America: Lone Beacon of Free Speech
VANCOUVER, British Columbia: A couple of years ago, a Canadian magazine published an article arguing that the rise of Islam threatened Western values. The article’s tone was mocking and biting, but it said nothing that conservative magazines and blogs in the United States did not say every day without fear of legal reprisal.While traditionally political liberals have favored free speech, that support has clearly flagged -- as anybody surveying the academic scene today can see -- as liberals and leftists have gained the power to shut up speech they don’t like.
Things are different here. The magazine is on trial.
Under Canadian law, there is a serious argument that the article contained hate speech and that its publisher, Maclean’s magazine, the nation’s leading newsweekly, should be forbidden from saying similar things, forced to publish a rebuttal and made to compensate Muslims for injuring their “dignity, feelings and self respect.”
The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, which held five days of hearings on those questions in Vancouver last week, will soon rule on whether Maclean’s violated a provincial hate speech law by stirring up animosity toward Muslims.
As spectators lined up for the afternoon session last week, an argument broke out.
“It’s hate speech!” yelled one man.
“It’s free speech!” yelled another.
In the United States, that debate has been settled. Under the First Amendment, newspapers and magazines can say what they like about minority groups and religions - even false, provocative or hateful things - without legal consequence.
Canada, Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa, Australia and India all have laws or have signed international conventions banning hate speech. Israel and France forbid the sale of Nazi items like swastikas and flags. It is a crime to deny the Holocaust in Canada, Germany and France.
Last week, the actress Brigitte Bardot, an animal rights activist, was fined €15,000, or $23,000, in France for provoking racial hatred by criticizing a Muslim ceremony involving the slaughter of sheep.
By contrast, U.S. courts would not stop the American Nazi Party from marching in Skokie, Illinois, in 1977, though the march was deeply distressing to the many Holocaust survivors there.
Some prominent legal scholars say the United States should reconsider its position on hate speech.The articles further notes:
“It is not clear to me that the Europeans are mistaken,” Jeremy Waldron, a legal philosopher, wrote in The New York Review of Books last month, “when they say that a liberal democracy must take affirmative responsibility for protecting the atmosphere of mutual respect against certain forms of vicious attack.”
Many foreign courts have respectfully considered the U.S. approach - and then rejected it.So if you want to shut up somebody, all you have to do is explain that their speech isn’t compatible with “equality” or “multiculturalism.”
A 1990 decision from the Canadian Supreme Court, for instance, upheld the criminal conviction of James Keegstra for “unlawfully promoting hatred against an identifiable group by communicating anti-Semitic statements.” Keegstra, a teacher, had told his students that Jews are “money loving,” “power hungry” and “treacherous.”
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Robert Dickson said there was an issue “crucial to the disposition of this appeal: the relationship between Canadian and American approaches to the constitutional protection of free expression, most notably in the realm of hate propaganda.”
Dickson said, “There is much to be learned from First Amendment jurisprudence.” But he concluded that “the international commitment to eradicate hate propaganda and, most importantly, the special role given equality and multiculturalism in the Canadian Constitution necessitate a departure from the view, reasonably prevalent in America at present, that the suppression of hate propaganda is incompatible with the guarantee of free expression.”
The problem, of course, is that hate speech laws will never be enforced in an even handed way.
Politically correct groups (Muslims, homosexuals) will be protected, but disfavored groups (Christians, capitalists) will occupy a free fire zone. The Bill Mahers of the world will never have anything to fear.
And the political left will define who is politically correct. Just as on university campuses.