When the offices of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo were attacked for repeatedly publishing cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Mohammad in early January, the world came alive with rallying cries for free speech.
In Islam, drawing Mohammed is strictly forbidden, and critics of the paper’s actions were very vocal in sharing their thoughts. However, that doesn’t change the fact that French citizens, like American citizens, have the freedom to say and print whatever they’d like.
“You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others,” Francis said. He also said, however, that the attack on Charlie Hebdo couldn’t be justified.
This brings up a good question, though: where do we draw the lines in the U.S.?
The Constitution’s First Amendment protects the freedom of speech in our country: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or of 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.”
There are a few exclusions from free speech, but they are very limited. You cannot yell, “Fire!” in a movie theater, for example, if there’s no fire; likewise, you can’t utter some “fighting words” that are injurious to others or that might cause someone hearing them to retaliate immediately.
The big question: if a U.S. paper were to publish cartoon sketches of Mohammad, would it be protected under the free speech clause?
Let’s look at it this way. It’s perfectly legal for a paper to publish images of any other religious figure without it being automatically termed hate speech. This should probably be a clear-cut issue, but there’s the inconvenient side effect of newspapers having to fear illegal repercussions for exercising their constitutional rights. What do you think about how this could affect Americans’ freedom of speech? Are you on the same side as the New York Times, which refused to reprint Charlie Hebdo’s cover, or the Washington Post, which did republish it? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page; we’d love to hear what you think.