The Sounds of Silencing

Freedom of speech is increasingly under attack throughout the world. Europe, except for Denmark, has largely given up. Even in the United States, its opponents are assailing freedom of speech using a two-fold strategy. First are lawsuits in the United States. They have uniformly failed, but not without costing those who have been sued vast amounts of time and money. Second are lawsuits and legal appeals to official bodies outside the United States, such as the human rights complaint in Canada against Mark Steyn and Maclean’s, which published an article of his. Steyn describes the extent of the problem:

One of the critical differences between America and the rest of the west is that America has a First Amendment and the rest don’t. And a lot of them are far too comfortable with the notion that in free societies it is right and proper for the state to regulate speech. The response of the EU Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security to the Danish cartoons was to propose a press charter that would oblige newspapers to exercise “prudence” on, ah, certain controversial subjects. The response of Tony Blair’s ministry to the problems of “Londonistan” was to propose a sweeping law dramatically constraining free discussion of religion. At the end of her life, Oriana Fallaci was being sued in France, Italy, Switzerland and sundry other jurisdictions by groups who believed her opinions were not merely disagreeable but criminal. In France, Michel Houellebecq was sued by Muslim and other “anti-racist” groups who believed opinions held by a fictional character in one of his novels were not merely disagreeable but criminal.

Does what Steyn wrote violate anyone’s human rights? Decide for yourself. (My favorite line: “We are the children we never had.”) And ask yourself whether any printed speech that is not directed at any particular individual can violate anyone’s human rights.

Given the multinational character of publishing, we can’t assume that the First Amendment will protect us against these pressures. Stanley Kurtz is right: “This is our battle.”

UPDATE: More on this, and what might be done about it, from The Volokh Conspiracy.  And some particular cases involving allegations of libel from Roger Kimball.

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