In 1789 James Madison introduced the Bill of Rights to the House of Representatives. When they finally were ratified by the States in 1791, rights such as freedom of speech and expression were given protection against government intrusion. Since then, the Supreme Court has defined limits to what speech is accepted as protected speech, and what speech goes outside the boundaries of protected speech. The freedoms we enjoy in the United States are robust in comparison to many areas of the world, and in particular, the Middle East. In general, American jurisprudence appreciates the value of ideas, both good and bad, entering the so called ‘marketplace of ideas.’ The notion is that all ideas are protected speech, and it is our hope that the bad ideas will ultimately lose as public opinion drowns them out with good ideas. Practically, this means that Americans can say almost anything they wish, and when those viewpoints are seen as extreme, the rest of the American community will ignore their thoughts as being crazy.
Unfortunately, in today’s modern world, American’s free speech reaches beyond its borders. With the ever-growing technological universe making the world smaller and smaller, the actions of a few can have a much greater impact than we could previously have foreseen. Recently, an American created a video that angered many in the Muslim world, inciting rioting and violence, and placing many western embassies (Including several US embassies) in danger. While this “speech” fits within the American parameters of protected speech, it placed many American lives in danger, and resulted in violent backlashes across the world. The way that this video came across to the American public was far different then how it was perceived on an international level, especially to those who already hate America. To those individuals, this video just added fuel to their fire.
The question I have is, even if we agree that this type of speech should be tolerated, what happens when the backlash results in American deaths? What if the speech of a small few incites violence across the world that causes more and more terrorism? And if we agree that in those cases, speech should be limited, where do we draw the line?