Limits of Free Speech

The producer of a film that denigrates the prophet Muhammad is being investigated by the LA police to determine whether he has violated the terms of his parole. According to those terms, he is supposed to stay away from the Internet, something that he has not done. His movie is now the proximate cause of demonstrations across the Middle East.

The script adviser on the movie says that he will defend his First Amendment rights to the death, claiming that he was standing up for those rights in helping to make the movie.

I support the right to free speech, even hate speech, despite detesting speech of that type. There is a line which people should not cross when exercising that right. If your speech is likely to inflame or exacerbate violence to the point that there is damage to property or person, it is preferable that one not indulge in that speech. It is true, of course, that people become sensitive about many things, and for the most part, that is part and parcel of presenting comment or opinion. It is patently obvious that depictions of Muhammad are offensive to Muslims, and that some will use this as an excuse to commit acts of violence, especially against Westerners. In the interests of safety and security, it is better that we not inflame violence.

There is much to criticize in some Islamic culture, especially the treatment of women, and we should strongly condemn the manner in which those societies treat their women. Instead of leveling our efforts at the iconography of religious belief, we should concentrate on creating societies that embrace human rights, respect for all life, the improving of conditions for all people. This really ought to be the essence of religious, or any spiritual perspective, not an excuse for discrimination, exploitation and violence.

Google has refused to retract the movie from their YouTube website, citing free speech rights and the movies adherence to their code of conduct. While it is laudable that they support the right to speech, this movie is causing violent demonstrations and murders around the Middle East. The morally correct thing to do is to withdraw the movie from circulation.

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