Violence against free speech

A disturbing number of people want to restrict free speech to statements they agree with. They claim that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to speech they hate, or in their vernacular, “hate speech.” The outgoing ombudsman of NPR, Edward Schumacher-Matos, apparently thinks the First Amendment shouldn’t apply to anti-blasphemy laws:

I do not know if American courts would find much of what Charlie Hebdo does to be hate speech unprotected by the Constitution, but I know—hope?—that most Americans would. It is one thing to lampoon popes, imams, rabbis and other temporal religious leaders of this world; it is quite another to make fun, in often nasty ways, of their prophets and gods.

There’s a case for reading these as the words of an abject coward who wants to drag everyone else down to his level, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt — if you can call it that — and assume he really means that religious authority pre-empts human rights, that he wants to ban Life of Brian and not just the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. After all, he says the majority of the country agrees with him, so he must be counting the religious right.

Mob assaulting anti-abortion activists near University of OregonSome Americans go even further, committing acts of violence against people whose views they didn’t like. It’s reported that a mob of students assaulted anti-abortion protesters at the University of Oregon. The Daily Emerald reports:

Several students surrounded three anti-abortion activists at the intersection of 13th Avenue and University Street on Tuesday before attempting to destroy a graphic poster one of the men was holding in protest. …

History major Allison Rutledge was the first to damage the anti-abortion activist’s poster. She stood on it and claimed that the activist didn’t have the right to display the graphic imagery.

“All I’d like to say about why I decided to actually take the sign from him is I realized it was his property, but it was a piece of paper. I considered the sign obscene and offensive and intending to anger and start a scene,” Rutledge said when contacted for comment. “I didn’t want to look at that obscenity.”

Hopefully the police and university will investigate whether Rutledge in fact committed the assault and said those words, and she will be prosecuted if she did. Assaulting people in order to silence their ideas is a crime not just against the person attacked, but against the principle of a free and open society.

This attack has gotten strangely little news coverage; apparently only the local university press and some conservative and libertarian sources have reported it. Some may think, “Oh, it doesn’t matter, it’s violence in a cause I approve of.” Some may even like a society where people who express those views aren’t safe on the streets. But when censorship and violence restrict what people can say, falsehood wins. The people who can’t offer a rational defense of their views are the ones who have to resort to force.