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Time to reset boundaries of free speech

Florida Voices
Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 06:06 PM

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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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