Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Free Speech in Canada

At Daylight Atheism there is a post called In Defense of Free Speech concerning a Canadian journalist who published the Danish cartoons regarding Mohammad.

The journalist videotaped the interview by the government and used the opportunity to speak in defense of the right to free speech - a right to publish whatever he wants for whatever reason he wants.

I have argued that the right to freedom of speech is not a right to freedom from criticism or even condemnation for what one says. Some people scream that their right to free speech is violated whenever somebody even objects to the fact that they spoke. However, the right to freedom of speech includes the right to speak in condemnation of somebody else. It would be a contradiction to say that the right to freedom of speech means that one is prohibited from speaking in condemnation of others. That, too, is free speech.

The right to freedom of speech means that there is an obligation to respond to words only with counter-words and private action. It is not appropriate to respond to speech with violence or threats of violence - to do physical harm to the speaker or his property.

What Canada is doing in this case is responding to words with violent action. Violence - or the threat of violence - is the mechanism by which all government laws are enforced.

Is this law necessary to maintain the peace?

Well, actually, the question here is, if there is a breech in the peace, who is responsible for it? If other people also obey the restriction to respond to words only with words and private actions, then no speech would ever break the peace. If the peace is broken, then it is broken by the person who has decided to respond to words with violence.

One of the reasons for this approach is that when we respond to words with words, we educate people on what is wrong with what was said - that, or we discover that there is nothing wrong with it in fact. However, you cannot educate people with brute force. Punishing a person who says, for example, that pi = 3, even though it is wrong, does not educate him on what pi is or what it means.

Besides, the types of people who tend to be the most eager to defend their ideas through violence (including the violence of law) rather than counter-words are those whose ideas are the least defensible.

And when violence becomes the accepted means of persuasion in any country, then debates will more likely be carried out with weapons than with words - and that benefits nobody.

The accused in this case is in the right - not because the ideas he communicated have any merit. It is because violence is not the appropriate response to any speech, regardless of its merit.

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