Wednesday, June 11, 2008

America - Standing Alone on Free Speech

The International Herald Tribune, commenting on a hearing of the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, today contrasted Americans' First Amendment right to free speech with the surprising lack of similar freedom in the rest of the world.  The piece specifically focused on Canada's hate speech laws as they are being applied to a Maclean's magazine article titled "The Future Belongs to Islam."  Muslim plaintiff's have sued Maclean's for subjecting them to "hatred and ridicule."  They want compensation and a published rebuttal in the magazine.

That couldn't happen in the United States of America, at least not now, thanks to the First Amendment.  This constitutional protection extends to all speech, including politically incorrect speech and especially to speech critical of public policy and not well liked by government officials.

Unfortunately for those not fortunate enough to live here, the United States seems to stand alone.  As the article points out, "Canada, Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa, Australia and India all have laws or have signed international conventions banning hate speech."

Though such bans may sound good to some on the surface, the devil is in the details and, specifically, the definitions.  Who gets to decide what "hate speech" is or is not?  That's right, the government.  Doesn't the ability to suppress speech it doesn't like by calling it hate-filled leave governments a short step from totalitarianism?  Of course.

It doesn't seem like Canadians see it this way, though, a lawyer for the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association is quoted by the IHT as saying that "Canadians do not have a cast-iron stomach for offensive speech."  (Offensive to whom, I must ask.)  The lawyer continued, "[Canadians] don't subscribe to a marketplace of ideas.  Americans as a whole are more tough-minded and more prepared for verbal combat."  Thankfully so!  It is difficult to imagine a free society lasting long without a marketplace of ideas.

Mark Steyn, who wrote the Maclean's article in question, is quoted to conclude IHT's piece today:  "Western governments are becoming increasingly comfortable with the regulation of opinion.  The First Amendment really does distinguish the U.S., not just from Canada but from the rest of the Western world."

Despite all of our problems, when it comes to freedom of speech at least, America remains a lonely but shining city on a hill.


Latinmassgirl said...

Very good post. Europe is not a place I would want to live!

I wish more people would become aware of the dangers of the hate crime laws.

I am very frustrated that Democrats keep trying to enact "Hate Crime Laws". They chip away at our freedom, giving more rights to the "privileged" who are deemed so by the liberals.

This only sends the message that if you are a white heterosexual male, you are free game for criminals!

St. Louis Conservative said...

Laws used to - and still should - regulate actions, not motivations. We don't need thought police.

And thanks for the compliment.