Allowing offense to be the basis of reprisal or censorship ... simply gives groups or individuals the power to suppress the speech of anyone with whom they happen to disagree. In our liberal democracy, no group — however virtuous or religious — may claim an exemption from criticism or scrutiny, nor may any religion demand that secular society adhere to its own definitions of heresy or blasphemy. When such policies are attempted, they lead to bullying, favoritism based on power and the end of meaningful freedom of speech and thought. The inevitable result is that certain issues and ideas become off limits to any discussion at all based on a subjective and always-moving standard of who might take offense.I've noticed that a lot of the criticism of the Herald has accused it of racism. But mocking a religion is very different from mocking a race. A religion is a set of ideas. The belief in religion may be deep and sensitive, and it may be arrived at through a path that is not reason and is therefore not amenable to ordinary argument and debate, but it is nevertheless a matter of ideas. You cannot immunize ideas from criticism and still have free speech. In fact, it is most important to be able to criticize the ideas people take most seriously and cling to most intransigently.
February 20, 2006
UW polisci profs Donald Downs and Kenneth Mayer have an editorial in the Badger Herald, which has come under criticism for publishing that cartoon of Muhammad wearing a turban-bomb: