Legal reporter Adam Liptak's article "Outside U.S. Hate Speech Can Be Costly" on Thursday's front pageprovided awelcome blast of attention to an ongoing example of extremist, speech-squelching political correctness, Canadian-style - but what does the Times really think about conservative journalist Mark Steyn's article?
The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal is investigating whether Maclean's magazine, Canada's leading newsweekly, broke the law when it published an article by conservative journalist Mark Steyn (a best-selling author and National Review Online contributor) titled "The Future Belongs to Islam." The article warned that Western values were under attack from radical Islam due to a population surge in Muslim countries and a decline in the Western world, as well as Western political correctness. The Canadian Islamic Congress accuses the magazine of violating a provincial hate speech law by "stirring up hatred against Muslims," in the Times' wording.
Liptak's article is mostly supportive of the unique protections provided by America by the First Amendment to the Constitution, though he interviewed a couple of detractors. But the headline as well as the following passages could lead readers to think Steyn's writing was in fact "hateful," whether or not it merited speech protection:
In the United States, that debate has been settled. Under the First Amendment, newspapers and magazines can say what they like about minorities and religions - even false, provocative or hateful things - without legal consequence.
The Maclean's article, "The Future Belongs to Islam," was an excerpt from a book by Mark Steyn called "America Alone" (Regnery, 2006). The title was fitting: The United States, in its treatment of hate speech, as in so many other areas of the law, takes a distinctive legal path.
The First Amendment is not, of course, absolute. The Supreme Court has said that the government may ban fighting words or threats. Punishments may be enhanced for violent crimes prompted by racial hatred. And private institutions, including universities and employers, are not subject to the First Amendment, which restricts only government activities.
But merely saying hateful things about minorities, even with the intent to cause their members distress and to generate contempt and loathing, is protected by the First Amendment.
In 1969, for instance, the Supreme Court unanimously overturned the conviction of a leader of a Ku Klux Klan group under an Ohio statute that banned the advocacy of terrorism. The Klan leader, Clarence Brandenburg, had urged his followers at a rally to "send the Jews back to Israel," to "bury" blacks, though he did not call them that, and to consider "revengeance" against politicians and judges who were unsympathetic to whites.
Shouldn't the phrase at minimum have quotation marks around it, to communicate that the Times is calling it "so-called" or "alleged" hate speech, instead of bluntly implying that what Steyn wrote was actually hateful? Surely the Times doesn't really think the term "hate speech" accurately describes Steyn's work.