Mo The Rutabaga Isn't Safe In The U.S., Either

I've been pretty tough on the United Kingdom recently, what with them arresting people for burning poppies and trying to make Twitter free of offense and threatening U.S. websites and thus-and-such.

But it's only fair to point out that it's not necessarily safe to carry around my rutabaga named Mo here in the United States, either. Courtesy of commenter Trebuchet and Ed Brayton, I discovered Eugene Volokh's testimony to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which offers numerous examples of embarrassing attempts by American academics to suppress speech. They don't call it blasphemy, but they might as well. Volokh's conclusion is apt:

As I said at the outset, I firmly support the free speech, religious freedom, and property rights of Muslims. My concern is simply that all speakers and religious observers be protected, whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim, or pro-Islam or anti-Islam. Nor does this need to be difficult: The government should tell Muslims (as it tells other groups), “We respect you and your rights, and we will defend you and your rights from violence and government oppression, but if you find certain kinds of speech offensive you should respond with speech of your own; we cannot respond by trying to suppress such speech.”

But the government ought not try to define political and religious speech as “discrimination” or “harassment,” and then suppress it in the name of civil rights. Nor should the government conclude that the speech is stripped of protection because it is supposedly constitutes “hate speech”; the Supreme Court’s precedents solidly reject the view that there is a “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment. Nor should it surrender to the threat of violence, a course of action that only encourages more such threats in the future. Instead, the government should protect the civil rights of all, regardless of their religion or ideology.

Some foreign countries, to be sure, do indeed seem to prohibit speech that is perceived as blasphemy or undue criticism of religion — not just Islam but also, for instance, Christianity: Consider, just over the last two years, foreign incidents involving Jesus Christ Superstar, a parody of the venerated Greek Orthodox monk Elder Paisios, mockery of the Bible, and a painting of Jesus with a Mickey Mouse head. But in America, such speech is of course fully protected against government suppression. That must remain so, whatever religion is targeted.

Quite right.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. Trebuchet says

    Thanks Ken. I'm 100% in agreement with you on this topic, just wanted to point out it's far from just a UK thing. I expect you could expect some difficulty at other US universities for naming your rutabaga "Jesus".

  2. C. S. P. Schofield says

    Frankly, I would prefer;

    “We respect you and your rights, and we will defend you and your rights from violence and government oppression, but if you find certain kinds of speech offensive you should grow a pair and man up you whining little wankers.”

  3. Liberaltarian says

    It's strange how so many people, people of normal intelligence who have no trouble at all understanding "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth", are utterly unable to grasp the concept behind "a word for a word and a criticism for a criticism".

  4. AlphaCentauri says

    The problem is the cases where free expression overlaps with real threats. If the new African American residents in a neighborhood look out to see a cross burning in the yard across the street, they will rightly consider that a threat of bodily harm, based on the history of the KKK burning crosses as warnings of violence. The neighbor is probably just a bluffing asshole, but he could possibly be psychotic and really mean it. If the same neighbor instead posts a sign that says,"N–s go back to Africa," with no actual threat of violence, the actual risk of him becoming violent may be the equal, but it would be easier to call it protected speech.

  5. says

    @Liberaltarian: That's because they don't actually understand "turnabout is fair play." They understand "it's all about me, me, me."

  6. James Pollock says

    I've never understood why people who believe in an omnipotent deity feel any need to intercede in worldly affairs on His behalf.

  7. somebody says

    I've noticed a worrying trend in recent months: In some progressive-minded Internet communities that I frequent, Muslims have become defined as a race, and criticism of Islam, by extension, has become defined as racism (and thus bannable.) The operators of the internet communities have a right to make whatever rules and definitions they want, of course, but the implications still bother me.

    I have to wonder: How did people come to define a religious belief system as a race?

  8. Rich Rostrom says

    somebody: They say "racism" when they should say "bigotry". It's a stupid error, but understandable. "Racism" is the most excoriated form of bigotry – what everyone crusaded against in the last century.

    (Religious bigotry was still around in the 1900s, but had largely been beaten down to trivial levels. Unlike racism, which was a foundation of Nazism, the South African government, and the Dixiecrat South.)

    So when people want to say "bad prejudice" they tend to say "racism".

    Then also, ethnicity and religion are frequently linked. Moslems are mostly non-"white". (The "racial" status of caucasoid-but-swarthy Middle Easterners is borderline.) So alleged anti-Moslem bigotry is mislabeled "racism".

  9. AlphaCentauri says

    "Race" is a pretty bizarre concept. Europeans defined the rest of the world in relationship to themselves. By all logic, Europe is not a separate "continent," and the Caucasus isn't really part of it anyway.

  10. Doug Browne says

    Race is also a concept that has changed over time. In the 19th century you heard people speaking of the Irish race (some promoting Irish solidarity, others wanting their immigration capped) or the Italian race. Today both of those ethnic groups would generally be called "white," at least in the USA.

  11. ~A says

    I have been reading popehat for quite a while, and as a recent graduate of UK university (lthough non-law related), I thought It would be interesting to share this:

    Bad taste theme? Potentially, but… really? fines, public work and suspension for pointing out the British DJ Jimmy Savile controversy? Reminded me of the Pineapple Mohamed and RUSU.