidelines.

UPDATE: Jesse Walker comments at Hit & Run. [...]

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Prof. Peter Spiro on Why “Hate Speech” Should Be “Ban[ned]” in the U.S. — and on How It Might Be Done, Using International Law

From yesterday’s Opinion Juris post by Prof. Peter Spiro, one of the leading international law scholars in the country:

The deplorable killing of Chris Stevens in Libya suggests a foreign relations law rationale for banning hate speech.

Remember, the Benghazi protests were prompted by this film depicting the prophet Mohammed in not very flattering terms. The equation from the protesters at the US consulate in Benghazi: this film was produced by an American; we will hold America responsible for it.

The result: national foreign relations are seriously compromised by the irresponsible act of an individual. For structural and functional reasons, that doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s the rationale behind the Neutrality and Logan Acts. A similar rationale undergirds the ouster of states from foreign relations — along the lines of Hamilton’s dictum in Federalist No. 80 that “the peace of the Whole should not be left to the disposal of the Part.”

And the First Amendment? Call me a relativist. We have some pretty good empirical data from the scores of other countries that ban hate speech (in part through signing on to article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) that a permissive approach to hate speech is not a prerequisite to functioning democracy. On the contrary, our European friends would argue that democracy is better served by banning such material. Either way, our exceptionalism on this score doesn’t serve us very well.

This isn’t any sort of apology for the killing (especially ugly given Stevens’ dedication to the rebel effort against the Gaddafi regime). In the first instance, it’s a recognition of international realities: do we want to take hits like this so that films like that can be made? In the second, it’s a recognition of where international law is going on

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Criminal Mockery of Islam?

That’s what MSBNC contributors Mike Barnicle and Donny Deutsch, the University of Pennsylvania’s Prof. Anthea Butler (Religious Studies), and of course the Egyptian government argue with regard to the movie that mocks Mohammed:

Prof. Butler: “Good Morning. How soon is Sam Bacile going to be in jail folks? I need him to go now.When Americans die because you are stupid…” “And yes, I know we have First Amendment rights,but if you don’t understand the Religion you hate, STFU about it. Yes, I am ticked off.” “And people do to jail for speech. First Amendment doesn’t cover EVERYTHING a PERSON says.” “[T]he murder of the Ambassador and the employees is wrong, wrong. But Bacile will have to face his actions which he had freedom[.]”

Mike Barnicle: “Given this supposed minister’s role in last year’s riots in Afghanistan, where people died, and given his apparent or his alleged role in this film, where, not yet nailed down, but at least one American, perhaps the American ambassador is dead, it might be time for the Department of Justice to start viewing his role as an accessory before or after the fact.”

Donny Deutsch: “I was thinking the same thing, yeah.”

The Egyptian government: “We ask the American government to take a firm position toward this film’s producers within the framework of international charters that criminalise acts that stir strife on the basis of race, colour or religion.” [...]

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Thugs Win Again

From The Jerusalem Post:

Egged [the largest bus company in Israel] and the company in charge of bus advertisements have decided that rather than be forced to put up ads with women in Jerusalem due to court action claiming discrimination against the gender, they will remove all people — both men and women — from the bus advertisements.

Starting August 1, Cnaan Advertising quietly removed all persons from their bus advertisements in the capital. The policy was clearly laid out in a letter from Egged to Cnaan obtained by The Jerusalem Post: “In the Jerusalem area there will be no images of people at all, though in other parts of the country it will be possible to use such images,” the letter from July 31 stated.

Cnaan, the company responsible for the bus ads, claims that haredi [ultra-Orthodox-Jewish -EV] extremists have defaced buses with paint and stones and even set an empty bus on fire because of ads featuring images of women they deemed “immodest.” Cnaan refused to run any advertisements with women, claiming that it will cause the company financial damage, and activists accused the company of discrimination against women. After the Transportation Ministry said it would refuse to work with any companies that discriminate based on gender on July 11, legal advisers from Egged and Cnaan decided the best course of action would be to remove any people from bus advertisements….

Whether the government was right in refusing to work with the company unless it treated ads depicting men and ads depicting women equally is a separate question. But while the company decided not to run ads depicting men because of the threat of government action, it’s clear that the company decided not to run ads depicting women because of the fear of thuggery by religious extremists. [...]

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Fear of Extremist Religious Violence Leads to Court Decision Barring Women from Praying at Religious Shrine

I didn’t hear about this when the decision was handed down in 2003, and when it was apparently enforced in 2009 and 2010, but I just noticed it and thought it would be a good addition to our Blasphemy category and our Freedom of Speech Restricted by Fear of Thugs category.

From Prof. Sherry Colb, about the 2003 decision; other press accounts echo this (if any of you can point me to an English text of the opinions, please do):

Earlier this month [April 2003], the Israeli Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, refused to permit women to pray out loud at the Western Wall (“the Wall”) in Jerusalem. Known in Hebrew as the “Kotel Ha’Maaravi,” the Wall is all that remains of the second Jewish Temple destroyed by the Romans almost 2000 years ago. It is one of the holiest sites in existence for Jews around the world.

The plaintiffs in the case called themselves the “Women of the Wall.” They asked the Israeli Court to recognize their right to pray out loud at the Kotel, after they had repeatedly encountered physical and verbal abuse from the Ultra-Orthodox each time they tried to do so on their own.

The women had hoped and expected the Court to agree that they, as a matter of equality, should be able to assemble and pray just like men have done for as long as the Wall has stood. Besides formalizing the legal equality of women, such a ruling could help fortify the resolve of police who must invariably come to the women’s aid and repel acts of aggression.

On April 6, the women’s hopes were dashed. The Israeli High Court concluded that because of the violence that plaintiffs’ religious practice provokes on the part of Ultra-Orthodox spectators, the Women of the

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New York Times Runs Ad Urging People to Quit Catholic Church, But Declines (for “a Few Months”) to Run Ad Urging People to Quit Islam

The New York Times ran this ad a few days ago:

Pamela Geller responded by submitting this ad (click here for a zoomable version):

Here is the New York Times‘ response to the submission, according to Geller:

Bob Christie, Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications for the New York Times, just called me to advise me that they would be accepting my ad, but considering the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, now would not be a good time, as they did not want to enflame an already hot situation. They will be reconsidering it for publication in “a few months.”

The Times is of course entitled to choose what ads to run. But, assuming Geller’s account of the Times‘ response is correct, that response simply proves one of Geller’s points: Almost no Catholics are likely to respond violently even to harsh criticism of the Catholic Church — but enough Muslims are likely to respond violently to harsh criticism of Islam (whether the response is against the critic or against others) that the Times itself views such criticism as unsafe. There are plenty of peace-loving Muslims, but unfortunately there are also enough extremist Muslim thugs to affect what the Times is willing to publish. [...]

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Not Safe to Display an American Flag in an American High School

Dariano v. Morgan Hill Unified School District (N.D. Cal.), decided the day before yesterday, upholds a California high school’s decision to forbid students from wearing American flag T-shirts on Cinco de Mayo. (See here and here for more on this case.)

The decision might well be correct under Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School Dist. (1969), which allows a “heckler’s veto” in K-12 school: Schools may indeed restrict student speech when it’s likely to cause substantial disruption, even when the disruption stems from other students’ hostility to the speech. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I think the speech restriction violates a California statute that gives students extra protection, but that claim wasn’t raised in this federal lawsuit.

Yet while the judge might have been right in his decision, the situation in the school seems very bad. When we’re at the point that students can’t safely display the American flag in an American school, because of a fear that other students will attack them for it — on May 5 or on any other day — and the school feels unable to prevent such attacks (by punishing the threateners and the attackers, and by teaching students tolerance for other students’ speech), something is badly wrong. Here’s an excerpt from the court opinion describing the facts that led the court to uphold the restriction:

On Cinco de Mayo in 2009, a verbal exchange and altercation arose between a group of predominantly white and a group of Mexican students. This altercation involved an exchange of profanities and threats were made. A makeshift American flag was put on one of the trees on campus. A group of Caucasian students began clapping and chanting “USA” as this flag went up. This was in response to a group of Mexican

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More in the Thugs Win Again Department

From The Advocate (Baton Rouge):

A planned American flag burning at LSU ended before it started when more than 1,000 LSU students and other protestors forced police to intervene before violence broke out.

LSU graduate student Benjamin Haas had planned to burn an American flag at noon Wednesday on the Parade Ground to promote his First Amendment rights and in support of an LSU student arrested last week for stealing and burning a flag.

Haas received a peaceful protest permit from LSU, but he had not yet received a burn permit from the parish yet, so he decided not to burn the flag, according to LSU.

Haas did have a prepared statement to read, but an angry mob mentality took over and LSU Police escorted him out in a police car for his safety before he could talk.

The “angry mob mentality” reference is obviously the author’s own opinion, and this story on a local TV news station’s site reports only that, “Several people tossed water balloons and water bottles at the man. The graduate student was then escorted away by LSU Police.” But while tossing water balloons and water bottles in order to suppress speech (or symbolic expression, whether it’s burning a flag or burning a Koran) isn’t the worst form of thuggery, it is a form of thuggery nonetheless (assuming the press accounts are correct).

Note that if there’s a content-neutral rule that requires a burn permit for open burning of things (other than very small items such as cigarettes, cake candles, and the like), that requirement might well be applicable to flag burning as well. But I’m pretty sure that the bottle-throwers weren’t trying to ensure faithful enforcement of fire codes, but were trying to use violence and the threat of more violence — possibly (depending [...]

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