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Time to Re-Set Boundaries of Free Speech | Steven Kurlander

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Time to Re-Set Boundaries of Free Speech | Steven Kurlander

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Time to Re-Set Boundaries of Free Speech
Tuesday, September 18, 2012 — Steven Kurlander

Consider the famous axiom about free speech handed down by the renowned American jurist, Oliver Wendell Holmes:
"The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic."
So what about a trailer for a movie that depicts the Prophet Muhammad as a philandering fraud who sanctioned rape and child sexual abuse?
Muslims consider any representation of the Prophet Mohammed insulting and blasphemous. And for disrespecting the Prophet over the years, Americans and other westerners have suffered violence, even death.
Given the known consequences, it’s time to ban garbage that mocks the God of a billion people and purposefully incites the worst religious passions. It’s time the Supreme Court reconsidered whether such fiery speech should indeed be protected.
Because of the blasphemous film, enraged Muslims have rioted in several Arab countries and last week killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three staffers at the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Violence against Americans and other westerners -- triggered by anti-Islamic rhetoric, books, cartoons and now movies -- is nothing new in this post-9/11 world. In March, a number of Allied troops in Afghanistan were killed after our troops mistakenly burned several copies of the Quran. The same thing happened after a video showed American troops urinating on three dead Taliban fighters.
This time it’s the trailer for a movie called Innocence of Muslims, a film produced by Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a 55-year-old Coptic Christian immigrant from Egypt.
The video, which depicts a mock trial of the Prophet Mohammed, has been widely circulated on YouTube and promoted by Gainesville pastor Terry Jones, who has gained notoriety for planning Quran-burning events.
Inflammatory religious speech like that found in Innocence of Muslims is more than yelling fire in a theater. It’s like throwing Molotov cocktails into the audience. And it’s jeopardizing American troops, diplomats and citizens overseas, while compromising our national security.
The most recent judicial standard on free speech was set by the Supreme Court in 1969. Called the “imminent lawless action” test, it balances First Amendment rights with the intent of a speaker to incite an imminent and likely violation of the law.
Anyone familiar with Islamic cultures knows the violence that comes from depicting Mohammed in vile ways, and it’s obvious that Nakoula and Jones intended to provoke violations of American criminal and national security laws.
Last week military officials asked Jones to stop propagating the film, but he refused. Similarly, the Obama Administration asked YouTube to pull the film, and company officials refused.
“The problem we have is, just how far do you back down?” Jones asked.  “No matter what you do, if you speak out against Islam in any form, that is reason for them to retaliate.”
Instead of nicely asking them to cease and desist, it’s time to throw Nakoula and Jones in jail if they continue to promote the movie trailer. And the video -- and others like it -- should be banned from publication. Take YouTube to court. Let’s retest the boundaries of the First Amendment.
Free speech is not always free, and not without consequence. And when inflammatory speech from society’s fringe threatens our lives, our troops and our national security, it’s time to redraw the line. 

Steven Kurlander blogs at Kurly's Kommentary, writes a weekly column for Fort Lauderdale’s Sun-Sentinel and is a South Florida communications strategist.

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