Tagged: Blasphemy

Mo The Rutabaga Isn't Safe In The U.S., Either

I've been pretty tough on the United Kingdom recently, what with them arresting people for burning poppies and trying to make Twitter free of offense and threatening U.S. websites and thus-and-such.

But it's only fair to point out that it's not necessarily safe to carry around my rutabaga named Mo here in the United States, either. Courtesy of commenter Trebuchet and Ed Brayton, I discovered Eugene Volokh's testimony to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which offers numerous examples of embarrassing attempts by American academics to suppress speech. They don't call it blasphemy, but they might as well. Volokh's conclusion is apt:

As I said at the outset, I firmly support the free speech, religious freedom, and property rights of Muslims. My concern is simply that all speakers and religious observers be protected, whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim, or pro-Islam or anti-Islam. Nor does this need to be difficult: The government should tell Muslims (as it tells other groups), “We respect you and your rights, and we will defend you and your rights from violence and government oppression, but if you find certain kinds of speech offensive you should respond with speech of your own; we cannot respond by trying to suppress such speech.”

But the government ought not try to define political and religious speech as “discrimination” or “harassment,” and then suppress it in the name of civil rights. Nor should the government conclude that the speech is stripped of protection because it is supposedly constitutes “hate speech”; the Supreme Court’s precedents solidly reject the view that there is a “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment. Nor should it surrender to the threat of violence, a course of action that only encourages more such threats in the future. Instead, the government should protect the civil rights of all, regardless of their religion or ideology.

Some foreign countries, to be sure, do indeed seem to prohibit speech that is perceived as blasphemy or undue criticism of religion — not just Islam but also, for instance, Christianity: Consider, just over the last two years, foreign incidents involving Jesus Christ Superstar, a parody of the venerated Greek Orthodox monk Elder Paisios, mockery of the Bible, and a painting of Jesus with a Mickey Mouse head. But in America, such speech is of course fully protected against government suppression. That must remain so, whatever religion is targeted.

Quite right.

A Year of Blasphemy

The incendiary film ""The Innocence of Muslims" was merely an unconvincing pretext for a terrorist attack, not the true cause of the attack. Yet the film has spurred new discussions of American free speech exceptionalism, and led some to question whether we should hew to the First Amendment in the face of worldwide demands for an international ban on blasphemy.

Eric Posner wrote in Slate that we ought to consider that other societies believe that "free speech must yield to other values and the need for order." Anthea Butler, a professor at Penn, defended calls for the arrest of the man who made the film, suggesting that it had "inflamed" people across the globe, putting Americans at risk. Garrett Epps wrote that blasphemy is not the "essence of free speech" and that other nations understand freedom differently than we do. Professor Peter Spiro reacted to the film by suggesting that "international norms" about hate speech should prevail over our relatively absolutist free speech values.

We should address such views, not ignore them. But as we consider them — as we evaluate whether anti-blasphemy laws will ever be consistent with the modern American values embodied in our First Amendment precedents — we should examine what the competing values truly are. What are the "other values" which other societies believe outweigh free speech? What sorts of things "inflame" people in those societies? If other societies understand free expression differently than we do, how do they understand it? What "international norms" are emerging on blasphemy?

I decided to try to answer those questions by looking at how the nations of the world have treated blasphemy during one year: October 2011 through September 2012. In other words, I decided to examine how one year reflected the competing values concerning free speech and blasphemy.

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This is my rutabaga. His Name is Mo.

Don't hate him because he's beautiful.

There are many like him, but he is mine. He has never let me down, and in sharp contrast to the lot of you, he never will. I mean, until he rots.

I would like to take Mo on a trip. It's been 21 years since I lived in England; I thought I could take him there. But I have some concerns — and I'm not just talking about the TSA violating him.

In fact, I'm worried that I might be banned from some places in England if I bring Mo.

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