Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
United States of America Constitution, First Amendment
(From NY Daily News) Protesters in Bangladesh burn U.S. flags after a controversial film enraged Islamic nations.
These words symbolize the foundation of our nation and the core values of our people. It guarantees rights that some people of other nations dream to have, as indicated in the case of the Pussy Riot band members in Russia. It also, is the very reason I am allowed to freely express myself in this blog today.
Of course the freedom is not absolute, and comes with restrictions. For example, one could not stand up in the middle of a crowded theater and yell, “fire,” just for kicks and giggles, nor could one publicly call for the assassination of a public official. Also, one couldn’t spread false rumors about someone, ruining their character. Well, you could, but you would face drastic repercussions.
But can one legally make a video that pokes fun of a religious prophet and leads to anti-America riots and close to twelve nations? Recent uprisings in the Middle East and the death of an American Ambassador has people debating this same question.
For now the answer is yes.
YouTube was first to take this stance when the Google company issued this response defending anti-Islamic movie entitled Innocence of Muslims after the Obama administration asked it to review its policy:
We work hard to create a community everyone can enjoy and which also enables people to express different opinions. This can be a challenge because what’s OK in one country can be offensive elsewhere. This video — which is widely available on the Web — is clearly within our guidelines and so will stay on YouTube. However, we’ve restricted access to it in countries where it is illegal such as India and Indonesia as well as in Libya and Egypt given the very sensitive situations in these two countries. This approach is entirely consistent with principles we first laid out in 2007.
This set two clear messages. First, Google will not be bullied by the government, and second, it would be un-American to deny a satire on religion, regardless of who it offends.
I applaud Google for sticking to its guns. And the company is right. This movie is no different than any of the other widely grossing American movies such as Bruno or cartoons such as South Park that make fun of peoples beliefs in order to get laughs. Americans just have become desensitized to such mediums and choose to disregard things that they deem distasteful, allowing them to live on.
This is something the Obama administration was forced to admit through Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s words, “our country does have a long tradition of free expression, which is enshrined in our Constitution and in our law. We do not stop individual citizens from expressing their views no matter how distasteful they may be.”
One fact that can’t be ignored, however, is the reaction this video caused. We watched on television as mobs violently protested outside U.S. Embassies and U.S. flags were burned. Casualties included four persons form the Embassy in Libya.
Today the violence subdues, but one question remains: Has social media ruined free speech? Although Americans can safely enjoy this right, the internet allows these pieces to be played in places where this right is not so pleasantly received. There is no doubt, that from now on things that are subject for publication will have to answer the question, what effect can come from this. The answer will most likely keep some things from surfacing to public level.
As of now, free speech lives to fight another day. But I guarantee this victory will be short lived, and the notion will be called upon to defend itself once again. Enjoy it while you can.