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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on October 29, 2014

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on June 6, 2014

  • “Tenured Wisconsin Prof Sues Former Student Over Online Comments on Her Teaching” [Caron/TaxProf]
  • Recent Paul Alan Levy profile: “The web bully’s worst enemy” [Washingtonian] HHS signals it won’t pursue case against blogger [Levy, earlier] Arizona Yelp case angle [Scott Greenfield]
  • Get your ideas out of town: threats against hotel “have escalated to include death threats, physical violence against our staff and other guests” [Deadline Detroit; "men's rights movement" conference]
  • UK police investigate Baptist church after “burn in Hell” sign reported as “hate incident” [Secular Right]
  • Please don’t give him ideas: “Should it be against the law to criticize Harry Reid?” [Trevor Burrus, Boston Herald]
  • “MAP: The places where blasphemy could get you punished” [Washington Post]
  • Only three states – Wisconsin, Michigan, and Kansas — have laws inviting vengeful secret John Doe probes [Ilya Shapiro, earlier]

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The bill originated in a desire to control men’s accosting of women on the street, but according to Eugene Volokh it sweeps much more broadly than that: it exposes speakers to imprisonment even for written communication, not necessarily individually targeted, that is “evidently intended to express contempt for a person because of his gender, or that regards them as inferior, or reduces them to their sexual dimension, and which has the effect of violating someone’s dignity.” [Rik Torfs and Jogchum Vrielink via Volokh] Torfs and Vrielink point out a perhaps unexpected corollary, which could also restrict speech:

A logical side effect of making sexism illegal is that the simple act of accusing someone of being sexist, may amount to criminal defamation. Under Belgian law, as in many other legal systems, it is an offense to accuse someone of having committed crimes that they were not actually convicted for. Law is often a double-edged sword.

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on February 25, 2014

  • Cato Institute reissues Jonathan Rauch’s classic Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks On Free Thought after 20 years, with new introduction by George F. Will and new afterword by the author [Jason Kuznicki; Reason Foundation] The free-speech Supreme Court decision without which there would have been no gay-rights movement [Rauch guestblogging at Volokh Conspiracy]
  • Important stuff: Ken White vs. Mark Steyn on how to respond to lawsuits against speech [Popehat]
  • “Blogger: Go Ahead and Sue; I’ve Got Nothing To Lose” [Greensboro, N.C., sued by developer; Romenesko] Is it possible to defame a business by putting up a Craigslist post linking to an online docket showing lawsuits against it? [Cook County Record]
  • U.K. aims to tweak existing X-rated internet filters to block “extremist” websites [TechDirt] Europe’s hate speech laws may actually prepare the ground for sowers of hate [Jamie Kirchick, Tablet]
  • Public Citizen’s Paul Alan Levy, ACLU of Maryland assist anonymous blogger targeted by Brett Kimberlin [Consumer Law & Policy]
  • “Rhode Island Cops Vigilant In Face of Scourge of People Making Fun of State Representative Scott Guthrie” [Popehat]
  • “If you are determined to sue 1,200 people for linking to a newsworthy article, you may begin with me.” [John Scalzi]

Once again, a law professor has stepped up to inform us that we need to join much of Europe in attaching legal penalties to hurtful speech. This time one patient refutation comes from Michael Moynihan [Daily Beast] The idea is about as fresh and new as sleeve garters, notes Jonathan Rauch [Volokh/WaPo] Further rebuttal from Ken at Popehat and Scott Greenfield.

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on December 19, 2013

  • After Rolling Stone interview comments on race in America, Bob Dylan hit with hate speech proceeding in… France? [Popehat]
  • “The Buckyballs Guy Is Suing the Feds Over Free Speech” [Bloomberg BusinessWeek]
  • “Reconsidering Citizens United as a Press Clause Case” [Michael McConnell, YLJ via Volokh] “Freedom for the Press — Protection for an Industry/Profession, or for All Users of a Technology?” [Eugene Volokh, more]
  • Liability for content posted by third parties? “Ex-cheerleader’s defamation suit puts Internet giants on edge” [CBS News]
  • Forced expression tramples freedom: Cato asks SCOTUS to review ruling against New Mexico wedding photographer [Ilya Shapiro, earlier here, etc.] Related: Mike Masnick questioning why the ACLU is on the wrong side, a topic I’ve covered here too;
  • “Three puzzling things about NYT v. Sullivan” [Len Niehoff, Communications Lawyer]
  • “Why can’t we admit we’re scared of Islamism?” [Nick Cohen, Spectator]

November 11 roundup

by Walter Olson on November 11, 2013

  • Incoming Australian attorney general: we’ll repeal race-speech laws that were used to prosecute columnist Andrew Bolt [Sydney Morning Herald, Melbourne Herald-Sun, earlier]
  • Texas sues EEOC on its criminal background check policy [Employee Screen]
  • After Eric Turkewitz criticizes $85M announced demand in Red Bull suit, comments section turns lively [NYPIAB]
  • If only Gotham’s official tourism agency acted like a tourism agency [Coyote on NYC's official war against AirBnB; Ilya Shapiro, Cato; earlier here and here, etc.]
  • “Lawmaker wants Georgia bicyclists to buy license plates” [WSB]
  • Religious liberty implications of European moves to ban infant circumcision [Eugene Kontorovich]
  • Video on CPSC’s quest for personal liability against agency-mocking Craig Zucker of Buckyballs fame [Reason TV, earlier]

Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on September 9, 2013

  • “It’s Not Illegal to Sell Anti-NSA Shirts Bearing the NSA Logo”
    [Volokh]
  • Can an American national be sued in American courts for working to persuade a foreign government to pass an oppressive law? [BTB on Scott Lively Uganda case]
  • “Court Rejects Religious Discrimination Claim Based on Associated Press’s Rejection of Plaintiff’s Religiously Themed Article” [Volokh]
  • Workings of British hate speech law: police visit clergyman who emailed pair of unwelcome religious tracts [Spectator]
  • “HIV Denialist’s Trademark and Defamation Claims Against Critical Blogger” [Paul Alan Levy]
  • Revisiting the practice of suing publishers of drug information in pharmaceutical liability cases [Beck]
  • “Australia’s Press Regulators Look To Enforce Ideological Conformity” [Tuccille, Reason]

Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on July 31, 2013

  • “Bryon Farmer of the Blackfeet Tribe Jailed For Talking About Corruption In Tribal Government” [Ken at Popehat] “Popehat Signal: Vengeful AIDS Denialist Sues Critic In Texas” [same]
  • Persons with federal government contracts can’t give to federal candidates or parties. Too broad? [Ilya Shapiro and Trevor Burrus, Cato]
  • “Together at last! ‘Some US conservatives laud Russia’s anti-gay bill.'” [@jon_rauch on Associated Press re: "propaganda" measure]
  • More on Second Circuit decision ruling scientific conclusions akin to protected opinion for defamation purposes [Digital Media Law Project, earlier]
  • San Antonio bars appointment to its city boards and commissions of anyone who has ever said anything demonstrating bias “against any person, group or organization on the basis of race” or various other protected categories [Eugene Volokh]
  • Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader wins defamation suit holding gossip site operator liable for user comments [Sporting News] Michigan: “Ionia newspaper editor files defamation suit against critics” [MLive, Popehat with a critical view, update at Popehat following dismissal]
  • “Hate speech” at issue: “Twitter releases users’ identities to French authorities after tough legal battles.” [JOLT]

Canada’s infamous speech-smothering Section 13’s dead. And good riddance too. Among targets of legal action under Section 13 over the years have been well-known conservative commentators Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant [National Post and more, Brian Lilley, Wikipedia, earlier]

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Life without a First Amendment: “Eleven people across UK arrested for making ‘racist or anti-religious’ comments on Facebook and Twitter about British soldier’s death” [Daily Mail (with notice: "Sorry, we are unable to accept comments for legal reasons"), more, The Lincolnite; Eugene Volokh (quoting British police: "People should stop and think about what they say on social media before making statements as the consequences could be serious")]

On a happier note, with regard to countering objectionable speech, the BBC reports that when members of the nativist English Defence League organized a gathering outside a mosque in the city of York, worshipers brought out tea and cookies and invited them inside for a chat.

Data point 2 about free speech in Britain: 11 lawyers have signed a letter in the Guardian “threatening supermarkets with immediate legal action” unless they remove from sale “lad’s mags,” men’s magazines that are anathema to feminist campaigners. “Displaying these publications in workplaces, and/or requiring staff to handle them in the course of their jobs, may amount to sex discrimination and sexual harassment contrary to the Equality Act 2010,” it says. “Similarly, exposing customers to these publications in the process of displaying them is capable of giving rise to breaches of the Equality Act.” [Guardian; Toby Young, Telegraph; ITV] Young points out that reported incidents of domestic violence have fallen quite sharply since lad’s mags became popular in the 1990s, making nonsense of claims that the publications somehow promote male aggression. For the campaigners, writes Toby Young, “this is simply about preventing men – predominantly working-class men – from buying magazines that they consider vulgar and in poor taste.”

More in comments from Bill Poser: “Here’s another: police in Wales ordered a shop-keeper to remove T-shirts saying ‘Obey our laws, respect our beliefs, or go back to your own country.'”

And from the “It Can’t Happen Here” department: “Justice Department to Hold Seminar Warning Against the Legal ‘Consequences’ of Anti-Muslim Speech.” Let’s hope there’s some reporting error here.

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Anti-religious, xenophobic, and “Islamophobic” speech has already drawn prosecution in a number of cases and some in the European country wish to push the trend further [Dr. Jogchum Vrielink, University of Leuven, via Volokh]:

On the political level too some are attempting to increase the legal sensitivity for ‘Islamophobia’. Senators Fauzaya Talhaoui and Bert Anciaux, for instance, introduced a draft resolution on 21 February 2013, aimed at the ‘the fight against Islamophobia’. Following the definition offered by the Runnymede Trust, the Senators understand ‘Islamophobia’ to entail the ‘strong presence’ of any of eight elements, including: ‘Islam as monolithic and static’; ‘Islam as inferior to the West and as barbaric, irrational and sexist’; and ‘Islam as violent, providing support to terrorism, and actively involved in a clash of civilisations’. Such ‘Islamophobic’ ideas, Talhaoui and Anciaux contend, “incite to discrimination and racism, and require unequivocal condemnation and judicial prosecution”. They argue that the police and that the office of the public prosecutor should be instructed to treat the issue as an absolute priority.

The Runnymede Trust, incidentally, “is the UK’s leading independent race equality think tank. We generate intelligence for a multi-ethnic Britain through research, network building, leading debate, and policy engagement.”

Meanwhile, in blasphemy prosecutions elsewhere, a court in Turkey has convicted composer and pianist Fazil Say of committing blasphemy on Twitter [Guardian] And Islamists are inciting prosecution and worse for atheist bloggers in Bangladesh [Volokh, Christian Post]

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  • UK: Jack Shafer on the trouble with the Leveson press inquiry [Reuters] Journos already cowed by hostile press laws: “Even foreign dictatorships know how to frighten Fleet Street.” [Spectator] “Even people who RT’d libelous allusions to [him] on Twitter could be sued. … surreal” [BoingBoing, Popehat]
  • Calling people names in Hanna, Alberta, or cheering on those who do, can now expose you to penalties under anti-bullying ordinance [Sun News]
  • “Britain’s High-Tech Thought Police” [Brendan O'Neill] Related, Rowan Atkinson [Telegraph]
  • Language muscle in Quebec: “After series of fire-bombings, Second Cup coffee shops added the words ‘les cafes’ to signs” [Yahoo Canada]
  • Blasphemy law around the world: Vexed with their speech, Egyptian court sentences to death in absentia various persons living in US and Canada [Volokh] “Turkish TV channel fined for ‘The Simpsons’ blasphemy episode” [Telegraph] After using Facebook to criticize politico’s funeral, women in India arrested for “hurting religious sentiments” [AFP] Indonesian man jailed, attacked by mob for writing “God does not exist” on Facebook group [Andrew Stuttaford, Secular Right] “A year of blasphemy” [Popehat]
  • Protesters block student access to “men’s-rights” speech at U. Toronto [Joshua Kennon via @amyalkon]

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“Offense 101″

by Walter Olson on October 26, 2012

A modest proposal for freshman orientation [Julian Sanchez] Separately, Greg Lukianoff is out with his much-awaited new book, “Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate” [Ken at Popehat, New York Times]. And a speech code at SUNY New Paltz warns “all members of the campus community” not to “discuss” material that “shows…aversion” to persons over 30 [Volokh]

Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on October 12, 2012

  • Why did Chevron subpoena a lawprof/blogger who took opposite side in Ecuador case? [Kevin Jon Heller, Opinio Juris]
  • “Paleo Diet Lawsuit Dismissed By Court in Blow to Free Expression” [Brian Doherty, Reason; earlier here, etc.]
  • “[National Hispanic Media Coalition] Renews Call for Federal Government to Study Hate Speech in Media” [Volokh]
  • Call for “oversight board of regional experts” to direct more YouTube takedowns [Ann Althouse]
  • No more dirty looks: North Carolina students now face possible jail time for what they say about teachers online [Reason]
  • Popehat sampler: “Schadenfreude Is Not A Free Speech Value; Holmes’s fire-in-theater quote the most “pervasive lazy cheat in American dialogue about free speech”; “Zampolit Angela McCaskill, Report For Reeducation.”
  • EU “terror” web-muzzle schemes: “We should start to freak out, but in a sort of preliminary way” [Ars Technica]

Yet another law professor, this time Harvard’s Noah Feldman, suggests suspending First Amendment protection to placate offense [Newsday, Volokh, Greenfield] As background, in Britain, “Channel 4 has cited concerns over security as the reason for cancelling a planned screening at its headquarters this week of a documentary film questioning the origins of Islam.” [Guardian via Volokh; Michael Totten, "The Terrorists' Veto, City Journal] Notes Ken at Popehat: “The context is one in which the decision to take offense is a political act.”

Ken has also stayed on top of this issue in other posts, noting, for example, that the Holocaust-denial laws already accepted in many Western countries pave the way for further restrictions on speech; that Greece has lately moved against mild religious satire; and that Great Britain is electing to unleash criminal-law enforcement against a broader range of Internet comment trollery.

Earlier on Eric Posner here and here; on Jeremy Waldron here, here, and here; on Peter Spiro here; Volokh on Spiro and Harold Koh here.

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“Scapegoating Free Speech”

by Walter Olson on September 29, 2012

Hans Bader on the curious insistence on blaming the Benghazi attack on a YouTube video [CEI] Greg Lukianoff responds to Eric Posner on blasphemy laws [HuffPo, earlier] “Uh oh. The Atlantic gets in the game of trolling the First Amendment.” [Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry on this by Garrett Epps, earlier on Epps]

P.S. Ken at Popehat rates the President’s U.N. speech mostly good, with a few lapses. “It’s time for Canada to repeal its prohibition on blasphemous libel.” [Derek From, Canadian Constitution Foundation Justice Report] And in the “Pastitsios” affair, advocates of free speech in Greece are protesting the blasphemy arrest of a 27 year old man over his website, which makes fun of a well-known deceased Orthodox monk. [BoingBoing]

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on September 20, 2012

  • Already firebombed once: “Satirical French Magazine Publishes Caricatures Of Mohammed, White House Rebukes.” [Mediaite] More calls for punishing makers of anti-Muslim YouTube video for supposed incitement [Ann Althouse on Sarah Chayes, earlier here and here; also, the late Christopher Hitchens on "fire in a crowded theater" arguments] “The people who instigate these protests seek a very particular goal: an extension of Egyptian and Pakistani style blasphemy laws into the West.” [David Frum]
  • “$60,000 Verdict for Blogging the Truth About A Person Intending to Get Him Fired – Reversed” [Volokh]
  • Judge closes probe of opinion-maker influence in Google-Oracle battle [The Recorder, earlier]
  • Weight-loss device promoter files, then drops suit against Public Citizen, consumerist website Fair Warning [Paul Alan Levy, Fair Warning]
  • “How Ag Gag Laws Suppress Free Speech and the Marketplace of Ideas” [Baylen Linnekin, earlier here, etc.]
  • Big government Republicans in charge: “GOP Platform Changed To Now Target All Forms Of Pornography” [Andrew Kirell, Mediaite; Volokh]
  • Missouri activist starts website criticizing local cops and soon the department’s halls display what looks very much like a “Wanted” poster of him [Eapen Thampy, Agitator]