What Kind of Speech Needs Protection? September 30, 2010

What Kind of Speech Needs Protection?

The Center for Inquiry recently held a video contest for their Campaign for Free Expression. Today, on International Blasphemy Rights Day, they announced their winner — and it’s a great pick:

Center for Inquiry (CFI) is pleased to announce that Gregory Walsh and John Schmid of Maryland are the Grand Prize winners of its Campaign for Free Expression Video Contest, which asked contestants to submit short videos in the form of a public service announcement that addresses the importance of free expression. The Grand Prize provides Messrs. Walsh and Schmid with a cash award of $2000.

I’ve worked with Greg Walsh before and the award couldn’t have gone to a nicer guy. His point is no surprise to a lot of atheists — but it’s one we need to keep repeating: Speech should not be censored because it’s unpopular. (That includes the right to criticize bad ideas, including religion.)

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Kickass, straightforward and to the point. I like that they picked what seem to be random slogans from random ends of the political spectrum to keep it from seeming like it’s from “the atheists” or “Christian nutjobs” or whoever. Everyone who watches that video is probably gonna see at least one sign they agree with and one they don’t. That does wonders towards keeping the message universal.

  • I’m always torn by this. Is it OK then for individuals (or media) to encourage acts of violence or hatred? I noticed one of the signs said that killing an abortion doctor is not a crime. When these ideas come into action, are we not responsible for them?

    I know we shouldn’t stop people from voicing differing opinions, but we 2PC people for saying “I want to kill me” or “I want to kill you”. Is it any more sane, any more safe, for people to be saying “I want you to kill _____” or “____ does not deserve to exist”?

    Do we protect bullying, harassment, and verbal violence as “free speech” in order to show that we’re tolerant of dissent?

  • Ron in Houston

    Nice job

    I really liked the black and white. Thought it was a very nice touch.

  • It’s plain and simple: we should all have the right to say whatever we want, so long as it doesn’t infringe upon the rights of anybody else.

    Basically, calling for violence infringes upon the right to live of whomever the violence is called again. Yelling out “Fire!” in a movie theater infringes upon the rights of people in that theater by causing hysteria and rampant fear and a possible situation resulting in injuries or even death (trampling).

    And I’m talking real rights, not the so-called “right” to not be offended, or the imagined infringement of rights (such as false claims of persecution).

  • Um Yeah

    You can say what you want but just be ready for the consequences…

  • Staceyjw

    Just as much as the legal right to free expression and speech, is support for those who are putting their lives on the line by speaking out. I have posted about this before, but it seems fitting to mention it again. We need to support people like Molly Norris, who had to go into hiding, or Lars, who had to hire security and had his house firebombed. If these brave people have to stand alone, and shoulder the entire burden (it’s financially devastating as well as emotionally stressful), pretty soon no one will be willing to make the sacrifice of speaking out, and the right to free speech will be meaningless. I think a non profit providing material support for those who have found themselves under a fatwah or otherwise threatened for speaking out, would be a good start. I’m no organizer, but I am thinking of getting one started via Kickstarter. anyone with any ideas can email me, I wi ll need all the help I can get.

  • Miko

    The right to criticize “good” ideas is far more important that the right to criticize bad ideas, as almost no one supports prohibiting speech against an idea that they consider bad.

    As H.L. Mencken put it: “The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.”

  • @Kate

    I think you are equating speech and action. If you to kill your mother, and you do it, who is responsible for the act?

    Words and thoughts are just that, words and thoughts. Actions you can be held accountable for. Speech is free.

  • Dave

    If you want a test of how far you think free speech should go, read the case facts of the upcoming Supreme Court case to be argued in October “Snyder v. Phelps.” Then come back and say you support all forms of free speech… its harder to do.

  • sailor

    There is more than one issue here. Freedom of speech is one thing, invasion of privacy is another. Phelps is and should be allowed to say “American soldiers get killed because of the US attitude to homosexuality” However that does not give him the right to say it anywhere (in a library where there is a silence rule for example). Nor does it allow him to stalk particular individuals and invade their privacy with signs and megaphones or whatever.
    There are always limits on free speech, but as long as you can publicly say what you want then your right to free speech is not being stopped.

  • Hitch

    I think it’s very good. It’s edgy and thought-provoking. Really what questioning blasphemy should be about.

  • keddaw

    It seems so simple, doesn’t it: unpopular speech should be protected.

    But in these days of protests over Koran burnings and 9/11 mosques it is harder to find people who truly support it. The refrain of “sure they have the right but we have the right to protest it” is true, but hardly fitting in a nation that values open free speech.

    It is for this reason that I not only support the right of both things mentioned but actively encouraged them to go ahead. It causes me no harm and causes them pleasure, presumably, so the world is a better place if they do it.

    NB. Offence [UK] doesn’t count as harm.

  • Dave


    I agree with you. But that is what this case on October 6th will be about. Does free speech trump freedom from religion? Invasion of privacy (phelps argues are a public figure)? Where is the Supreme Court going to draw the line? This was simply a public protest. Phelps did no stalking or invasion of privacy from a legal aspect. Should his speech be protected? If you read the briefs from both sides it is an interesting question.

  • muggle

    I’m almost always disappointed with the winners of these things. Am I the only one that thinks that sucked, was very lazily produced and went too far in speech it thought should be protected?

    I’m kind of with Kate and Dave, definitely Dave. Phelps needs to be stopped. As sailor further puts it, he has the right to say what he’s saying but not by disrupting soldiers funerals.

    Of course, it’s a ridiculous stretch to extend such limits to blasphemy or any other idea that is just an expression of speech. However, while we should be free to criticize Islam and draw pictures of Mohammed, we should not be free to harrass a particular mosque say by standing outside it with offensively worded signs or cartoons of Mohammed.

    And where exactly does inciting to riot, etc., kick in? I don’t think it should be an issue if someone says in anger at another person, oh, I could just strangle them. It’s an expression. We’ve probably all used it without meaning it. But that’s quite a different thing from shoot all abortion doctors or kill the cops.

    Every freedom has limits. We don’t have the free speech to show children pronography and we shouldn’t. We don’t have the free speech to yell fire in a crowded theater and we shouldn’t. We don’t have the free speech for false advertising, slander, libel, lying under oath, sexually harrassing the secretary and so on.

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable to curtail it when applied to people like Phelps or people listing doctor’s names on web sites calling for their death because they do abortions.

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