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Earlier this month, former actress Brigitte Bardot was fined 15,000 Euro by a French court for “inciting racial or religious hatred” for a letter she wrote opining that Muslims were destroying France. Just this week, Macleans, Canada’s most popular newsmagazine, went on trial for an article it published stating that the growing Muslim population is threatening the West.
Odd? Not really. Around the world, lawsuits such as these are common. Many developed nations, like the United Kingdom, have laws prohibiting hate speech or any other forms of racially or religiously insensitive expression.
In the United States, however, such speech is protected by our Constitution under the First Amendment. The Ku Klux Klan can freely march down public streets. One can question the tenets of a religion or call others derogatory names and there isn’t much anybody can do about it (legally, at least). The few prohibitions on free speech in the United States are against slander, libel, sedition, and obscenity, for example.
However, in the wake of September 11th and the war in Iraq, some argue we should stray from our well-established First Amendment jurisprudence and follow the rest of the world by outlawing all forms of hate speech and racially or religiously insensitve expression. Admittedly, such speech has the potential to incite riots or fuel hatred. But at the same time, there are better ways to deal with such speech than impose a blanket outlaw. At the end of the day, though, a free exchange of ideas will show the frailty of such thoughts of censorship.
- Matt Malone
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