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Time to Rethink Freedom of Speech

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on September 12, 2012

With the advent of social media platforms, what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas anymore. In this new world order, it is time to revisit the founding principles of nations. It is time to exhibit the courage and foresight required to change these tenets to cater to present day sensibilities.

Freedom of Speech is protected in the U.S by the First Amendment to the U.S constitution. However, this freedom is not enjoyed by speech that presents “imminent lawless action” and what may be termed as “hate speech.” Great, so the U.S Constitution lays out a very balance and judicial legislature to allow its citizens to speak their minds and suppress opinions that may lead to outrage among its people. But what happens when what Americans express, either in the form of opinion or art, transgresses the moral principles and beliefs of  people belonging to the more “unfortunate” rest of the world?

There are two very important opinion/speech defining parameters that must govern any discussion on this topic. Firstly, the Geographical reach an opinion can have and second, the Universality of the subject.

The lawlessness that broke out in Cairo and Benghazi last night are being attributed to anger over an American film that shows Prophet Muhammad in very bad light. The film has been made by Sam Bacile, an Israeli American real estate developer. The attacks unfortunately led to fatalities. Would it be wrong for the Libyan and Egyptian governments to ask for deportation of Sam to try him in their countries? Should not the U.S courts try Sam Bacile for inciting violence that led to the death of US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens? This incident clearly illustrates that opinions in a connected world, like the one we live in, have absolutely no geographical boundaries. New laws need to be formulated to address these issues.

It is high time that the world decides to exempt Religion from Freedom of Speech. Religion is a private affair. While your religious beliefs should be kept to yourself, so should your opinions about other religions. Representation of religious opinions in any form, text, films, cartoons, paintings etc. should be globally prohibited. That, and only that, is true Secularism. No ban should be put on people trying to present the teachings of their religions as stated in their scriptures. But negative opinions on any religion must be banned. If a religious group is proving to be injurious to its followers, it is the Government’s responsibility to safeguard their interests.

No religious bashing has ever hurt any religion! It only hurts people. And in this case we lost Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. RIP.


14 Responses to “Time to Rethink Freedom of Speech”

  1. emmawolf said

    I respectfully disagree. I think bigots and haters should shut up but that it is most definitely not the government’s job to do it for them. I realize I am in the unfortunate position of having to defend the idiotic filmmaker and his hateful drivel, but if the Constitution doesn’t stand for that, then what won’t it stand for next? The cure for bad speech, in my opinion, is not laws but more speech. While I’m very frustrated by the group of people that persist in making hate speech and then sit back and say “see, I was right! They are violent!” when people react to it, everyone has a right to be a jerk.

    “Great, so the U.S Constitution lays out a very balance and judicial legislature to allow its citizens to speak their minds and suppress opinions that may lead to outrage among its people.”

    I don’t understand what this means.

    • Raunak said

      Emma, thank you sharing your views.

      When you say that the cure for bad speech is more speech, do you mean more good speech? Because the drawback of communication is that bad spreads faster than good. Hence hate speech will always have an impact on people before an opposing and more sane view reaches them.

      I agree with you that its not the Government’s job to shut people up. The government is responsible for protecting its citizens, and if any fighting breaks out because of what someone says, it is the government’s responsibility to maintain law and order. But in today’s world, where Americans are spread all over the globe, how does the American Government ensure their safety when an idiot like Sam Bacile puts their lives in danger? The Ambassador lost his life because of this.

      Hence opinions that have a global impact must be moderated or such haters should not be given access to social media that they hide behind.

      poor punctuation messed up that line. it simply means that the US constitution gives people the freedom of speech. Also, the supreme court has given the Government powers to restrict inflammatory speech that may result in lawless retaliation.

      • emmawolf said

        “But in today’s world, where Americans are spread all over the globe, how does the American Government ensure their safety when an idiot like Sam Bacile puts their lives in danger? The Ambassador lost his life because of this.”

        Online, things can come off really callously. So please just understand I’m not saying this lightly. It’s terrible and sad that he was murdered over this and I absolutely think Bacile is responsible for his death and think he should be held responsible for it (which itself is a curtailment on our freedom of speech, like the speech that incites violence you talk about). But I think any sort of blanket exemption to the First Amendment is too great. I think the US has to strike a balance between freedom and safety, because we cannot have both. And if one of our values is freedom of speech, then we have to accept that someone will say something stupid and hateful that will put others in danger. We just have to decide whether or not we want to live in a free society or a safe society (or where on that continuum we want to fall) because we cannot stop all terrorism.

      • Raunak said

        I think we may be on the same page here. If you think Bacile should be punished, I am totally on your side. I am willing to withdraw my wish for a blanket exemption, if the government punishes those who’s expression has led to lawless action. The documentary that Bacile made is absolutely unpardonable and in very bad taste. It is not even a piece of art! I am not a Muslim, and when I saw it, I felt disgusted. If the US government does not see this as equivalent to “hate speech” then I am sorry to say, I am on the side of the Libyans….and most of the world is.

      • emmawolf said

        We probably are on the same page. I’m just kind of too frustrated and my thoughts are too all over the place for me to put everything I’m thinking in a neat little comment. In sum, I’m glad that we have freedom of speech, but I’m also glad that we have standards against hate speech, obscenity, slander, etc. And I wish that people would realize that with their freedom comes responsibility, because I think if we can’t use our rights responsibly, then maybe *something* needs to be done (something but I don’t know what).

        A question about the video. I did not see it, I did not care to see it. But from what someone told me, could it also be considered obscene?

      • Raunak said

        its on you tube. it is obscene, repulsive, despicable, a big lie and the most derogatory expression I have ever witnessed against any religion.
        Till now I was forcing myself to be optimistic about the world. If more people don’t speak up against this video, I am going to lose all hope in this world.

  2. I must also respectfully, but I admit angrily, disagree with your post. Suppression of speech related to religion is the same as condoning religious persecution. In your vision, would people be permitted to worship? For there are no boundaries to “free speech.” Speech happens in the town square, online, in public spaces and in the bedroom. Under your proposal even prayer would be abolished.

    The evil occurring now in the Middle East (and elsewhere) occurs when someone uses someone else’s speech as justification for bad action. In truth, these acts of hatred would happen without “speech.” In this case, these extremists merely used a cheap bad private film to justify what they already wanted to do. Action, not speech, is the lawbreaker here — and I don’t care who you are or what you believe, we are all responsible for our actions.

    If you limit free speech, then speech is not free. This has been done in other nations historically and always – always – leads to persecution and government-sponsored murder, even genocide. Who decides what speech is okay and what speech isn’t? You’ve backed yourself into a philosophy that has lead to atmospheres such as the Eastern Block during the Cold War, the riot in Tienanmen Square, the existence of the KGB and Nazi labor camps and their cover-ups….. and the persecution of all followers of any religion anywhere in the world.

    That philosophy is the essence of hate speech, the precise thing which you claim to wish to stop.

    It is always impossible to prevent “hate speech” because hate is a matter of perspective. These filmmakers surely didn’t think they were promoting “hate speech;” they truly believed that they were expressing their opinions. I personally find the statements of people such as this filmmaker or Iran’s president hateful, but I’ll defend their right to speak.

    No one – no one – has the right to enforce their personal opinion of what constituents hate onto someone else. I guarantee that you can always find someone who will be offended by something that someone else says. Your proposal effectively makes the victims of this act responsible for it.

    I suggest you reconsider.

    • Raunak said

      I feel that I need to add something that may alter that interpretation of yours. I do not suggest any restriction on speech related to preaching one’s own religion. If people wish to stand in the middle of the town and scream out good things about their religion…they are most welcome. All scriptures have good messages and spreading them only makes the world a better place.

      What I want to stop is people blasting, condemning, berating OTHER religions.Not one single religious text says negative stuff about any other religion. Any portrayal of expression that mocks another religious belief is “hate speech”. I don’t see how anyone can disagree with that.

      Yes, those in Libya who did this must be brought to justice. But so should Sam Bacile for his “hateful” depiction of another religion’s leader. If the movie was an attempt to present an artful depiction of someone’s interpretation of Islam, I would love it. But I saw the film and it is in no way an art work. It is a blatant attempt to insult the Muslims and instigate violence.

      I am in full support of Free Speech. Hell, I use it every day on WP. But like you commented yourself, there is a difference between free speech and careless chatter. What Bacile did is not Free Speech. I cannot stress this enough, I am in favor of free speech. Even the US supreme court prohibits speech that leads to lawless action. I have only used that law to further my point.

      I completely agree with your opinion. I believe in every word you have stated. But, I must humbly ask you to reconsider your interpre of my post. It does not go against your beliefs.

      • I think that what you’re really aiming for here — and, by all means, correct me and improve my accuracy, please — is that people need to be more careful in spouting mean words.

        I’d be far more inclined to support your post if you removed the “religion” qualifier from the restriction.

        Not so long ago, many things were not spoken of because it was considered to be in poor taste. Poor taste usually translated into hurtful or offensive to someone, or potentially so. In the urge to improve tolerance in society, we have abandoned the notion of “good taste.” I suspect that this abandonment was unintentional. I think that we were at least at first all just trying to get along, man.

        However, we’ve lost our sense of shame — and this is how offensive and hate-filled actions are permitted to happen. There are no societal repercussions for bad actions any longer, and that is where we fail.

        Hate-mongering fills every since category of conversation, not just religion.

        Of course, it’s impossible to legislate good manners.

      • Raunak said

        now that is closer to what I meant. I remember a world where we were tolerant enough to allow a few teasing gibes at each others religions. you are so right when you say, “In the urge to improve tolerance in society, we have abandoned the notion of “good taste.”

        It would be wrong to use the word “manners” for this event. What Bacile produced was intentional, inciting hateful depiction. I hope you have seen the film.

  3. The Ambassador paid for someone else’s mistake which is definitely not fair. There is nothing called absolute power and there is nothing called absolute freedom. When traveling on a highway, if we find red light at the crossing, then what is freedom – stopping or jumping the red light ?

    • Raunak said

      thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. you are right! as long as we live in a society, there is no absolute freedom. We have to live under guidelines that promote coexistence. Freedom of speech too has to respect those guidelines.
      The trouble is that human beings are not tolerant enough these days. In earlier times, we used to gibe at each others religions and it would be acceptable. In today’s world where “social media” has created pansies out of most people, sensitivity is too high and tolerance is all but extinct.

  4. mindsurfer1 said

    A religion or political system that cannot withstand the attacks of the spoken or written word will not be long protected by any laws. To drive hostility underground is not to disperse it. Even Nazi Germany and Stalin could not crush the opposition.

    • Raunak said

      I completely agree with you and since writing the post have rethought my own view on the topic. Thanks to great comments by you and others, I seem to have formed the right opinion now!
      Thanks again for reading and sharing your thoughts.Appreciate it!

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