Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Muhammad Cartoons: Free Speech Issues

Julie Hilden makes a point in a FindLaw column about the "fighting words" doctrine, in relation to the Muhammad cartoon controversy, that I hadn't considered in my previous post on the issue:

Although the U.S.'s First Amendment does have an exception for "fighting words," it's generally limited to spoken words. And in any event, it would seem unfair - and playing into stereotypes -- to presume that the cartoons are "fighting words" in the sense that the typical Muslim would respond to them with violence.

If it is true that violent Muslim extremists make up a relatively small portion of the general Muslim population, then it would be unreasonable to expect that a cartoon would incite a violent reaction by a typical person in that context. Thus, the cartoon would NOT be excluded from protection under the "fighting words" doctrine.

Of course, American legal doctrines are pretty meaningless on an international stage, but it does shed some light on the free speech debate in general.

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