The Legal Project
"[Those] who won our independence believed ... the path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievances and proposed remedies." — Justice Brandeis
Facebook   Twitter   RSS

Freedom of Speech Is Under Assault in America: Book Review of The Silencing: How the Left Is Killing Free Speech, by Kirsten Power

Kirsten Powers' book demonstrates how the "illiberal left" conflates speech with action, and views criticism of its ideas as physical assault.

Besides being intrinsically interesting and well-written, Kirsten Powers' book, The Silencing, adds useful perspective to the struggle against Islamist suppression of speech about radical Islam. Powers notes the attempt to squelch discussion of Islam, but places it in a broader context.

As the subtitle suggests, the author views the struggle as one of the political left – what Powers calls the "illiberal left" – obstructing expression of any facts or opinions to which it is ideologically opposed. This may not be news to politically-incorrect people, but it likely will be to many on what the author calls the "liberal left." Presumably, that is the target audience Powers hopes to persuade. She generally counts herself a member of the liberal left, except that her religious views (committed Christian) are more common on the other side of the political spectrum.

The author recounts efforts to suppress speech of pro-life activists, critics (however slight) of "black lives matter" activism, gay marriage opponents, and political conservatives generally, and devotes two full chapters to the American university scene. Anyone who has recently read an American newspaper should be aware that threats to free speech are particularly pervasive on the university campus. Institutions that once prided themselves on freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas now routinely allow students, faculty, administrators, and invited speakers to be shouted down or intimidated into silence. The problem extends well beyond the academy. Those advocating politically incorrect opinions may lose their job or their business.

Continue to full text of posting...

By Johanna Markind  |  January 5, 2016 at 7:55 am  |  Permalink

Follow-Up on the U.S. Supreme Court, Speech Regulation, and Islam

Back on June 23, I blogged about Reed v. Town of Gilbert, a Supreme Court decision issued last term. The case concerned a challenge to an ordinance that regulated outdoor signs based on the type of speech they conveyed. Writing for the majority, Justice Thomas wrote that the regulation was improperly content-based in violation of the First Amendment. "Innocent motives do not eliminate the danger of censorship presented by a facially content-based statute," he wrote.

The New York Times has an update and analysis on the impact of this "sleeper" case. Explaining the decision, Adam Liptak writes:

Continue to full text of posting...

By Johanna Markind  |  August 17, 2015 at 3:29 pm  |  Permalink

Should Israel Criminalize Insulting Muslims?

Women of the Murabitat, who daily harass non-Muslim visitors to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, don't like being insulted.

Originally published under the title, "A 'Pig' Incident in Jerusalem."

As most non-Muslim visitors to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem can attest, groups of screaming female banshees accost them, yelling Allahu akbar and other Islamic slogans, making for a highly unpleasant experience. (Called the Murabitat, or the Steadfast, they are funded by an Islamist organization.)

On schedule, this recurred on July 23, when a Jewish group visited the holy area.

Worse, the banshees followed the group outside the Temple Mount and into a surrounding street, harassing and threatening the group.

Irritated, a female member of the Jewish group, Avia Morris, 20, responded into a video camera sent out by the Jerusalem Information Center (Markaz A'lam al-Quds) with two words: "Muhammad khanzeer," Arabic for "Muhammad is a pig," obviously a very pungent insult.

Continue to full text of posting...

By Daniel Pipes  |  July 28, 2015 at 2:20 pm  |  Permalink

Muslim Teacher Loses Claim School Violated His Free Speech Rights and Discriminated Against His Religion

On July 16, 2015, the federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a wrongful termination suit against the Columbus City Schools by a Muslim teacher claiming retaliation for some religiously-motivated comments and actions.  The suit was brought by Abdurahman Haji, an elder in the Somali community of Columbus, Ohio.  Haji was hired in November 2005, to teach English as a Second Language at a public school, and discharged in April 2008.

Briefly, Haji's practice was to leave school early every Friday in order to lead prayers at his mosque.  On his departure, he would not sign out from school.  Usually, he would return to school after services, but if they ran long he would not return.

Continue to full text of posting...

By Johanna Markind  |  July 20, 2015 at 6:05 pm  |  Permalink

The U.S. Supreme Court, Speech Regulation, and Islam

United States Supreme Court Building

Last week, the United States Supreme Court decided two cases – Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans and Reed v. Town of Gilbert – dealing with free speech, which have the potential to impact the right to discuss Islam.

The Walker decision concerned Texas' refusal to issue a specialty license plate featuring the Confederate battle flag. State law allows non-profit organizations to request a special design, and allows the state to reject the request for several reasons, including that "the design might be offensive to any member of the public." Justice Breyer's majority opinion held that the specialty plates issued by Texas should be considered speech of Texas, and that as government speech, its decision to say or refrain from saying something (in this case, to issue a Confederate battle-flag plate) was not covered by the First Amendment. Justice Alito's dissent concluded that Texas' action in rejecting the license plate constituted improper viewpoint discrimination. He warned, "The Court's decision passes off private speech as government speech and, in doing so, establishes a precedent that threatens private speech that government finds displeasing."

Reed concerned a challenge to a sign ordinance that regulated outdoor signs based on the type of speech they conveyed. Ideological, political, and directional signs were among the category types. Rejecting the Ninth Circuit's conclusion that the law could stand because the government intended no viewpoint discrimination, Justice Thomas (who somewhat atypically joined the "liberal" justices in the Walker majority opinion) wrote for the majority that "Innocent motives do not eliminate the danger of censorship presented by a facially content-based statute, as future government officials may one day wield such statutes to suppress disfavored speech."

Continue to full text of posting...

By Johanna Markind  |  June 23, 2015 at 4:36 pm  |  Permalink

Good Taste Offered as Rationale for Suppressing Muhammad Cartoons

The "Brains": Thomas Nast cartoon of Boss Tweed.

"Boss" Tweed, head of the corrupt late-19th century leadership of New York City known as "Tammany Hall," is reputed to have had a particular aversion to cartoonist Thomas Nast. Why? Because Nast exposed Tweed's corruption in a pictorial form that was easily understood and effective – by political cartoons. "Stop them damn pictures. I don't care what the papers write about me," were Tweed's instructions to his minions.

Why do people express serious concepts in cartoons? Because they are effective in getting the message across. Some cartoons are in good taste, some in bad taste.

Yet it has become fashionable in some circles to deem ANY cartoon representation of Muhammad automatically to be in bad taste. That becomes a justification for failing to print any such cartoon, no matter how incisive or newsworthy. Garry Trudeau adopted this logic in his critique of Charlie Hebdo. Sadly, many PEN members followed suit.

Continue to full text of posting...

By Johanna Markind  |  June 5, 2015 at 11:33 am  |  Permalink

The Current Struggle for the Soul of Academia

How did the Free Speech Movement of yesteryear give birth to the non-free speech movement of today?

Recently, there has been an encouraging amount of attention paid to the issue of free speech on the college campus. Some of it specifically discusses speech about Islam or Islamism, but a lot doesn't. The refusal to discuss radical Islam is, unfortunately, not an isolated event but one facet of political correctness in academia. The heckler's veto that is so obvious in situations like the Charlie Hebdo massacre and American newspapers' refusal to print Muhammad cartoons is an extreme expression of a phenomenon all too common in American universities today, of speech being policed and 'trigger warnings' required because a reader or listener takes offense to it.

The people voicing concerns are not new to the issue, but the amount of focused attention they have paid to it in just the last few months is noteworthy. Here's a suggested 'reading list' on the issue:

Continue to full text of posting...

By Johanna Markind  |  June 1, 2015 at 10:54 am  |  Permalink

Ninth Circuit Reverses Course in Garcia v. Google: YouTube Video 'Innocence of Muslims' Back in Business

On May 18, 2015, a federal appeals court reversed course from its earlier opinion suppressing Nakoula Basseley Nakoula's 14-minute YouTube video, 'Innocence of Muslims.'

YouTube lost no time in restoring the video to its website

The video, purportedly a trailer for a movie, was created by dubbing film shot under the name 'Desert Warrior' into a diatribe against Muhammad. Eventually, an Arabic version was posted on YouTube. After the September 11, 2012, attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, the Obama Administration blamed the assault on Muslim protests about this selfsame video, and asked YouTube to remove it.

Persons involved in making 'Innocence of Muslims' received death threats. One, Cindy Lee Garcia, filed a lawsuit against Google (which owns YouTube) as well as Nakoula, seeking to suppress the video under a breach of copyright claim. Garcia performed for 'Desert Warrior,' and a five-second clip of her performance was spliced into 'Innocence of Muslims' with her dialogue dubbed over in favor of the critical-of-Muhammad theme.

Continue to full text of posting...

By Johanna Markind  |  May 27, 2015 at 10:45 pm  |  Permalink

Spanish Police Issue Expulsion Order for Imran Firasat

On 9 February 2014, we reported that the Spanish police picked up Pakistani-born Ex-Muslim critic of Islam Imran Firasat from the street and immediately started his expulsion procedure, ignoring his plea that his appeal against the revocation of his Refugee Status was with the Supreme Court. Only timely intervention by Firasat's lawyer prevented his forthwith deportation to Pakistan where he faces definite death penalty or mob lynching.

Although the police failed in its bid to deport Imran Firasat immediately, police officials forwarded the expulsion procedure papers to the Police Headquarter for issuing his expulsion, ignoring the pending Supreme Court hearing of his appeal. And an expulsion order was duly issued by the Spanish Head of Police department within a month.

This whole saga makes it obvious how eagerly the Spanish authorities are trying to throw Imran Firasat out of Spain – all for exercising his right to freedom of expression concerning Islam and Prophet Muhammad, and for which they are even willing to ignore the Spanish law. Attached here is a video on the coverage of the case on Canada's Sun TV.

Continue to full text of posting...

By M.A. Khan  |  March 20, 2014 at 5:19 pm  |  Permalink

OIC Blames Free Speech for "Islamophobia" in West

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, an influential bloc of 57 Muslim countries, has released the latest edition of its annual "Islamophobia" report.

The "Sixth OIC Observatory Report on Islamophobia: October 2012-September 2013" is a 94-page document purporting to "offer a comprehensive picture of Islamophobia, as it exists mainly in contemporary Western societies."

But the primary objective of the OIC—headquartered in Saudi Arabia and funded by dozens of Muslim countries that systematically persecute Christians and Jews—has long been to pressure Western countries into passing laws that would ban "negative stereotyping of Islam."

Continue to full text of posting...

By Soeren Kern  |  December 11, 2013 at 4:29 pm  |  Permalink

Geert Wilders Lauds Legal Project

"Last June, I was acquitted of all charges by an Amsterdam court. The Middle East Forum's Legal Project ... was always there to help, advise and assist ... The importance of the MEF's Legal Project in reclaiming free expression and political discourse ... cannot be overestimated."

Geert Wilders, September 29, 2011

Read the full text of Wilders' statement

© 2024 The Middle East Forum.