Free Speech

One reader wrote in with regard to my post on this Dutch hate speech prosecution objecting that my criticisms seemed too pragmatic and insufficiently focused on the question of principle.

So to be clear: I think as a matter of principle that people should be permitted to make offensive analogies about the Koran or anything else they care to. That said, I do think that principled belief in free speech is ultimately tied to practicalities. If I was genuinely convinced that for people of diverse faiths to coexist peacefully required an elaborate set of legal restrictions on offensive speech—with the only alternative being bloodshed and many deaths—then I’m not going to pretend that I might not flinch away from principle. But the principle of freedom of expression as a good solution for life in a diverse society has, I think, stood the test of time in the United States of America. And it does work, in part, precisely because it’s understood as a principle, as a civic commitment to a shared value. Which is perhaps a more complicated answer than some people are hoping for, but I think that in the real word questions of principle and questions of pragmatism are more intertwined than people sometimes care to admit.