John Leo

Here's an example of how speech might be punished: An Exeter man was convicted of insulting a Muslim under England's new "Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act," which bans religious hatred. He had denounced Muslims in an argument with a Muslim college student, who, he said, declared that Osama bin Laden is a great man and that "all Americans deserved to die." The student admitted that he "could have said" these things, but he wasn't charged.

In Paris, the famous Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci is currently on trial for inciting racial hatred in passages of her new novel that disparage Islam. A French novelist is also on trial for offending Muslims in an interview.

This month Canadian customs agents confiscated newsletters defending Israel's moral right to exist. The material, sent by the Ayn Rand Insitute in California to the University of Toronto, was confiscated as possible hate propaganda. UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, on his Web site "The Volokh Conspiracy," provided a link to the text, but warned Canadian viewers that they might get in legal trouble if they accessed the material. After heavy publicity and complaints, customs released the newsletters.

In Canada, censorship is almost a national sport, like lacrosse and hockey. In Saskatchewan last year, a newspaper was fined for publishing an ad that quoted Bible verses on homosexuality. For this human rights violation, the Saskatoon StarPhoenix and the man who took out the ad had to pay $1,500. Presumably if the authors of the Bible had been available for trial, Saskatchewan would have dealt sternly with them, too.

Sweden is about to forge ahead of Saskatchewan by passing a constitutional amendment banning all speech or materials opposing homosexuality. When it does, remarks that offend gays could bring a jail term of up to four years. Christians would not be allowed to speak out against homosexuality, even in churches.

In the United States, pro-gay censorship is still in its infancy. A Christian law center filed suit against Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Mich., for allegedly removing religion-based criticisms of homosexuality from the text of a student's speech during Diversity Week. The suit says school officials told Betsy Hansen, then 18, that her views would "water down" the "positive" message about homosexuality that the school wanted to convey. The suit says she was kicked off a panel on homosexuality and religion, too.

The officials probably meant well. Coercive people usually do.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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