Why progressives need to understand that free speech does not only protect friendly speech
By now, I’m sure many know about the “Draw Mohammed” contest in Texas that ended in a shooting. Pamela Geller and her organization (American Freedom Defense Initiative) held a “contest” for ten-thousand dollars to anyone who could draw an image of Mohammed. Oddly enough, there are many on the left and the right who disagreed with Geller’s tactics, and are attacking her and her group for what they were doing.
While Geller and her hate group are clearly provocative in their tactics, I disagree with those who say that Geller and her group should not have held the contest. I know many of my progressive friends and colleagues will disagree with my opinion, but I think Geller and her group had every right to do what they did.
What Geller did was in bad taste, certainly, but the First Amendment does not just protect friendly speech. Offensive speech is to be protected to, even if this speech is meant to be provocative toward others.
Bill O’Reilly is one of the main figures on the right to criticize Geller and her group for what they were doing. Honestly, I expected an outpouring of support from the right, but the support has been mixed. O’Reilly has said that what Geller did was “stupid” and that she is merely poking Muslims for a negative reaction.
While, that might be true, it doesn’t mean we can’t be “provocative” to members of another religion. Geller and her group has every right to be provocative towards Muslims, and in no way should progressives make the case that “provocative” speech in this case is not warranted.
I understand Muslims are not a powerful group in America, and that Geller did what she did in pure hatred to Muslims alone. If someone asked Geller what her opinion on Piss Christ is, odds are she wouldn’t be in favor of it. That is beside the point, however.
While I don’t follow the philosophy of unnecessary provocation, freedom of speech protects many aspects of speech, including provocative speech. My problem with O’Reilly attacking Geller is not that I think Geller or her group are great. It’s a precedent issue.
If we say that we should not allow provocative speech against Muslims, why should it stop there? If we can’t criticize one religion with provocative speech, why not all the others? What’s to stop Christians, who love to play the victim, from making the case that their doctrine and beliefs cannot be criticized? Nothing.
There is a slippery slope here. While Geller did what she did in bad taste, she still has every right to do what she did. We should not allow insulting religion to be separate from the First Amendment. That opens a can-of worms that would do much more harm than good.
Here is a video link that elaborates more on this topic. Freedom of speech protects all aspects of speech, not just speech we consider convenient to our personal beliefs.