CEI - Anti-religious speech and the limits of free speech

The Obama administration this year backed a UN resolution to restrict anti-religious speech.  In a letter this week to The Washington Post, CEI senior attorney Hans Bader explains that the adminstration wrong on this issue, because the First Amendment protects such speech.  Also, he points out, the administration's position is at odds with legal precedent.

The limits of free speech

October 17, 2012
Letter to the Editor

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.