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The limits of free speech

Jonathan Turley was right [“Shut up and play nice,” Outlook, Oct. 14] to criticize the Obama administration for backing “the passage of a resolution” at the United Nations to restrict anti-religious speech. Contrary to that resolution, the First Amendment protects speech even if it leads to negative stereotyping or stigmatization of Muslims, or to discrimination against them.

A federal appeals court rejected the “discrimination” rationale for restricting speech in White v. Lee (2000), ruling that speech can’t be punished just because it incites illegal discrimination. It also ruled that federal officials could be sued for threatening citizens with civil fines for speaking out against a minority housing project.

Citing the First Amendment, courts also blocked a University of Michigan ban on “discriminatory” speech that “stigmatizes” minorities (1989) and a discrimination lawsuit against Arizona’s Maricopa Community College over a professor’s anti- immigration e-mails in 2010.

The federal government should stop trying to restrict speech under a “discrimination” rationale.

Hans Bader, Washington

The writer is senior attorney at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Jonathan Turley expressed concern about the erosion of free speech in the name of tolerance in the Western world. By way of example, he pointed to the recent video “Innocence of Muslims” which, after being posted on YouTube, sparked violent protests in several Muslim nations and drew quick condemnation from the U.N. secretary-general, who said the video should not be protected as free speech.

The secretary-general’s condemnation was appropriate and, moreover, does not constitute a recent erosion of free speech. In 1942, the Supreme Court held that “fighting words,” meaning words that are “[l]ikely to provoke the average person to retaliation, and thereby cause a breach of the peace” are not protected.

In a later case, the court explained that “the reason why fighting words are categorically excluded from the protection of the First Amendment is not that their content communicates any particular idea, but that their content embodies a particularly intolerable (and socially unnecessary) mode of expressing whatever idea the speaker wishes to convey.”

John R. Maney Jr., Springfield

Jonathan Turley was right for about 90 percent of his Outlook commentary, but he went off the rails in the last 10 percent, when he characterized as censorship the attempts by private entities, such as newspapers, to maintain decency in their publications. It is not censorship, nor a violation of a free-speech right, if The Post decides not to publish a letter on the grounds that it is offensive to law professors.

Newspapers should be congratulated on their good judgment if they refuse to give space to hateful speech or cartoons.  In fact, readers rely on them to be good stewards of public discourse. Mr. Turley’s argument appears to conflate newspapers, television programs and such with governments.

Bob Dennis, Potomac

It is hard to believe that the House of Representatives would introduce legislation criminalizing all lies told with the intent to obtain any undefined “tangible benefit,” as Jonathan Turley wrote. If passed, such a law would put all legislators in jail.

Wayne R. Knight, McLean

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