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Making a case for limiting our right to free speech

caines | 9/20/2012, 5:30 a.m.

The Muslim world has been wracked with protests against the U.S. resulting in four deaths in Libya. The protest stems from the creation of a YouTube video that is critical and denigrates the Prophet Mohammed. In recent years, we have seen protests spark in the Middle East over Salman Rushdies book, a comic in a Danish newspaper, the inadvertent burning of the Koran in Afghanistan and the Terry Jones burning of the Koran. After the latest incident, it should be clear that disrespecting the Koran and the Prophet Mohammed will immediately lead to unrest in the Middle East. At the same time, the U.S. Constitution allows for liberal First Amendment rights. The First Amendment right is not unlimited. One cannot enter a crowded movie theater and yell fire and cause havoc and get people hurt without consequence. Nor can one take a machine gun and shoot into a crowd on the basis of your First Amendment right. The original purpose of the First Amendment was to allow citizens the unfettered right to criticize their government. It was proposed by former colonialists, who were jailed for treason for speaking against the king. In the U.S., we view the right to free speech as a sacred pillar of democracy. We allow people to burn U.S. flags, we allow the Ku Klux Klan to march and we allow paintings depicting Jesus in a coarse manner. Our liberal view of the right to free speech is not shared in most countries, particularly the Islamic world. How then do we protect our rights to free speech while at the same time recognize that attacks on the Koran and the Prophet Mohammed may ultimately have disastrous consequences on our relations with Moslems? Should we limit free speech if it incites riots or protests? If we did that, then people like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.s ability to speak against injustice would have been squelched. Perhaps, we should limit free speech when it attacks a religion. If we did that, then protests against the Catholic Church for hiding the molestation of innocent young boys might subject this justified protest to prosecution. How do we limit speech that intentionally or unintentionally puts other people in harms way? The makers of the video are safe in the U.S. and are not facing threats to their property or person. Our embassy personnel, soldiers in Afghanistan and American citizens overseas are in harms way because some idiot made a stupid video. Why does the maker of the video get to get away with doing something that has such far-reaching, adverse consequences? How do we weigh the right to free speech against the safety and protection of U.S. citizens? Reginald J. Clyne is a partner at Clyne and Associates, P.A. of Miami/Fort Lauderdale.By Reginald J. Clyne, Esq.,Miami Times columnist, rjc@clynelegal.com