The American Freedom Defense Initiative is out to defame Islam once again in the name of free speech
American’s freedom of speech, which is granted by the First Amendment of the Constitution can be a minefield of dos and donts. We are free to criticize the government (even burn the flag), We are free to publish uncensored literature and music. Free speech even gives us the right to advertise our opinions in public. But at the same time there are a vast amount of restrictions, some justifiable, some not.
For instance, we are not allowed to incite imminent lawless action, in other words yell “fire” in a crowded theater with no fire present. We also have the “fighting words doctrine” which means we are not allowed to provoke someone into a violent reaction.
We are not allowed to swear like a sailor on network television (obscenity laws) and we are not allowed to duplicate the copy written free speech of others. Most importantly, our free speech does not cover the defamation of anyone or anything with false statements.
Defamation laws suggest that we are not allowed to lie publicly about any individual, business, product, group, government or religion. On the other hand, it is not against the law. Defamation and slander are civil suits and not subject to arrest or imprisonment.
Defamation laws in the United States effectively allow us to practice hate speech. Most people are not willing to pay untold sums of money in order to sue a group who insults their race, religious belief, age, sex, alienage, national origin, sickness or disability.
When the Ku Klux Klan says something derogatory, no one takes them seriously anymore, and why should they? They are underfunded, unorganized and still living in the 19th century. More often than not, they can be easily ignored.
On the other hand you have groups like the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI). An anti-Islam organization which the Southern Poverty Law Center has classified as a hate group.
Yesterday I read an article on Think Progress titled “Anti-Islam Ads Will Soon Be Plastered on New York City Buses.” The AFDI is preparing to cover a hundred New York City buses with six different advertisements that defame Islam.
The ads attempt to frame Islam as a violent religion that radicalizes its followers. One of them uses an image from the execution of American journalist James Foley with bold text that reads “yesterday’s moderate is today’s headline.” Under the image of Foley it says “it’s not Islamophobia, it’s Islamorealism.”
The American Freedom Defense Initiative has been advertising hate for a few years now in several American cities including NYC, Washington D.C. and San Francisco. The group and its founder’s, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, are out to get as much publicity as possible.
When the city or the transportation department tries to defy the AFDI by not allowing their advertisements, they get sued on first amendment grounds. Regardless of the outcome, the AFDI receive publicity.
This summer, the public transit authorities of Philadelphia refused to allow AFDI ads on their buses because it violated their policy prohibiting the “disparagement or ridicule of any person or group of persons on the basis of race, religious belief, age, sex, alienage, national origin, sickness or disability.” Sound familiar?
To no one’s surprise, the AFDI is now suing the public transit authorities of Philadelphia. The AFDI are claiming the transit authority’s refusal to run the ads is a violation of free speech. And you know what? They’ll win too because even though they run a slight risk of getting sued themselves, Americans have the right to defame and speak in hate. We are basically free to speak hate as long as we can afford it.
Free Speech in America can be a dangerous double edged sword. While Freedom of speech is important in maintaining a healthy democracy, hate speech, if left unchecked can spread like a cancer like it did in Europe (albeit with government help.)
I understand Americans hold their freedom of speech up almost as high as their second amendment rights. But I’m hoping one day the U.S. will follow the lead of other western countries and ban hate speech altogether. Make defamation truly illegal, instead of a way for lawyers to get rich.