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free speech

Harvard lawprof Noah Feldman on the Paris/Fox case: let government sue media for saying (or maybe even for letting guests say) wrong things about government. Sure, what could go wrong?

Related, and outrageous: Morgan State University (Baltimore) journalism school dean wants to classify religiously irreverent speech as “fighting words,” which would throw into doubt its legal protection [DeWayne Wickham, USA Today] More: Allahpundit, Taranto/WSJ, The College Fix; edited to reflect Wickham’s (non)-clarification of his stance in the last-named link).

P.S. Via @benjaminlam: “Today’s Straits Times [Singapore] carried Feldman’s article.”

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on January 22, 2015

  • Pennsylvania has passed that grotesque new law seeking to muzzle convicts from discussing crimes when “mental anguish” to victims could result. Time for courts to strike it down [Radley Balko, earlier]
  • “First Amendment challenge to broad gag order on family court litigants” [Eugene Volokh]
  • Federally funded Indiana U. program to monitor political opinion on Twitter didn’t much like being monitored itself by critics [Free Beacon, earlier (project "intensely if covertly political")]
  • Holocaust denial laws abridge the freedom of speech. Do they even accomplish their own aims? [Sam Schulman, Weekly Standard]
  • Is it defamatory to call someone a “censorious a**hat”? [Adam Steinbaugh, Eric Turkewitz, earlier on Roca Labs case]
  • We should take up a collection to translate Voltaire into French [Reason, Huffington Post on Dieudonne case, yesterday on talk of "Fox maligned Paris" suit]
  • Some would-be speech suppressers upset over Citizens United ruling also quite happy to drown out Justices’ speech [Mark Walsh, SCOTUSBlog] “Campaign finance censors lose debate to Reddit” [Trevor Burrus] Citizens United “probably the most misunderstood case in modern legal history.” [Ilya Shapiro]

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Imprécis sur le concept

by Walter Olson on January 15, 2015

France has arrested 54 persons “not… linked to the attacks” over alleged hate speech [AP, Matt Welch, earlier on wavering European commitment to free expression]

Bonus: “Knowledge starts as offendedness”: new Jonathan Rauch video interview for FIRE on free speech from the Salman Rushdie case to now.

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  • Boss Tweed, in legend, railing against cartoonists: “I don’t care so much what the papers write about — my constituents can’t read — but damn it, they can see pictures.” [David Boaz, Cato] “Jyllands-Posten Not Reprinting Charlie Hebdo Mohammed Cartoons Because ‘Violence Works'” [Ed Krayewski, Reason]
  • “Police Scotland will thoroughly investigate any reports of offensive or criminal behaviour online and anyone found to be responsible will be robustly dealt with.” That includes TV personalities’ tweets disparaging to Glasgow [BBC, Alex Massie/Spectator, Elizabeth Nolan Brown] More: Calls mount for repeal of Australia Section 18C speech-crime law, which would ban the French magazine Charlie Hebdo if someone tried to publish it down there [Australian, Sydney Morning Herald, earlier on Andrew Bolt case]
  • “Hate speech” concept got rolling when Stalin used it as weapon against democracies [Jacob Mchangama, Hoover, a while back] More on history of speechcrime: antebellum North (not just South) repressed abolitionist opinion, and how the great Macaulay erred on blasphemy law under the Raj [Sam Schulman, Weekly Standard, also a while back]
  • “Campaign Finance Laws Don’t Clean Up Politics, But Do Erode Our Freedom” [George Leef, Forbes]
  • In case against personal injury lawyer/legal blogger Eric Turkewitz, court rules that critical commentary about medical examiner is protected opinion [Turkewitz, Daniel Fisher/Forbes, Tim Cushing/TechDirt]
  • “It is unusual for Swedish courts to hand out prison terms for art works.” [The Guardian on Dan Park case]
  • Australian man arrested after loitering around campaigners of incumbent political party wearing “I’m with stupid” T-shirt [Guardian]

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Jonathan Turley in the Washington Post explores at more length a point I made briefly in my TIME opinion piece: to honor the slain cartoonists of Charlie-Hebdo, we should be lifting legal constraints on what their successors tomorrow can draw and write and say, rather than, as France and other countries have been doing in recent years, bringing it under tighter legal constraint in the name of equality and the prevention of offense:

Indeed, if the French want to memorialize those killed at Charlie Hebdo, they could start by rescinding their laws criminalizing speech that insults, defames or incites hatred, discrimination or violence on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity, nationality, disability, sex or sexual orientation. These laws have been used to harass the satirical newspaper and threaten its staff for years.

The numerous court actions brought against Charlie Hebdo by religious groups (as of 2011, organizations connected with the Catholic church had taken the magazine to court 13 times, Muslim groups once) are only the beginning:

[Other] cases have been wide-ranging and bizarre. In 2008, for example, Brigitte Bardot was convicted for writing a letter to then-Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy about how she thought Muslims and homosexuals were ruining France. In 2011, fashion designer John Galliano was found guilty of making anti-Semitic comments against at least three people in a Paris cafe. In 2012, the government criminalized denial of the Armenian genocide (a law later overturned by the courts, but Holocaust denial remains a crime). …Last year, Interior Minister Manuel Valls moved to ban performances by comedian Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala, declaring that he was “no longer a comedian” but was rather an “anti-Semite and racist.” It is easy to silence speakers who spew hate or obnoxious words, but censorship rarely ends with those on the margins of our society….

Recently, speech regulation in France has expanded into non-hate speech, with courts routinely intervening in matters of opinion. For example, last year, a French court fined blogger Caroline Doudet and ordered her to change a headline to reduce its prominence on Google — for her negative review of a restaurant.

Related: National Post and Jacob Gershman, WSJ Law Blog, on efforts to repeal Canada’s not-entirely-in-disuse blasphemy law; earlier here and here. And from Ireland, an urgent reason to repeal its own law of this sort: Muslim leader vows to “take legal advice if Irish publications …republish or tweet cartoons.” [Irish Times, Irish Examiner, Independent]

P.S. Graham Smith on Twitter: “What if every State represented in Paris today promised to repeal one law that restricts free speech?”

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Murder in Paris, cont’d

by Walter Olson on January 8, 2015

Time magazine invited me to write an opinion piece on yesterday’s lethal Islamist attack on the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie-Hebdo. (earlier here). Excerpt:

If you defend freedom of speech today, realize that “blasphemy” is its front line, in Paris and the world. …

Most of the prestige Western press dodged the running of the [Danish Mohammed] cartoons, and beneath the talk of sensitivity was often simple fear. As journalist Josh Barro noted today on Twitter, “Islamists have by and large succeeded in intimidating western media out of publishing images of Muhammad.” …

[On the modern European rise of laws against "defamation of religion" and related offenses]: One way we can honor Charb, Cabu, Wolinski, Tignous, and the others who were killed Wednesday is by lifting legal constraints on what their successors tomorrow can draw and write.

Also recommended, this thoughtful Ross Douthat column on blasphemy and religious offense. Douthat is not enthusiastic about blasphemy generally, but makes an exception for instances where it is done in defiance of grave dangers. “If a large enough group of someones is willing to kill you for saying something, then it’s something that almost certainly needs to be said … it’s precisely the violence that justifies the inflammatory content. … if publishing something might get you slaughtered and you publish it anyway, by definition you *are* striking a blow for freedom, and that’s precisely the context when you need your fellow citizens to set aside their squeamishness and rise to your defense.”

“So many of Charb’s fellow journalists have long been aware of these threats, and have said nothing,” writes Mark Hemingway in the Weekly Standard. Jytte Klausen, author of a book on the Danish cartoon episode, in Time: “Over the past five years, [the editors of Charlie-Hebdo] have been left alone standing in defense of press freedom.” And Alex Massie at The Spectator:

[The 1989 fatwa against Salman Rushdie] was a test too many people failed back then. We have learned a lot since then but in many ways we have also learned nothing at all.

In 2012, Rushdie wondered if any publisher would have the courage to endorse The Satanic Verses if it were written then. To ask the question was to sense the depressing answer. They would not.

As for the present day, CNN, NYT, AP, NBC, ABC, the BBC, Guardian, Telegraph, and the CBC, will *not* be running Charlie-Hebdo cartoons, though a number of American publications did so, including Daily Beast, Vox, and Bloomberg. No UK paper on Thursday morning runs the cartoons on its cover — though the Berliner-Zeitung in Germany publishes a full spread of them.

23 cartoonists respond [BuzzFeed]. Claire Berlinski’s firsthand account of the attack scene, and Charb’s now-famous “die standing” vow. Andrew Stuttaford at Secular Right on whether anything will now change in Europe’s slow constriction of free speech: he fears not (& Hans Bader, CEI).

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Murder at Charlie-Hebdo

by Walter Olson on January 7, 2015

JeSuisCharlie2

Had there been any doubt that the freedom of speech and expression of the West is under siege from violent Islamism, it ended in the scene at Paris satirical magazine Charlie-Hebdo, assaulted by Islamist gunmen in a siege that has left twelve dead. Early reports indicate careful planning: the attack took place during a morning staff meeting at which top talent had gathered, and the murderers are said to have been equipped with a list of artists whose work they deemed disrespectful of Islam. At least four leading French cartoonists were killed.

It is one of the darkest days of the new century so far for the cause of free expression. But it is far from an unexpected day. The portents have been building for years: in the way the Danish Jyllands-Posten cartoonists, like author Salman Rushdie before them, had to go into hiding over supposed blasphemy; in the 2011 firebombing of Charlie-Hebdo, covered by the Weekly Standard here; in the way the French government had repeatedly pressured Charlie-Hebdo not to, well, go so far in giving offense [The Guardian]. Even after today’s events, many Western broadcasters and publishers continue to pixilate or blur out the Charlie-Hebdo images — not the images of slaughter in Paris streets, but mere cartoon images of men in Middle Eastern garb.

And yes, fear has shaped the actions of publishers in the United States too. Where Charlie-Hebdo was courageous on the Mohammed cartoons, Yale University Press was oh so craven, as the late Christopher Hitchens pointed out in Slate [more: Guardian; note also the history of the online, mostly U.S.-originated "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day"]
TyrannyOfSilence
In a new Cato Institute book entitled The Tyranny of Silence: How One Cartoon Ignited a Global Debate on the Future of Free Speech, discussed at more length by Kat Murti at Cato at Liberty, Danish journalist Flemming Rose, who was at the center of the Motoons controversy, traces the grim aftermath of that controversy in the self-silencing of Western opinion. [more coverage here, as well as a Law and Liberty podcast]

The danger now is not that there will be no outpouring of solidarity and grief and indignation in coming days, in France and around the West. Of course there will. The danger is that after the Charlie-Hebdo story passes from the headlines and other stories take its place, writers and publishers and artists and thinkers in the West will adjust to a new reality of fear, stifling the output of their minds and pens and keyboards for fear of giving provocation. If they don’t adjust, there are legal, insurance, and risk advisors at publications and universities who will be willing to do it for them.

And maybe lawmakers as well. Already, blasphemy laws are back on the march in Europe, after many years in which it was assumed they were a relic of the past. They must go no further. The best way to show resolution is to remove, not add, legal penalties for speech that offends (some) religious sensibilities.

From journalist David Jack on Twitter:

A comment of mine, also on Twitter:

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on December 23, 2014

  • Long before North Korea “Interview” episode, Hollywood was caving repeatedly to power-wielders [Ron Maxwell, Deadline] Relevant: “A Tyranny of Silence,” new book by Danish-Muhammad-cartoons editor Flemming Rose published by Cato Institute [Kat Murti, earlier on the Danish cartoons, related Liberty and Law]
  • Score 1 for First Amendment, zero for Prof. Banzhaf as FCC rejects “Redskins” broadcast license attack [Volokh, earlier including the prof's comment on that post]
  • Court dismisses orthopedist’s defamation suit against legal blogger Eric Turkewitz [his blog]
  • “Hate speech” notions reach the Right? Author claims “justice” would mean incitement “charges” vs. liberal talkers [Ira Straus, National Review]
  • Wisconsin prosecutors said to have eyed using John Doe law to aim warrants, subpoenas at media figures Sean Hannity, Charlie Sykes [Watchdog] More: George Leef on California vs. Americans for Prosperity;
  • “British journalist sentenced for questioning death toll in Bangladeshi independence war” [Guardian] Pakistan sentences Bollywood actress Veena Malik to 26 years for acting in supposedly blasphemous TV wedding scene [The Independent] Erdogan regime in Turkey rounds up opposition media figures [Washington Post editorial]
  • “Is it a crime to say things that make someone ‘lack self-confidence in her relations with the opposite sex and about her body-build’?” [Volokh; Iowa Supreme Court, affirmed on other grounds]

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on November 19, 2014

  • “Court agrees that Google’s search results qualify as free speech” [Megan Geuss, ArsTechnica]
  • “Manassas detective in teen sexting case sues teen’s lawyer for defamation” [Washington Post]
  • Reports of SLAPP suit out of Chicago not quite as initially portrayed [Ken at Popehat]
  • Compelled-speech update: Lexington, Ky. anti-bias commission orders employee training for t-shirt maker that objected to printing gay-pride messages [Kentucky.com, earlier]
  • “NY high court says anti-cyberbullying law won’t pass First Amendment muster” [ABA Journal] New Arizona law against sending naked photos without subject’s consent could criminalize many sorts of speech [ACLU]
  • UK scheme to muzzle nonviolent “extremists” just as horrid as it sounds, cont’d [Brendan O'Neill/Reason, earlier] Political director of U.K. Huffington Post calls for “sanctions” for press outlets that engage in “dishonest, demonizing” coverage of Muslims, immigrants, and asylum seekers [Guardian]
  • SCOTUS should hear case re: right to engage in political advocacy without registering with government [Ilya Shapiro and Trevor Burrus, Cato; Vermont Right to Life Committee v. Sorrell]

“Theresa May, the Home Secretary, unveiled plans last month for so-called Extremism Disruption Orders, which would allow judges to ban people deemed extremists from broadcasting, protesting in certain places or even posting messages on Facebook or Twitter without permission.” Who’s an extremist? Funny you should ask. It’s not just preachers of violent jihad:

George Osborne, the Chancellor, has made clear in a letter to constituents that the aim of the orders would be to “eliminate extremism in all its forms” and that they would be used to curtail the activities of those who “spread hate but do not break laws”.

He explained that that the new orders, which will be in the Conservative election manifesto, would extend to any activities that “justify hatred” against people on the grounds of religion, sexual orientation, gender or disability.

He also disclosed that anyone seeking to challenge such an order would have to go the High Court, appealing on a point of law rather than fact.

An outcry has been arising from groups including both conservative Christians and atheists, both of whom suspect that their own controversial speech will be subject to restriction under the new rules. [Daily Telegraph; earlier]

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on October 29, 2014

George Will, hard-hitting but on target, on what happened to people who took the wrong side of the Wisconsin public-employee wars:

The early-morning paramilitary-style raids on citizens’ homes were conducted by law enforcement officers, sometimes wearing bulletproof vests and lugging battering rams, pounding on doors and issuing threats. Spouses were separated as the police seized computers, including those of children still in pajamas. Clothes drawers, including the children’s, were ransacked, cellphones were confiscated and the citizens were told that it would be a crime to tell anyone of the raids.

Earlier on the Wisconsin John Doe raids, including this Cato piece. More Will:

Chisholm’s aim — to have a chilling effect on conservative speech — has been achieved by bombarding Walker supporters with raids and subpoenas: Instead of raising money to disseminate their political speech, conservative individuals and groups, harassed and intimidated, have gone into a defensive crouch, raising little money and spending much money on defensive litigation. Liberal groups have not been targeted for their activities that are indistinguishable from those of their conservative counterparts.

Such misbehavior takes a toll on something that already is in short supply: belief in government’s legitimacy. The federal government’s most intrusive and potentially punitive institution, the IRS, unquestionably worked for Barack Obama’s reelection by suppressing activities by conservative groups. … Would the race between Walker and Democrat Mary Burke be as close as it is if a process susceptible to abuse had not been so flagrantly abused to silence groups on one side of Wisconsin’s debate? Surely not.

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Both houses of the Pennsylvania legislature have passed and sent to Gov. Tom Corbett a bill “allowing judges to issue injunctions, or grant any other ‘appropriate relief’ if there is ‘conduct’ by a criminal ‘offender’ that ‘perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim.” Such an effect is specified to include, though it is not limited to, a “temporary or permanent state of mental anguish.” The “revictimization remedy” bill, S. 508, is apparently aimed at providing a way to go after a much-cooed-over convicted cop-killer for delivering recorded speeches at college campuses, to the distress of the family of the policeman he shot; Paul Alan Levy describes the bill’s use of the word “conduct” as a “fig leaf” for its intent to restrict speech. What Levy calls the “exceptional breadth” of the bill’s language could imperil or chill a wide range of other activity that might tread on victims’ feelings, such as campaigns to rally public opinion against a conviction or in favor of clemency. The bill, Levy says, “threatens to make Pennsylvania a national laughing stock.” [Consumer Law & Policy; Fox News; NBC Philadelphia; more, Joel Mathis, Philadelphia mag] More on the ever-popular “victims’ rights” cause from Steve Chapman and Roger Pilon.

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“Extremists will have to get posts on Facebook and Twitter approved in advance by the police under sweeping rules planned by the Conservatives.” [Telegraph] The Spectator joins other critics in noting that the idea, floated by Home Secretary Theresa May, could conceivably be used not only against proponents of violent Islamism but also (for example) radicals of right and left, Irish nationalists, and animal-rights protesters:

Labour’s ‘hate crime’ laws have already been used to pursue Christian street preachers criticising homosexuality and Englishmen being rude about Scots. This magazine was once contacted by the CID, which was ‘investigating’ an article about Islamic fundamentalism — the police were trying to establish if we had violated the parameters of argument defined by New Labour. Rather than repeal such laws, Mrs May seems to want to extend them.

Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on September 30, 2014

  • Coverage of Cato Constitution Day panel on First Amendment with Nadine Strossen, P.J. O’Rourke, Eric Rassbach, Ilya Shapiro [Concurring Opinions] And First-Amendment-oriented articles in the latest Cato Supreme Court Review: Judge David Sentelle on freedom of speech as liberty for all and not just for the organized press, Allen Dickerson on McCutcheon v. FEC, Ilya Shapiro on SBA List v. Driehaus, and Trevor Burrus on protest buffer zones;
  • Eric Holder “the worst Attorney General on press freedom issues in a generation, possibly since Richard Nixon’s John Mitchell” [Trevor Timm]
  • “7 Things Cracked Got Wrong About Free Speech” [Greg Lukianoff of FIRE, who has a new short book out entitled "Freedom From Speech"]
  • As ACLU recognizes, Arizona law purportedly banning revenge porn would do more than that [Masnick, Popehat, Greenfield, Sullum/Reason]
  • Critical overview of “media reform” movement led by wildly misnamed pressure group Free Press [Barbara Joanna Lucas, Capital Research Center]
  • In lawsuits against Yelp arising from bad reviews, courts have not been impressed by theory that the service extorts reviewed businesses [Paul Alan Levy; a restaurateur upset at Yelp strikes back in a different way]
  • Proposal to make scientific misconduct a crime “would seem to raise serious First Amendment problems” [Howard Wasserman]

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on September 3, 2014

  • Lawprofs vs. speech: new book by Prof. Danielle Citron (U. of Maryland) urges stepped-up legal penalties for online expression as “harassment” ["Hate Crimes in Cyberspace," Harvard University Press]
  • European high court’s Google-unindexing folly: “The truth is, you’ve never had the ‘right to be forgotten'” [Jack Shafer; example, WSJ]
  • Feds’ National Science Foundation spending nearly $1 million to create online database monitoring “suspicious memes”, “false and misleading ideas” on Twitter [Free Beacon]
  • Flap over fantasy-art DMCA takedown demand seems to be over, but we can still enjoy Ken’s take [Popehat] More Popehat highlights: 7th Circuit affirms sanctions vs. Team Prenda of copyright troll fame; multi-level marketer threatens blogger; controversial doctor resorts “to threats and legal analysis that are at least as innovative as his cancer theories“; “In 2014, minimal legal competence requires an attorney to anticipate and understand the Streisand Effect“;
  • When occupational licensure laws stifle speech [Dana Berliner (IJ), NYT Room for Debate]
  • Inside a deposition in the Shirley Sherrod defamation lawsuit [J. Christian Adams, earlier here, etc.] Write if you dare about Michael Mann, just hope he doesn’t sue you over it [Trevor Burrus, earlier here, etc.]
  • U.S. Civil Rights Commission member Michael Yaki argues for campus speech codes [Hans Bader, Eugene Volokh] Per EEOC: “Illegal ‘hostile work environment’ harassment for co-workers to wear Confederate flag T-shirts” [Volokh; also]

“…will inevitably be used to protect police and others in power, not…the weak.” [Ken White/Popehat on case of Thomas G. Smith, whose conviction, later overturned, for "disorderly conduct" and "unlawful use of a computerized communication system" was based on an obscenity-filled rant against cops on the Facebook page of the Village of Arena, Wisc. police department]

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Ken at Popehat has the story on a court’s ruling for fees and costs in Ergun Caner v. Jonathan Autry, filed by a religious leader who had come under criticism for less-than-forthright descriptions of his own past. “The court ruled that Caner (1) pursued the case after Autry took the videos down, (2) demanded, as a condition of settlement, that Autry’s young children sign a non-disparagement agreement, (3) delayed the case, (4) failed to seek discovery, opposed the motion to dismiss on the grounds that he needed to take discovery, but could not articulate what discovery he needed, (5) contradicted himself, (6) made unreasonable legal arguments without any support (like the ‘you must be qualified to criticize’ argument), and most importantly (7) filed the case to silence criticism.” Under the prevailing “American Rule” on fees it’s extremely hard for the victim of a meritless suit to recover attorney’s costs, but this one was extreme enough to be an exception.