Contrary to the widely believed myth in Muslim countries that Muslims in Europe are the passive targets of hateful messages, they have effectively used the legal system to sue the writers, political activists and even actors who were responsible for producing offensive messages.
The recent “Muslim Outrage”, as the U.S. media calls it, in the aftermath of an online video that humiliated Muslim icons, has also sparked a debate on freedom of expression in the United States as an uncontested political ideology that rejects limitations on freedom of speech.
The First Amendment to the U.S. constitution provides limitless rights to citizens in expressing their opinion and even voicing hate messages against any race, ethnicity, religion or nationality:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Freedom of speech, widely accepted as an unchallengeable law of the land, is not without controversy though. Some people would like to draw a clear line between freedoms of speech and hate speech.
For Peter Vallentyne, professor philosophy at the Virginia Commonwealth University,
“—-restrictions on expression are morally justified if and only if (1) the prohibited expression plays no reasonable role in critical inquiry, and (2) the restrictions are the least restrictive means of reducing significant harm to others.”
(Freedom of Expression, Hate Speech, and Censorship, VCU, October 3, 2012).
Because his discussion is more philosophical than constitutional, it will be difficult to apply it to every situation. However, it shows how legal experts and intellectuals are divided on the issue of freedom of speech even within the United States.
As it looks, the concept of freedom of speech is defined differently in different countries. Most European countries, disagreeing with the American definition of freedom of speech, have imposed limitations to people’s right to publicly express their hatred against others’ beliefs.
There are laws in several European countries that limit speech to attack others’ religion, culture or nationality with an intention to ridicule and humiliate them. Europe, with a history of fascism and genocide based on race and religion, has developed effective laws to curb expression of hatred on the basis of religion or race. These laws are integrated with national aspirations of these countries to avoid discrimination leading to genocide and violence against religious groups and races.
In England the Public Order Act of 1986 protects people against threats, abusive and insulting words or behavior, or written material with similar intentions. There are other laws that also restrict spreading hatred against others’ race or religion.
Holland is the recent country who has introduced restrictions on freedom of speech through the Dutch Criminal Code that prohibits making public insults intentionally and engaging in verbal, written or visual material of hatred toward race, religion, sexual orientation and or personal beliefs.
The Press Law of 1881 in France criminalizes incitement to racial discrimination, hatred or violence on the basis of ethnic, national, racial or religious groups or people.
The Danish Criminal Code also declares any incitement of hatred based on threatening, vilifying, or insulting intended for the general public or individuals.
These laws have been used to convict people involved in humiliating other citizens. Contrary to the widely believed myth in Muslim countries that Muslims in Europe are the passive targets of hateful messages, they have effectively used the legal system to sue the writers, political activists and even actors who were responsible for producing offensive messages.
In fact, some prominent leaders and writers, as a result of these law suits, have been convicted and imprisoned. The famous actress Brigitte Bardot, for example, has been convicted and fined repeatedly for criticizing the Muslim ritual of sacrificing sheep in law suits filed by Muslim organizations.
Perhaps United States is one of the few countries in the world that constitutionally protect people’s rights to express hatred against others’ faith, race and ethnicity. Here, because of this constitutional protection, people are free to have rallies against others, have a right to produce pornographic materials and they are even legally protected to burn their national flag in demonstrating their freedom of speech.
(From Viewpoint Online: http://www.viewpointonline.net/freedom-to-hate.html)