Offensive Speech is Still Free Speech

There’s a word I’ve been seeing used a lot since the incident n Garland, TX, over the weekend by so-called “free speech advocates” that disturbs me. That word, three little letters, a preposition, “but”.

People have differing opinions as to the motive of the group American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) hosting a “Draw Muhammad” contest this past weekend. Yes, it’s controversial, and yes, even provocative, but no more than any artists depictions of christian motifs as in the 1987 Piss Christ, or the 1996 Virgin Mary depicted with elephant dung.

There’s a difference though that neither of the latter prompted anyone to attempt to commit mass murder.

There seems to be a belief in this country with some that there is a difference between what we deem protected speech and offensive or hate speech. Aren’t they one in the same? Simply because we may dislike, even abhor the speech of others does not mean they don’t have a right to speak whatever the medium chosen. Yes, defamation and incitement to violence are illegal, because both may cause direct harm to an individual or group. Does drawing a cartoon about an historical figure rise to either of these prohibitions? No.

It’s baffling to me to see so many people in the last few days discuss the incident in Garland as a “free speech” event , then abruptly qualify it with “but”. Didn’t we see something similar just a few months ago in Paris, when two gunmen murdered 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo office? Sure we did. “I’m against violence and for free speech, but…” were phrases we heard in the aftermath. An insidious little word, “but”, isn’t it?

If the gunmen in Texas had been successful, would we be hearing the same phrases? I think we would because it’s easier for many to deflect responsibility from those that may commit horrendous acts by simply blaming the victim(s).

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