Monday, September 17, 2012

Blasphemy and the law

UW law prof Althouse, reacting to some arguments made by Egyptian protesters, notes that it was not so long ago that anti-blasphemy laws existed in this country. Althouse:
We're not that far from criminalizing blasphemy in the United States, though it seems obvious to educated Americans today that these laws are unconstitutional. Here's a quick summary of the history of blasphemy law in the U.S. And here's the 1952 case Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson where the Supreme Court struck down a New York law that banned showing "sacrilegious" movies. New York's highest court had interpreted the statute to mean "that no religion, as that word is understood by the ordinary, reasonable person, shall be treated with contempt, mockery, scorn and ridicule." The U.S. Supreme Court said:
[T]he state has no legitimate interest in protecting any or all religions from views distasteful to them which is sufficient to justify prior restraints upon the expression of those views. It is not the business of government in our nation to suppress real or imagined attacks upon a particular religious doctrine, whether they appear in publications, speeches, or motion pictures.
My point is: it took a Supreme Court case as recently as 1952, to establish that principle in our country, with its rich free-speech tradition. Lawyers even saw fit at that time to argue that movies shouldn't get free-speech protection at all because "their production, distribution, and exhibition is a large-scale business conducted for private profit."

Oh, wait, the President of the United States today argues that corporations don't have free-speech rights, and many Americans, including highly educated lawyers, are saying the Constitution should be amended to delete those rights.

Let's not be so quick to assume the man with the "Shut Up America" sign is thoroughly alien. The threats to free speech lie within. They always have. [more]
Althouse: "We never insult any prophet — not Moses, not Jesus — so why can’t we demand that Muhammad be respected?"

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