Speech With Costs
. A blind obedience to free speech is not productive.
This week, the government of Canada did what the United States should have done long ago--it drew the line between free speech and hate speech.
Declaring that there was "reason to believe he would engage in criminal activities" during his stay--by violating the country's hate-crime ;laws--the Canadian Department of Immigration barred Khalid Abdul Muhammad from entering Canada to deliver a speech to the Toronto-based Black Youth Congress.
Muhammad, of course, is the openly anti-Semitic former spokesperson for Minister Louis Farrakhan, the slightly less openly anti-Semitic leader of the Nation of Islam. Muhammad attracted attention earlier this year by calling Jews "blood-suckers" and other epithets during speeches at Kean College and Howard University. He advocated that Jews be killed, and then killed again, because "they didn't die hard enough." And he evinced understanding for Nazi Germany's genocide of the Jews, suggesting that we mustn't dwell too much on remembering the Holocaust.
Naturally, Muhammad's speeches prompted an outcry. The Anti-Defamation League is waging a publicity campaign to expose Muhammad with his own words, while prominent Black leaders like the Rev. Jesse Jackson denounced him. Even Farrakhan was forced to demote Muhammad, though the Nation of Islam leader didn't actually repudiate muhammad's views, instead making it clear that he in fact endorsed them.
Despite public condemnation, American politicians and academics didn't quite know how to deal with Muhammad. After all, they couldn't very well infringe on his constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech, could they? That, at least, was the excuse given by Howard officials, who deplored a student group's invitation to Muhammad to speak at their university, but claimed they were powerless to intervene.
Such blind advocacy of "free speech" is not limited to Howard. At Harvard, the Institute of Politics (IOP) two years ago extended an invitation to Louisiana-based bigot David Duke as part of a series of addresses by presidential candidates. At the time, IOP student leaders argued that they were forced out of fairness to invite Duke because they had invited all the other candidates to speak. Fortunately, Duke rejected the invitation.
And just that year, when Provost Jerry R. Green suggested that speech has its limits--and that he would "not sit idly by" if the Ku Klux Klan were marching through Harvard Yard--his words were called "menacing" by a prominent Law School professor.
This rigid adherence to an allencompassing guarantee of "free speech" is unwise, and debases the very principle of tolerance upheld in our Constitution. Americans should not be afraid to establish that some speech--because of its advocacy of hatred, intolerance, or violence against a particular group of people--is illegitimate and undeserving of legal protection.
Similar narrowly defined speech codes are successfully employed in other liberal democracies. In addition to the Canadian example, Germany bars Nazi-style political groups, while Israel has made it a crime to advocate terrorism.
The United States too must draw the line at hate speech. Bigots like Khalid Muhammad should not have the satisfaction of knowing that the First Amendment is something that they can abuse shamelessly, with the government's facto blessing.
Stephen E. Frank's column appears on alternate Thursdays.