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.”)
In Britain, which has hate-speech laws, police investigate a racially derogatory Tweet. [Telegraph]
There are a great many reasons to be grateful that the United States declared its independence on this date in 1776, but one reason is that we, unlike Great Britain, managed soon thereafter to secure a First Amendment in our Constitution to protect the freedom of speech. That means we, unlike Lincolnshire pensioner John Richards, are unlikely to be threatened with arrest should we choose to put up a small sign in our window promoting atheism, on the grounds that it might cause distress to passersby [Boston Standard via Popehat] Relatedly, we need not worry that NYU law prof Jeremy Waldron, advocate of “hate speech” bans, will see his views enacted into U.S. policy anytime soon [Erica Goldberg, ConcurOp], despite repeated signals from places like Harvard Law School and the New York Times that he is a Very Serious Person whose views we need to engage.
And while not all the differences between British libel law and ours can be traced to our First Amendment, we are also fortunate that it is a fair bit harder for public figures and organizations here to use defamation charges to ruin critics and authors [Guardian; novelist Amanda Craig, Telegraph] We have likewise been spared the activities of any exact equivalent of Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority, recently reported as banning a “fathers’ rights” ad [BoingBoing]. And so forth.
Enjoy the Fourth, and our freedoms.
Updated twice: According to college paper Nota Bene, the student bar association Senate at George Washington University is asking the law school to consider a proposed policy which would attach substantial new restrictions to student decisions to invite speakers from “hate groups” to campus. (More: GW Patriot; a list of the asked-for restrictions, which include hiring security personnel at the expense of the inviting group and making “this is a hate group speaker” pre-announcements to audiences, is here; Nota Bene reports that the demand will not be considered this semester, and other sources say NB coverage has overstated how far the proposal managed to get). Making matters especially problematic, the blacklist would consist of groups designated as “hate groups” by Morris Dees’s Southern Poverty Law Center [SPLC] or the Anti-Defamation League.
Dees, long a deeply controversial public figure and polemicist, has been roundly criticized in recent years for expanding his list of “hate” and “extremist” groups, sent to law enforcement groups across the country, far beyond violent and criminal groups to include organizations and websites that advocate various (typically conservative) causes in a vehement and unpleasant manner, and thus offend liberal SPLC donors (and typically offend me as well). This year SPLC came in for widespread derision when it added a new category in its hate group report for “pickup artist” blogs, a target of feminist ire.
The demands for a policy change at GW were apparently triggered by an appearance on campus by the anti-gay Family Research Council, a spinoff of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family group. I have about as low an opinion of the FRC as it’s possible to have, but it’s not exactly to be confused with the Aryan Nations — major Republican politicians are willing to appear at its events, for example — and if you’re a student at a law school, it’s probably not a bad idea to be made aware that there are people out there with a wide range of views on the controversies of the day.
When I speak to audiences about the ideological law school atmosphere described in Schools for Misrule, I’m sometimes asked whether the pressures for conformity and silence are getting worse. Usually I argue the reverse, that law schools have tended to become more open in recent years to a broad spectrum of debate. If the advocates pushing the GWU initiative manage to get their proposal taken seriously by the law faculty, I may need to revise my thinking. [Updated 3/28 to reflect subsequent NotaBene report and questioning of its coverage; h/t Peter Bonilla, FIRE]
Life without a First Amendment: a student in Swansea, Wales, is jailed for posting racially offensive comments on Twitter while drunk [Nick Cohen, Spectator]
“The Delhi High Court has ordered 21 companies, which have already been asked to develop a mechanism to block objectionable material in India, to present their plans for policing their services in the next 15 days.” A private complaint had charged the internet firms with permitting the dissemination of material offensive to Hindus, Muslims and Christians. [Emil Protalinski, ZDNet]
“An Austrian appellate court has upheld the conviction of Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, a Viennese housewife and anti-Jihad activist, for ‘denigrating religious beliefs’ after giving a series of seminars about the dangers of radical Islam.” [Soeren Kern, Hudson New York via Volokh]
Sighs of relief after a decision in a defamation case (Crooks v. Newton) reported on earlier. [Michael Geist] Justice Abella:
I would conclude that a hyperlink, by itself, should never be seen as “publication” of the content to which it refers.
Adventurous litigants in U.S. defamation cases have occasionally argued otherwise. On Canada, see also proposals to criminalize links to so-called hate speech.
Popular commentator Andrew Bolt “was found guilty Wednesday of breaking Australian discrimination law by implying that fair-skinned Aborigines chose to identify as indigenous for profit and career advancement.” A judge “said he will prohibit reproduction of the offending articles,” and “Bolt and his publisher must meet with the plaintiffs to discuss appropriate court orders that would reflect the judgment.” [AP, earlier, Volokh](& Popehat)