The furor spreading across the Middle East which President Obama is blaming on a dumb YouTube video doesn’t seem to be dying down anytime soon. The “controversy” has piqued the interest of liberals, including Slate’s Eric Posner who wonders if the United States “overvalues” the free speech rights enshrined in the Constitution’s First Amendment (emphasis mine):
The universal response in the United States to the uproar over the anti-Muslim video is that the Muslim world will just have to get used to freedom of expression. President Obama said so himself in a speech at the United Nations today, which included both a strong defense of the First Amendment and (“in the alternative,” as lawyers say) and a plea that the United States is helpless anyway when it comes to controlling information. In a world linked by YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, countless videos attacking people’s religions, produced by provocateurs, rabble-rousers, and lunatics, will spread to every corner of the world, as fast as the Internet can blast them, and beyond the power of governments to stop them. Muslims need to grow a thick skin, the thinking goes, as believers in the West have done over the centuries. Perhaps they will even learn what it means to live in a free society, and adopt something like the First Amendment in their own countries.
But there is another possible response. This is that Americans need to learn that the rest of the world—and not just Muslims—see no sense in the First Amendment. Even other Western nations take a more circumspect position on freedom of expression than we do, realizing that often free speech must yield to other values and the need for order. Our own history suggests that they might have a point.
Posner, who is a University of Chicago law professor (!!!) goes on to characterize our First Amendment rights as “uneasy, historically contingent compromises, and a half-century of judicial decisions addressing domestic political dissent and countercultural pressures.” He argues that government should have the ability to restrict the distribution of “a video that causes violence abroad and damages America’s reputation.”
Since when does a video cause violence? And to what end should the government have the ability to control such speech?
In attempting to settle this debate, Posner hearkens back to the days of Woodrow Wilson and the progressives’ crackdown on Socialist espionage and enactment of the Sedition Act, which outlawed criminal anarchy and “scurrilous” and “abusive” language. This line of thinking was okay with liberal leftists until the 1960s when they relied on such means to convey their anti-war message. It was at this point, then, that the Left argued for fewer restrictions on speech. And now we’re back to wanting more?
Posner eloquently exemplifies the flaws in modern liberalism and its limited protection of America’s traditional & constitutional values — Free speech is only free when liberals agree with it.
The anti-Muslim video, “by the admission of all sides, has no value whatsoever,” Posner concludes. And perhaps it doesn’t. But then again, if we’re going to start only protecting speech based on its “value,” MSNBC would’ve been off the air a loooong time ago. Instead, I’d argue that the real value of the anti-Islam video rests in this debate: How free is our freedom of speech?
I certainly don’t agree with the film, but I will always stand for the filmmakers’ right to make it.