Ambassador’s murder fuels calls for hate-speech bans

Peter Spiro of Temple, one of the more prominent international-law specialists in the legal academy, claims that the killing of U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens in Libya, following demonstrations over a video produced by private U.S. citizens denouncing Mohammed, “bolsters” the case for free-speech laws by adding a foreign-policy rationale, and warns that on matters of unfettered speech (“The First Amendment? Call me a relativist”) “international law is going … in a different direction than we are.” [Opinio Juris] (Later news reports suggest that the Benghazi attack, though taking advantage of a mob demonstration for cover, was in fact a well-planned paramilitary operation.) Meanwhile, a religious-studies professor has proposed arrest of the offending filmmaker, even though “If there is anyone who values free speech, it is a tenured professor!” [Anthea Butler (U. Penn.), USA Today] And here’s the background climate of opinion at the United Nations. More: Ken White/Salon, and Alana Goodman/Commentary on the elusive “Sam Bacile.”

More: Eugene Volokh traces how Prof. Spiro and Prof. Harold Koh — now top State Department legal adviser — propose to use international law to adjust First Amendment norms toward those prevailing elsewhere.

Further from Volokh (“I think such suppression would likely lead to more riots and more deaths, not less.”) and more (modernist views often vulnerable to being characterized as an “intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others”), and Ken at Popehat (“We can’t cave on this in the face of demands that we censor. We can’t. Today it’s bigoted videos. Tomorrow it’s any representation whatsoever of Mohammed.”)


  • Don’t care about the UN’s opinion, or anyone else’s, for that matter. The subject of my free speech is not up for negotiation. Ever.

  • This is curious. The internet is liquid free speech. I dont see any such law as actionably preventative in the future. I think more good comes from freedom of speech and the internet than bad — so much so I dont see internet censorship in the future. So Should we expect to see the enforcement of these laws as punishing lawbreakers IF they are caught?

  • Before running off to arrest and prosecute “Sam Bacile” as urged by Univ. Penn. Assoc. Prof. of Religious Studies Anthea Butler, perhaps she could answer the questions posed by Alana Goodman in “Who is ‘Sam Bacile’?”, To paraphrase the Prez., it’s best to have all the facts before you shoot yourself in the hip and lead with your behind – and he should know — it’s wrong to call an inappropriate apology and an inappropriate apology even when its retracted because it was an inappropriate apology.

    And, Prof. Butler – what about the people who actually committed the murders? I don’t see anything in your piece calling for prosecuting or otherwise dealing with them. Is Rendition OK? Can we send them to Gitmo? Or, are we limited to blasting them and their families with a Drone-fired Hellfire Missile?

  • Once again religiosity triumphs over common sense.

  • What about what the President of Iran said at the UN calling America the Great Satan, or some such thing? Is that somehow more politically correct and acceptable? — What about Andres Serrano and his “Piss Christ” depicting a statue of Jesus on the cross submerged in a jar of the artist’s urine, sponsored in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, a US government institution (according to Wilipedia)? — And finally, what about the dead Americans who had their lives stolen from them here? Maybe some people need to learn to control their anger and refrain from thinking thay have a “right” to inflict their outrage on any easy taret within range. Maybe some people took a giant leap from being victims to being criminals here.

  • Yes I agree with this last statement fully 100%.

    What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

    I think there are people stirring the world up for war

  • It is ironic that the great beneficiaries of free speech, academics, are the first to call for the curtailment of free speech. Free speech for me but not for thee!

  • that darn Constitution is nothing but trouble from the first freedom.

  • Tenured professors who are social liberals value free speech for tenured professors who are social liberals.

  • I also beleive that national security risks should take over form free speech where it endangers others lives of the country going to war

  • I think people often overreact in the heat of the moment. If you didn’t do this on some level – if only in your own mind – after 9/11, raise your hand.

  • … this trial has shown that under the stress of a national crisis, men – even able and extraordinary men – can delude themselves into the commission of crimes and atrocities so vast and heinous as to stagger the imagination. No one who has sat through this trial can ever forget. The sterilization of men because of their political beliefs… The murder of children… How *easily* that can happen! There are those in our country today, too, who speak of the “protection” of the country. Of “survival”. The answer to that is: *survival as what*? A country isn’t a rock. And it isn’t an extension of one’s self. *It’s what it stands for, when standing for something is the most difficult!


    I stand for the constitution and the Bill of Rights.


  • I concur with the other posters here.

    Would-be censors point out the artistic and scholarly worthlessness of the video clip in question. It is common knowledge, however, that if we grant the jihadists censorship here, they will then demand we censor more accurate and substantive criticism.

    I am not so unyielding on protecting “symbolic speech,” however. A year or two ago, some publicity-seeking Florida reverend was proposing to burn a Qur’an on camera. After intense behing-the-scenes pressure, he was persuaded to back off. If he had not, I would have favored blocking him from “inciting a riot.”

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