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Should freedom of speech be absolute or should there be restrictions on publishing material that is offensive to religious sensitivities, particularly if publication serves no particular public interest?

February 6, 2006

Response from Richard Heck on February 6, 2006

As well as the important question of principle (which I shall largely leave to others), there are ipmortant practical questions here: Exactly which religious sensitivities should be given legal standing? What counts as offense? How should it be determined whether publication serves a particular public interest? Perhaps more importantly, by whom should it be determined?

And why limit it to speech? To borrow from a recent column in the Boston Globe by Jeff Jacoby (with whose overall point I do not actually agree), should the eating of beef be banned on the ground that it is offensive to Hindus? Should women be forced to "cover up" on the ground that the display of female flesh is offensive to many extreme traditionalists? Quite apart from the question of principle, this does not seem a road down which one really wants to travel.

For that matter, why limit it to religious sensibilities? There's a lot that offends me, some for religious reasons, some not. Why privilege the former?

None of that is to say that anyone should publish material that offends religious sensibilities, or needlessly offends for any other reason. It's simply to say that it's not a good idea to have laws that prohibit the publication of such material.


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