When Offending Others Becomes Criminal



free-speechJonathan Turley, a professor of public interest law at George Washington University, wrote an op/ed earlier this week that I think is spot on for the most part.  He expressed concern over the increasing criminalization of certain kinds of speech.  He wrote:

Magisterial District Judge Mark Martin was hearing a case in which an irate Muslim stood accused of attacking an atheist, Ernest Perce, because he was wearing a “Zombie Muhammad” costume on Halloween. Although the judge had “no doubt that the incident occurred,” he dismissed the charge of criminal harassment against the Muslim and proceeded to browbeat Mr. Perce. Judge Martin explained that such a costume would have led to Mr. Perce’s execution in many countries under sharia, or Islamic law, and added that Mr. Perce’s conduct fell “way outside your bounds of First Amendment rights.”

…Western nations appear to have fallen out of love with free speech and are criminalizing more and more kinds of speech through the passage of laws banning hate speech, blasphemy and discriminatory language. Ironically, these laws are defended in the name of tolerance and pluralism.

….Most democratic constitutions strive not to allow the majority to simply dictate conditions and speech for everyone — the very definition of what the framers of the U.S. Constitution called tyranny of the majority. It was this tendency that led John Adams to warn: “Democracy … soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

…Judge Martin’s comments are disturbing because they reflect the same emerging view of the purpose and, more important, the perils of free speech. Judge Martin told Ernest Perce that “our forefathers” did not intend the First Amendment “to piss off other people and cultures.” Putting aside the fact that you could throw a stick on any colonial corner and hit three people “pissed off” at Thomas Paine or John Adams, the First Amendment was designed to protect unpopular speech. We do not need a First Amendment to protect popular speech.

He contrasted free speech with religion which is an appropriate contrast with the primary illustration in his article.  We are also seeing religious free speech come under fire in Canada, in the United Kingdom and even here in the United States in the name of tolerance as well.  Recently we had a law passed that allows the Secret Service to restrict free speech.  We are seeing free speech die a slow death at the hands of political correctness and homosexual rights.

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