Emmett Tyrrell
I am grateful to George Washington University professor of Law, Jonathan Turley, for pointing out that a growing number of world leaders find the First Amendment's right of free speech to be an inconvenience. He cites, for instance, U. N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's warning that "when some people use this freedom of expression to provoke or humiliate some others' values and beliefs, then this cannot be protected." Turley makes the valuable -- and if you think about it, obvious -- observation that free speech becomes intolerable not when it is used recklessly but when one person or a group of people object to its use, especially when they object violently.

Thus the Secretary General's neat formulation utterly collapses when, say, some heiress to Mother Teresa asseverates in public that "God is the source of all good." It is a harmless utterance, until some indignado, say, a venerable witch, gets wind of it and objects with hurt feelings or, more preferably, with violence by burning down Mother Teresa's chapel. Possibly this Mother Teresa happens to be influential worldwide and she has a whole string of chapels to burn down, possibly some are diplomatic installations. Free speech is difficult to limit. Without limiting it, it can be disagreed with. It can be ridiculed or it can be ignored. But as soon as we come up with some nice neat formulation for limiting it, a la Ban Ki-moon, along comes a mob of brutes and they put free speech to the test. Under the Ban Ki-moon formulation free speech gives way. In fact, it is extinguished.

That was the lesson from the eruption of violence around the globe to the idiotic YouTube masterpiece of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, "Innocence of Muslims." In America hardly anyone saw it. In the Arab world my guess only the makings of a small mob or two saw it. Yet it was used as a pretext for violent protest and thus for such lawyerly poppycock as was spewed by Ban Ki-moon. And there are others. Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia has said, "Our tolerance must never extend to tolerating religious hatred." Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has delivered an equally muddled declaration on tolerance and free expression, arguing for the adoption of a U.N. resolution that would simultaneously guarantee "the right to practice one's religion freely and the right to express one's opinion without fear." Try enforcing that resolution in Benghazi, Madame Secretary of State.


Emmett Tyrrell

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator and co-author of Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House.
 
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