Are there laws against blasphemy anymore? Should there be? Some good points in this article regarding "the movie" and free speech. First the point of blasphemy:
In 1811, for example, New York prosecuted one Ruggles for stating in a local tavern that "Jesus Christ was a bast***, and his mother must be a wh***." Ruggles was convicted and sentenced to three months in prison and a fine of $500.
Speaking for the New York court that upheld his conviction, Chancellor James Kent, a conservative jurist who viewed religion as the bulwark of the social order, reasoned that blasphemy must be a crime because it "tends to corrupt the morals of the people, and to destroy good order." Christianity, he argued, was an integral part of the law of the land, and blasphemy that "insulted" that religion was "a gross violation of decency and good order." Similar prosecutions followed over the next several decades. Men like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who had been deeply involved in the creation of our nation, vigorously condemned these prosecutions. Adams characterized laws against blasphemy as "a great embarrassment" and called for their repeal.
As the force of the Second Great Awakening waned, the demand for blasphemy prosecutions dissipated. Since 1838, there have been only a handful of blasphemy prosecutions in the United States, and a broad consensus has emerged that Jefferson and Adams had it right. In 1952, the Supreme Court of the United States finally put the matter to rest in Burstyn v. Wilson, holding in a unanimous decision that "it is not the business of government in our nation to suppress real or imagined attacks upon a particular religious doctrine" or to protect "any or all religions from views which are distasteful to them." The First Amendment, the Court declared, renders any such government action unconstitutional. Religions and religious figures, like political parties, politicians, businessmen, and other members of society are fair game for criticism, condemnation and even mockery.
Is it time to revisit that? How about punishing people because of the effect that their free speech might have on others?
The second argument one might make for punishing those who condemn Islam and mock Mohammad is that such speech causes serious harm because those who are offended by the speech will react to it in violent ways. In order to prevent the violence, the government must prohibit the speech. The Supreme Court has long wrestled with this problem. When can the government silence a speaker because his speech will upset or anger others and provoke a violent response?
The Supreme Court first addressed this question more than 60 years ago in Cantwell v. Connecticut. Newton Cantwell (a Jehovah's Witness) was proselytizing in a heavily Roman Catholic neighborhood in New Haven, Connecticut. Cantwell stopped people on the street and played them a record that included an attack on organized religion in general and on the Roman Catholic Church in particular. Because several listeners were incensed and came close to starting a fight, Cantwell was arrested, charged and convicted of inciting a breach of the peace. The Supreme Court unanimously held that Cantwell's speech was protected by the First Amendment, reasoning that, at least in the absence of a clear and present danger of grave harm, the government could not constitutionally punish the speaker.
Now comes the hard case. Suppose Cantwell's speech had in fact triggered a fight, in which several people were injured. Could he then constitutionally be punished for playing the record?
There are two important objections to punishing Cantwell in this situation. First, even though these particular listeners reacted violently, many others would not have done so. Suppose he had played his record to fifty groups of people before anyone reacted violently. Would it make sense to punish Cantwell because in the fifty-first instance the listeners were violent?
Second, suppose we do conclude that Cantwell could be punished because the fifty-first group reacted violently. If Cantwell's opponents know that by acting violently they can get the government to punish Cantwell for saying things they don't like, they have every incentive to act violently in the future. This would create what has been called "the heckler's veto." That is, it would turn over to a speaker's opponents the power to have him criminally prosecuted for his speech.
Apply this to the current situation, and the implications are obvious. If we punish American citizens for engaging in otherwise constitutionally protected speech in order to prevent foreign terrorists from engaging in violent acts, then we cede to those very terrorists the meaning of the First Amendment. That doesn't sound very promising, does it?
Good points on both sides. A slippery slope, as some like to say, should we decide to make new laws.
Here is a link that might be useful: source of course