Sunday, October 14, 2012

GWU law professor discusses growing limits on free speech; speakers are held responsible for reactions of others


The Western world, including the United States, is placing less value on free speech than in the past, and is willing to limit it for purposes of public harmony, according to Jonathan Turley, public interest law professor at the George Washington University.

The article (in the Washington Post Oct. 14) is titled “Shut up and play nice: how the Western world is limiting free speech”, link here

The main areas that Turley addresses are that speech can be (1) blasphemous, (2) hateful, (3) discriminatory, and (4) deceitful.

The most conspicuous recent example would come from proposals to censor or limit speech (some of which were put into place in some countries) that offends the religious sensibilities of some people.  There seems to be an idea that speakers have some moral accountability for inciting violent activity among people not living in democratic cultures.

But that goes along with ideas that it is more important to “fit in” and to learn reciprocity in “watching other people’s backs” that to tell the truth.  It’s important to become a social person and take responsibility for other people.

In the “hateful” category, Turley discusses Canadian law and the idea that speech is banned not only on its objective content but on the reactions of others.  A related problem would be “implicit content”, where speech is judged on the supposed intentions of the speaker.

In the discrimination section, Turley provides an example of a Canadian comedian accused of inflicting emotional distress on a lesbian couple, but the same idea, with irony, affects religious speech.


In the “deceitful” section, Turley talks about the “Stolen Valor” problem.

See also my reviews of GW Professor Daniel Solove's books (look for label "Solove") on Books blog. 

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