A German court has ruled that the far-right group Pro Deutschland may display cartoon caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed during planned demonstrations outside mosques this weekend. The act is viewed as an effort to provoke Muslims. Past publications of the cartoons led to riots and the killings of Christians around the world.
The cartoons were first published in 2005 before the infamous riots. While I find the effort to provoke to be obnoxious and juvenile, I agree with the Court. Such displays are in my view protected by free speech and that the threatened response of third parties should not be the basis for censorship on speech.
What is striking about the ruling is that the court ruled that this was a matter of “artistic freedom” and not anti-religious speech. We have been following the trend in the West of prosecuting cases of blasphemy and anti-religious speech. The Court drew a line in favor of free speech in this case and ruled “Simply showing the Mohammed cartoons does not qualify as a call to hatred or violence against a specific segment of the population.”
It is an important victory for free speech even if the defendants are far from inspiring. Civil libertarians are often left fighting for those who are themselves intolerant or prejudicial as in National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie, 432 U.S. 43 (1977). Yet, a court should not force speech to conform to the demands of every group or individual. In a pluralistic society, groups must learn to live in the midst of unpopular and at times insulting speech. The Muslim groups in this case would be equally protected from non-Muslim groups seeking to silence the Islamic community in their own forms of speech.
The German court made a tough call but the right one in this case, in my view. What do you think?