Speak at Your Own Risk

The hottest trend among developing nations, and politically correct nations, is to prohibit opinion that might be offensive. In a commitment to diversity, this often means that speech, especially opinion, is severely limited. Many nations call this “hate speech.” One example is Canada, where the most popular weekly magazine there, Maclean’s, published an article entitled “Why the Future Belongs to Islam,” an excerpt from the book “America Alone,” by Mark Steyn (Regnery 2006). The Canadian Islamic Congress found the article injurious to their “dignity, feelings and self-respect” when it traced the historic rise of Islam around the world, “stirring up hatred of Muslims” claimed the Congress.

In the United States, we view the 1st amendment as primal to our liberty, and central to the Constitution itself. It reads, “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.”

This is settled law. Or is it? Is opinion that might offend really free speech? In a commitment to diversity, is speech really free? Professor Frederick Schauer of the JFK School of Government at Harvard wrote in his essay called “The Exceptional First Amendment” that in the United States, “all such speech remains constitutionally protected.” But some prominent legal scholars say the United States should reconsider its position on hate speech. Legal philosopher Jeremy Waldron wrote in The New York Review of Books in May of 2008, “a liberal democracy must take affirmative responsibility for protecting the atmosphere of mutual respect against certain forms of vicious attack.” Hate speech? Opinion? or “Newspeak”?

Newspeak is a fictional language in George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. In the novel, newspeak is "the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year." Orwell included an essay about it in the form of an appendix in which the basic principles of the language are explained. Newspeak is a greatly reduced and simplified vocabulary and grammar of the English language. This suits the totalitarian regime of the Party in 2050, whose aim is to make any alternative thinking — "thoughtcrime", or "crimethink" in the newest edition of Newspeak — impossible by removing any words or possible constructs which describe the ideas of freedom, rebellion, even love. One character says admiringly of the shrinking volume of the new dictionary: "It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words."

Thought crime? Hate speech? Opinion? or “Newspeak”? Today we will hear from three panelists who will discuss what this means in this special Constitutional Day forum, “Speak at Your Own Risk.”

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