Punishment for Anti-Gay Speech:
The remarkable thing about attempts to outlaw anti-gay speech (see the post about Sweden) is that only a few decades ago the orthodox belief throughout much of the West was that homosexuality was so awful that it needed to be outlawed. On this basis, governments (at least in the U.S.) tried to enforce the then-existing orthodoxy by suppressing pro-homosexuality speech. Now, the dominant view, which I share, is that the past perspective was mistaken. And now some governments are trying to enforce the now-existing orthodoxy by suppressing anti-homosexuality speech.
Yet shouldn't our experience of throwing away the formerly unchallenged verities of the past lead us to a bit more skepticism? What if today's elite majority view is wrong: What if it turns out that homosexuality is indeed morally reprehensible, bad for society, or both? I realize that there are good reasons to protect speech even if one is sure that it's mistaken. But if experience suggests that certainties are oftenmistaken, isn't that all the more reason to let speech be protected? And shouldn't the vast changes in formerly orthodox social attitudes over the past half century -- attitudes towards non-whites, towards women, towards gays, and so on -- remind us that a lot less is morally certain than the majority might think?
All this brings us back to Justice Holmes' words in Abrams v. United States (1919), which strike me as right even today:
Persecution for the expression of opinions seems to me perfectly logical. If you have no doubt of your premises or your power and want a certain result with all your heart you naturally express your wishes in law and sweep away all opposition. To allow opposition by speech seems to indicate that you think the speech impotent, as when a man says that he has squared the circle, or that you do not care whole heartedly for the result, or that you doubt either your power or your premises.
But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas -- that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out.
That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution. It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment. Every year if not every day we have to wager our salvation upon some prophecy based upon imperfect knowledge. While that experiment is part of our system I think that we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death, unless they so imminently threaten immediate interference with the lawful and pressing purposes of the law that an immediate check is required to save the country...
Naturally, the Swedes have their own Constitution; but the principle that Holmes articulated is suitable, I think, ought to be adopted in constitutions more generally.
Related Posts (on one page):
- Punishment for Anti-Gay Speech:
- Good Free Speech News from Sweden: