You Can't Say That! About Mohammed:

I hope all the American advocates of purportedly modest hate speech laws have a darn good explanation of why the caricatures of Mohammed in European newspapers don't constitute "words that wound," "assaultive speech," and speech with regard to which "the [Muslim] victim's story" should be considered paramount. If you can ban these caricatures under these activist's theories, there would be little left of the First Amendment. If you can't ban them, but can ban other forms of speech that is allegedly hateful from the target's perspective, I'd very much like to know why. I suppose the original caricatures were not meant to cause offense, and intent may make some difference, but they have been reprinted, in the U.S. and abroad, by those who know that Muslims will find them extremely offensive and hurtful, and even by those who reprint them for precisely that reason. And intent to incite may make a difference, but surely reprinting these caricatures is creating incitement on both sides, sometimes purposely so. So, if you believe in laws banning hate speech (and I'm not talking about speech that carries an implicit threat, like burning a cross), I'd like to hear how you would (if at all) distinguish between the kind of speech you would ban, and the caricatures in question.

UPDATE: Of course, you can bring back blasphemy laws, which coexisted with freedom of speech for decades in the U.S. But I don't get the sense that bringing back blasphemy laws is on the agenda of most anti-hate speech advocates.

Defending the Indefensible:
Of course, you can bring back blasphemy laws, which coexisted with freedom of speech for decades in the U.S. But I don't get the sense that bringing back blasphemy laws is on the agenda of most anti-hate speech advocates.
Good thing Pat Robertson doesn't read the VC, you might have given him ideas.
2.1.2006 9:24pm
Commenterlein (mail):
The caricatures in question are seemingly not classified as hate speach in Denmark, France, and Germany, and all three countries have (to the best of my knowledge) hate-speach laws on their books. Hence it appears that the laws are in fact more narrow than you suggest, and there may well be a "darn good explanation for it". Somebody could google for it...
2.1.2006 9:32pm
Ciarand Denlane (mail) (www):
I can't speak as an advocate of outlawing hate speech, but I would imagine that one possible, though perhaps not persuasive, distinction would be between speech that expresses hatred for a person or group of persons on the one hand and, what the cartoons seem to be, speech that expresses dislike or hatred -- I'm not sure "hatred" is the right word for those cartoons, but I suppose I have to assume the point to focus on the potential distinction -- for ideas that a person or group has. Write why this post is wrong, and you are not attacking me personally even if your attack on the ideas is vilely phrased and incoherently reasoned, and would not be hate speech even if I do have an attachment to the brilliance of this post comparable to a Muslim's attachment to the prophet. Post instead that I'm a flat slob -- well, actually, you would be right with that -- post instead that I am a member of an inferior race, and the situation is arguably different. I'm not sure I'd attach different consequences, but I could see a potential argument.
2.1.2006 9:43pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Blasphemy laws don't get you out of trouble in cases like these. I was in England during the Salman Rushdie fatwa business (1988-9), and I found the British Left neatly divided: One half wanted to abolish the ban on blasphemy, while the other wanted it extended to all religions.
2.1.2006 9:45pm
Sara (mail) (www):
I posted one of the cartoons on my blog. Until I read this post, I did not see it as any kind of "hate" speech. In fact, I saw it as an educational tool meant to inform. Naive of me, I guess. But, when young men, on the promise of a harem full of virgins, blow up other people, I figure the responsible action is to inform the uninformed. The cartoon I posted is the one that says, "Stop, we're all out of virgins." I guess it is in the eye of the beholder's religious framework as I didn't realize the speaker in the cartoon was supposed to be Mohammed. I was thinking of Peter at the Pearly Gates. Duh!
2.1.2006 9:48pm
magoo (mail):
I don't believe in federal or state laws banning hate speech, but if I were the President of a private university like DePaul, I would ban displays like the affirmative action cookie stunt. I would explain to every student and faculty member that the university is a community of scholars, and that everyone is expected to respect the community as a whole and each of its members. Innovative thought would be encouraged, of course, but even provocative ideas would be exchanged with basic respect for each member of the university. I suspect that a similar bake sale would be cause for disciplinary action at West Point, where the mission includes preparing each member to trust and rely on every other member. That's the kind of university I would want to create, even absent a military mission. Any faculty member who delighted in such adolescent displays as "a clever bit of street theater" would be shown the door.
2.1.2006 9:57pm
CUA Law grad:
Re. your update. The plan to adopt a speech code at the law school at The Catholic University of America was, in fact, scuttled by a wily professor who suggested that, of course, the first provision of the code would ban taking the Lord's name in vain.
2.1.2006 9:58pm
Katherine (mail):
Why, exactly, do you consider blasphemy laws more compatible with free speech that hate speech laws?

(I'm against both, for hate crimes--the standard combo for American liberals, I believe.)
2.1.2006 9:58pm
Katherine (mail):
uh, for hate crimes laws. Against hate crimes.
2.1.2006 9:59pm
American advocates of hate speech codes darn well better give you their position as to caricatures of Mohammed in European newspapers? I don't follow.

By the way, I wonder if unflattering depictions of Mohammed are more, or less, offensive? After all, the rationale, as I understand it, is anti-idolatry. So the less appealing, the better?
2.1.2006 10:00pm
davidbernstein (mail):
Kevin, how does hoping they have a darn good explanation, and politely equesting they provide one (obviously voluntarily) translate into "darn well better give me" an explanation.

And Katherine, blasphemy laws are not, but they do provide a limiting principle. But if the principle in the line of thought reflected in the book I linked to is "hate speech should be banned because it makes people feel really bad, which is a real injuryy" then surely speech that absolutely infuriates, enrages, and upsets hundreds of millions of Muslims should also be banned.
2.1.2006 10:09pm
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
Unfortunately, there is such a huge discrepancy in the way different people look at the world, that it's probably impossible to come up with distinctions that people can agree on.

If it were up to me, I think I could come up with perfectly rational distinctions -- I would say that criticisms of particular viewpoints can never be called "hate speech," whereas the irrational vilification of a group of people does. In 99% of cases, I don't think I'd have a hard time making the distinction. But of course, a random sampling of people would come out completely differently than me.

For instance, to me, much of fundamentalist Christianity itself constitutes "hate speech," in that it praises that idea that a lot of people are going to hell. But, of course, fundamentalist Christians may well call that comment hate speech in itself. I don't think that makes me wrong, or my concept of hate speech wrong or unenforcable, but obviously it wouldn't get far in this culture.

So you're probably right in thinking that we couldn't come up with a universal standard that humanity could embrace. In the abstract, though, and in a particular culture, I'm not sure it's inherently wrong. Banning pro-nazi rallies in post-war Germany, for instance, would have made sense even if not related to the direct threat of violence.
2.1.2006 10:17pm
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
The irony is that if you read the Koran, it advocates extraordinary violence against infidels. In fact, I feel quite certain that there is no standard of hate speech that both the Koran and the Bible wouldn't violate in spades. Thus, my feeling is that "hate speech" is extremely misplaced when applied to criticism of religions, since religions tend to be extremely critical (understatement to the extreme) themselves.

Of course that doesn't apply to all religious people. And there is certainly a point at which criticism of a religion can become wholesale bigotry toward a particular religious group. The fact remains, though, that these holy books are filled with hate speech (for instance, the homosexuals shall be killed and their blood spilled upon them), so criminalizing criticism of religions is irony to the extreme.
2.1.2006 10:25pm
nk (mail) (www):
Burning a cross is not speech ... but whatever. The First Amendment has never been stronger than it is now, and America is a unique country in the history of the world with no more than coincidental relationship to the countries of origin of her inhabitants for that reason among many others. Yeah, if we wanted to live under European law, we would have stayed in Europe. And, likewise, Asia, Africa, and Australia. As for any people living in America who like those other continents' laws: Airplanes leave here everyday. Get on one.
2.1.2006 10:38pm
therut (mail):
How can an educated person believe that "fundamentalist"(the boogy word of the day) Christianty "praises the idea that a lot of people are going to hell". I can say I have never head such theology preached in any fundamentalist church I have attended. Since Christianity has been writtien about so much lately by leftist and the MSM I have learned that I am very,very skeptical of these groups saying anything that is true about any religion. Their remarks awlays show little knowledge of the subject they are comminting on. There is no "praise" in the bible that any one soul is going to hell. As a matter of fact there is great grief that any soul would wind up there.
2.1.2006 10:39pm
ChrisAllan (mail):
I was watching CNN tonight and they ran a story and the cartoon that the Joint Chiefs of Staff objected too because is showed a quadruple amputee and Rumsfeld stating that he was listing the man as a battle hardened case. During the same program CNN showed one of the cartoons of Muhammad (peace be upon him) BUT they blurred Muhammad's face. After a friend sent me a link to the original cartoons in question my opinion is that CNN et al are acting like a bunch of scared B****** (and yes I understand that the B word will offend some and I yes I illustrated the B word in the politically correct method to make a not so subtle point).
2.1.2006 10:43pm
Marcus1 (mail) (www):

As much as I'd like to explain fully, I don't want to divert the thread so much. I recognize that most Christians are nice people and not generally hateful, and don't think of Christianity in that way. Nevertheless, I consider the religion itself, in regard to the notion of hell, quite hateful. If I worshipped a god that I said was going to condemn all Christians to be tortured for eternity, I could be sad about it, but I think most people would still consider it hate speech.

My main point, as it relates to the discussion, though, is simply that what is hate speech to one person isn't necessarily to another. And I suppose also that if someone tells me I'm going to hell, he can be sad about it, but it still takes a little chutzpah to then tell me I can't criticize the idea.
2.1.2006 10:55pm
Justin (mail):
Squiggler, that's the funniest blog I've ever seen a fellow liberal write. I thought it was serious for a second and a half.
2.2.2006 12:02am
Justin (mail):
Squiggler = Sara, sorry.
2.2.2006 12:02am
Freddy Hill (mail):
I believe that the original free speech-limitation laws in Europe were very narrowly focused. Germany started by banning the public display of Nazi paraphernalia. A law threatening jail to holocaust-deniers soon followed. As I remember it, this was backed by some Jewish advocacy groups. Later on, less specific hate speech laws were used to order the arrest of Oriana Fallaci in Switzerland and to sue her in Italy and France for her views on Islam. Descending further into farce, an italian priest was supposedly sued for claiming that Jesus actually existed (apparently under a law that punishes "abuse of popular belief", among other things).

It seems to me that hate speech laws are particularly apt to fall victim of slippery slope considerations because hate speech is so hard to define.

How well do they work in practice? I tried to find a reference to my recollection that the German laws on Holocaust denial were backed by Jewis groups. I learned this: To google "holocaust denial" is to plunge headfirst into the sewers of the internet. I need a shower.
2.2.2006 12:13am
Wintermute (www):
Doesn't it depend on WHERE you burn the cross?

Bans on offensive speech offend me.

Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out!

-- Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 18:9 [I got links to look these handy rhetorical pluses up in a flash])

I hate hate speech laws. If there's one thing I can't tolerate, it's intolerance. Just sign me

-- Hugo Black
2.2.2006 12:43am
Alan K. Henderson (mail) (www):

Of course, you can bring back blasphemy laws, which coexisted with freedom of speech for decades in the U.S. But I don't get the sense that bringing back blasphemy laws is on the agenda of most anti-hate speech advocates.

2.2.2006 12:53am
Great post. Just wanted to correct one statement you made:

"But I don't get the sense that bringing back blasphemy laws is on the agenda of most anti-hate speech advocates."

I'm sure that this stereotype of "anti-hate speech advocates" as fans of the enlightenment, secularism, and human rights has some basis in truth. It may even have been an accurate description of anti-hate speech advocates back in the 70s. But as you know, it is the contemporary left in Britain and other places that are at the forefront of making blasphemy illegal. (I believe that in Britain it is now civil offense, but in Syria and other left-allied countries blasphemy is punishable by death).

Even in the United States important bands in the rainbow coalition of the left (For example, the theocratic CAIR) are proponents of a Sharia state in the United States. As I understand the gameplan of American Islam, after they conquer us not only would hate speech be banned, but blasphemy as well.
2.2.2006 1:54am
jpaulg (mail):
A very simplistic example:

Religion A believes that if you do not accept Person X as your saviour you are destined to go to hell
Religion B believes that if you do not accept Person Y as the true prophet you are destined to go to hell.

How can members of religion A or B discuss their beliefs about accepting their version of religion or suffereing damnation without violating hate laws?
2.2.2006 2:47am
Bottomfish (mail):
What is called "hate speech" does after all express ideas, just as surely as most speech expresses ideas. The only difference between hate speech, as the Europeans and liberals of this example seem to define it, and acceptable speech is in the kind of ideas expressed. Among our elite, some ideas, such as rabid anti-Americanism, are acceptable, and can always be expressed without censure no matter how offensively. Hence the accepted position on burning the American flag. Other ideas, specifically those expressing racial or religious antagonism, are not acceptable in any form. Therefore any speech even suggesting them is condemned. There is no general motivation for finding a neutral principle because the real issue for the liberal elite of our society is not speech but the underlying ideas.

What I have said seems to me obvious and I am slightly embarassed for adding so little to the discussion. But people keep avoiding the obvious.
2.2.2006 3:30am
Frank Drackman (mail):
Cartoonists should not draw disrespectful images of Muhammed. It will give radical Islamists excuses to fly jets into buildings and chop off womens heads with huge swords.
2.2.2006 6:46am
tin foil cap (mail):
Some of these cartoons are spot on:

2.2.2006 8:50am
ChrisAllan (mail):
Frank Drackman,

Have you seen the cartoons?

And most of the time they don't use "huge swords" it's more of a really big butcher knife.
2.2.2006 9:48am
Tflan (mail):
Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names (or cartoons) can never hurt me.

More fundamentally, this has to do with people placing more emphasis on things than people, which is generally contrary to the West and certainly the US. Remember, this is the same culture that rioted, and I believe a good number of people were trampled, because an object supposedly was placed in a toilet. Can you imagine Americans rioting because someone put a Bible in the toilet? Very few, if any, would, and the rest of us would rightly mock them.
People are entitled to whatever belief system they desire, but it sure is good evidence that we (the West) have no business being engaged with them.
Leave them to embrace honor killings and reject freedom of the press.
2.2.2006 9:58am
Houston Lawyer:
Hate speech laws are designed to suppress the free speech of certain individuals based upon the content of their expressions. If you support hate speech laws, you must support blasphemy laws. To do otherwise would be intellectually dishonest. Your position must be that you are only going to suppress the hate speech you dislike, and allow all hate speech you like.
2.2.2006 11:11am
Deoxy (mail):
"If I worshipped a god that I said was going to condemn all Christians to be tortured for eternity, I could be sad about it, but I think most people would still consider it hate speech."

Then the "most people" you know are an entirely different set of "most people" that I know. "Most people" would say something like, "Uh, OK. Whateverr floaats your boat."

Physicists believe people who step off hig cliffs will fall, most likely to their deaths. In fact, they will state this belief publicly to anyone who asks them. Does it make them "hateful" to people who step off high cliffs?

Go look up "hate" in the dictionary. Now tell me why, as concerns being "hateful", what I just said about physicists believing people will die if they step off of high cliffs is different from members of a religion believing that people who don't believe in their religion are going to hell (and the 2 largest religions in the world both believe that).

Whether or not you "hate" someone is completely irrelevant to what you believe the results of certain actions will be.

As far as it goes, Chrstians are commanded to love everyone; the reason to be sad about people going to hell is that hell is a bad place to go, which you wouldn't want to happen to anyone you love. God, as defined by Christianity, loves everyone and does NOT want them to go to hell, hence the sacrifice of Jesus to allow people an opportunity to AVOID hell. Whatever else it may be (untrue, deep-seated psychosis, just plain stupid, whatever you believe), it certainly isn't "hate".
2.2.2006 11:50am
Anderson (mail) (www):
I gotta say, folks, cartoons are not the "hate speech" I'd be worried about:
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) - Armed militants angered by a cartoon drawing of the Prophet Muhammad published in European media surrounded EU offices in Gaza on Thursday and threatened to kidnap foreigners as outrage over the caricatures spread across the Islamic world.
I realize this means that I'm agreeing with DB on an issue, but so be it.
2.2.2006 12:15pm
karrde (mail) (www):
As an interesting commentary on what "hate speech" laws in Britain do, look at this post:

Permission to Speak, sir?

The blog it appears on is a libertarian blog published by a group of people in England.

As for the comments about hate-speech laws becoming a slippery slope, I oppose most hate-speech laws for that reason.

On the other hand, there is the well-known example of shouting "FIRE!" in a crowded theater in a way that causes panic. There are probably analogous actions--racist demagoguery to an angry, militant mob just outside of the ghetto, for example.

But publishing cartoons in a newspaper? Having a debate about the sticky points of adoption of young boys by a homosexual couple on the radio? Voicing an opinion about the morality and health of homosexual behavior on the radio?

These things don't appear to directly incite violence in the way previously defined by the "FIRE!" case. Yet they are now falling under hate-speech laws in Britain.

Is there a clearly-discernable line between academic debate, humorous cartooning, and violence-prone demagoguery?
2.2.2006 12:36pm
Humble Law Student:
I have a great idea for my next piece of art. A picture of Mohammed in a jar full of urine. I wonder if I would be censured?

Wasn't too much of problem for most people when that picture was Jesus...

(btw, fyi, I'm not actually advocating doing that, just using it to illustrate a point.)
2.2.2006 1:55pm
It seems to me that in order to have a law against blasphemy, you first have to clearly define what, exactly, constitutes both (a) a religion and (b) blasphemy against any given religion. The implications of a secular Western government attempting to define these things, let alone in the context of crafting a uniform law that would apply equally to all, are enough to make one's head spin. To name a few:

1) A universal definition of blasphemy that applies to all religions (which would presumably be the de rigeur approach for a secular society) leaves open two questions: (1a) What if the religion in question has a different standard for blasphemy than the one codified in the law? (1b) Would the law apply to cults as well as full-fledged religions (and if not, how would the law distinguish between the two)? What's to stop me from, say, starting a cult that worships my next-door-neighbor's chocolate Lab*, then pressing blasphemy charges against the same neighbor when he calls me a wacko for worshiping his dog?

2) Another approach would be to allow each religion to have its own standards for blasphemy, which the state would then enforce. Obviously there you run smack into the church-state "wall of separation." Also, you're left with a law which, by its nature, cannot be uniformly applied, and which would imply a separate set of legal precedents for each religion. Last, but not least, there's still nothing to prevent me to accuse my next-door neighbor of blasphemy when he calls me a wacko for worshiping his dog.*

3) A third approach is for the anti-blasphemy law to specify the religions that it covers. Unless my pooch-worshiping cult* is specified in the law, that at least shields my neighbor from prosecution. Still, by explicitly stating which religions are covered it violates church-state separation even more egregiously than example (2) above. And you can bet that the followers of any religion that isn't specified in the law will pitch quite a fit.
*For those tho haven't already figured it out: That stuff about me starting a cult to worship my neighbor's dog... that was all an illustrative hypothetical. (My next-door neighbor doesn't even have a dog. How's that for blasphemy?)
2.2.2006 1:55pm
Mike Moore (mail):
I see the face of a jew as the face of God. I do not like the belief of muslims in their respect to Mohammed that a simple caricature of the prophet is blasphemy, yet, the fact that we should speak evil of no man - is religion in one of its purest forms and not law. Freedom of speech is truly bound when we use it maliciously. What a great conflagration a little mis-use of the tongue or printed-page kindles. To legislate this, however, is tyranny of the worst sort!
2.2.2006 4:13pm
David Matthews (mail):
CNN actually blurred the cartoonist's depiction of Mohammed's face? Was this to protect his identity? Or wouldn't he sign a release?

Somehow this all reminds me of when NASA apologized to the Navajo Nation for launching Gene Shoemaker's ashes to the moon. Story here.

I mean, while it's true that the US government swiped a lot of good San Juan River bottomland from the Navajos, and probably siphoned off or failed to collect billions of dollars in royalties on resources and pipelines over the years, I haven't found a legal claim to the Moon by the Navajo Nation. So if it isn't theirs, why should their religion dictate its treatment? (Although I suppose a better case could be made here for "not giving offense," since NASA is a government agency.)

Same thing with the cartoons. I suppose if the Muslim Times published these cartoons, there'd be a legitimate beef, but I don't think that any of these papers are owned by Muslims. So what moral or ethical claim (much less legal claim) do they have over the content of the papers?
2.2.2006 5:19pm
Porkchop (mail):

What's to stop me from, say, starting a cult that worships my next-door-neighbor's chocolate Lab*, then pressing blasphemy charges against the same neighbor when he calls me a wacko for worshiping his dog?

I find the casual use of the informal, "Lab," in reference to the noble Labrador retriever breed to be blasphemous and disrespectful. And who are you calling a "cult"?
2.2.2006 10:47pm
Alan K. Henderson (mail) (www):
A key element of religious co-tolerance is that people who disagree on critical eternal issues (like salvation) do not necessarily disagree on critical temporal issues (like the basic rule of civilization: respecting the right of all to live free from murder, assault, and theft). The more threatening protests in Europe tell us that a lot of people are on the wrong side of civlization.
2.3.2006 12:44am
Marcus1 (mail) (www):

The Rev. Fred Phelps believes that God hates homosexuals and that they are all going to hell. He likes to picket the funerals of individuals he believes are going to hell, in order to jolt others into realizing that if they act similarly, they will go to hell too.

Is that hate or love?

People make fun of cults when they're small, but if there were a whole lot of people preaching ferverently that the almighty god is soon going to descend and slash all Christians to pieces, I think many people might start to sing a different tune.
2.3.2006 1:38pm