Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Mohammed cartoons and freedom of speech

As indicated in a prior post, I am quite concerned with the violent response to the publication of certain cartoons by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. Several of the cartoons were critiques of fundamentalist, militant Islam, like the now-famous illustration of Mohammed wearing a bomb-shaped turban. Some of them were surely offensive to Muslims.

However, the offensiveness of the cartoons has no bearing on whether or not the newspaper had the right to publish them.

Part of the price of living in a free society is that one must be prepared to tolerate the expression of views you find objectionable or offensive. Only when we are all willing to tolerate other people's opposing and/or offensive views can any of us really be free. Even the most offensive speech must be allowed expression. The classic example of this is a march by the white supremacist/Neo-Nazi group, National Socialist Party of America, through the streets of the predominantly Jewish Chicago suburb of Skokie, Illinois. The American Civil Liberties Union defended the right of the Neo-Nazis to march through Skokie in a case called Collin v. O'Malley, and the courts ruled that the Village of Skokie could not prevent the National Socialist Party of America from marching there.

It is easy to defend the speech that you agree with, but the legal protection of free speech is necessary to protect our rights from infringement by those who disagree with us. Even if some of the controversial cartoons were patently offensive, they are no less deserving of the protection of free expression.

This idea--that the rights of an unpopular minority are to be protected from encroachment by a majority--is the cornerstone of a free society.

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