24 April 2011

Free Speech and Defamation of Islam

Andrew Stuttaford's recent post over at Secular Right has brought it to my attention that the infamous Pastor Terry Jones is under arrest in Michigan for planning to protest outside a mosque.  Apparently the notion of a "stern talking to" about his bigotry toward Muslims isn't enough for the authorities in Dearborn; they're willing to throw the Constitution down the sewer if it means keeping him from saying something offensive.

There are a few issues on which I have strong opinions, but none that I hold nearly as staunchly as I do my stance against censorship.  Jones is a despicable cur for his Muslim-baiting antics, but he has every legal right to do what he's doing, whether he's burning a book or protesting in front of a building.  We as a free society have no moral authority to stop him.  We can and should criticize him and his message, but he's free to speak his mind.

To be fair, the city does have to concern itself with the practical matter of preventing riots.  Dearborn has a large population of Muslims, both immigrants and natural-born Americans, and a brazen anti-Islam display such as Pastor Jones' usual fare could trigger a violent response among the less sophisticated members of the Muslim community.  I understand their desire to dissuade him from disturbing the peace, just as I might not want someone prodding a wasp nest with a stick if I happened to be standing next to it.

Then again, wasps can't help themselves but to sting anything near them when provoked; humans, regardless of what crazy delusions they believe, are sentient beings capable of rational thought.  We should expect better of the people of Dearborn, as they should be smart enough to know that the best way to deal with trolls is to ignore them.  Let Pastor Jones and his toadies be the lunatics standing on the sidewalk shouting drivel; if he doesn't get the response he's looking for, he might well pack up and go home, just like Fred Phelps has done when some of his recent protests turned out to be duds.

Here's hoping that he's promptly cleared of whatever bogus criminal case the local prosecutor is making against him, and that no one gets violent in response to the venom he spews.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License