Montana Moves To Criminalize Speech Deemed Insulting To Religious or Racial Groups

100px-Montanastatesealnicubunu_open_mouthWe have been discussing the crackdown on free speech in the West, particularly in England, France, and Canada. It is a rising concern that seems to be lost on Montana legislators and prosecutors who want to follow the path of speech criminalization. The Montana criminal defamation statute criminalizes speech that exposes religious, racial, and other groups — “to hatred, contempt, ridicule, degradation, or disgrace” — an absurdly broad standard that would make a Sharia judge blush.

I have long been a critic of the criminalization of symbols and gestures, even deeply offensive symbols like Nazi gestures. Europe has plunged into speech regulation and criminalization – showing that such laws create a slippery slope for the criminalization of unpopular speech. This course inevitably leads to increasing — and increasingly absurd — speech crimes. For example, I fail to see how arresting a man for a Hitler ringtone is achieving a meaningful level of deterrence, even if you ignore the free speech implications.

The problem is trying to draw such lines rather than embracing free speech as protecting not just popular but unpopular and even hateful speech. Once you start as a government to criminalize speech, you end up on a slippery slope of censorship. What constitutes hate speech remains a highly subjective matter and we have seen a steady expansion of prohibited terms and words and gestures. We have been following (here and here and and and here and and here and here) the worsening situation in England concerning free speech. As noted in a recent column, free speech appears to be dying in the West with the increasing criminalization of speech under discrimination, hate, and blasphemy laws.

My friend Eugene Volokh has a good piece on the Montana law. It includes a type of group libel claim that has always been problematic in torts. Criminal defamation and hate crime cases have presented the greatest threat to free speech. Indeed, Muslim countries that have long fought for an international blasphemy standard has latched on to the same approach as Montana to criminalize anti-Islamic speech. Unputting aside the questions constitutionality of such laws, Montana seems utterly unconcerned about the implications of this criminalization effort.

Source: Washington Post

121 thoughts on “Montana Moves To Criminalize Speech Deemed Insulting To Religious or Racial Groups”

  1. If the RepubliCons were in power in the legislature when the statute was passed and if the governor who signed it was a RepubliCon, then we know from whence this nazi attitude is derived. If it was a Democrat leglislature and governor then we can call them Liberals. I suppose. Democrats can be conservative too. It would be interesting to learn: when this statute was passed; who was in power; who opposed it; and what the political persuasion is of the prosecutor who is bringing this criminal case. The Volokh Conspiracy article does not inform in these regards.

  2. Karen

    Are you unable to feed your child, clothe your child, tuck your child into his bed each night? Have you been forced to sell your horse? If your child, or your husband, or you fall ill, can you afford to visit the doctor and then see a specialist? Can you afford a possible surgery? Can you afford the scripts that are required? Has your car be repossessed? Is your home in foreclosure? Have any of these nightmares occurred and are they the result of the higher premium you are forced to pay?

    If that is the case, write me and tell me the amount of your shortfall. I will send you a check for that amount.

    Ask Spinelli for my mailing address. He knows where I live.

  3. randyjet

    I acknowledge that I was not on your same track and that I inserted my own agenda. I don’t think I have to apologize for that – it happens all the time around here.

    However, our imperialist history is too often completely unknown. Ask the man on the street. Hell. Ask the commenters here. I bet 30% won’t even get as far as the Philippines. That’s something that bugs me, especially in light of our belief in our ‘perfection’.

    I’m happy to talk about comparisons AFTER there is an acknowledgement that we do have a history of imperialism. I agree that you know about that history and were simply pursuing another kind of an argument.

    Ultimately, I think we would probably disagree on the human toll of our adventures in the Americas, especially since I think we are still mucking things up down there. There was some huge lawsuit that was recently in the news that was really egregious, but I can’t remember what it was.

    But no. We were not Great Britain, nor Belgium, nor Portugal. But one cannot use that to blow off our own history. And the protest that ‘everybody does it’ is, I think, incredibly lame. That’s an argument that a six year old uses when caught cheating.

    1. The difference between the US and the other standard imperialisms is pretty great as I found out in my profession of aviation. In all of the countries of the former British Empire, the British CAA license is accepted as valid in ALL of those countries, and the US license is not. I think the US license is accepted in the Philippines, but I would not swear to it. Thus the British pilots had a real advantage over me in flying in other countries.

      Of course, the US has run Latin America as the Soviet Union did its client states in Eastern Europe. At least the Soviets were a whole lot nicer than the US has been. The death toll from US supported puppet regimes runs into the million, while the Soviets may have hit a couple of thousands. I like to remind Cuban dissidents that while Castro is not a democratic kind of person, he is not as bad as the US supported dictators. The Cubans might get some time in prison for making nasty comments. In US run LA, such folks get murdered. THAT is a significant difference in regimes to me and most other rational folks.

  4. Wade:

    “Now please, go on about the evil done to you by the ACA.”

    Clearly you are completely thoughtless and uncaring of the middle class. No one except the rich can afford the ACA without subsidies; even its architects admit that.

    So you might not care that it will wipe a lot of people out of the middle class, which would make you a callous, uncaring sort of person. That’s fine. To each his own, but then why do you care a fig about what happens overseas? You can’t be moved by what’s happening here under your own little feet. Knocking someone out of financial stability and into poverty does not move you, so why do you care if corporations do the same thing in another country?

    You seem conflicted.

    Oh, and consumers voting with their dollars and buying organic can influence the behavior of corporate agriculture.

  5. Wade:

    “Critics often accused it of exploitative neocolonialism, and described it as the archetypal example of the influence of a multinational corporation on the internal politics of the banana republics.”

    Here’s an interesting little anecdote about the banana industry. When I traveled to the Caribbean, I visited some banana plantations. The guys boxing up the bananas were covered in fungal infections. Treating the bananas constantly with anti-fungals, to which apparently they are prone, caused anti-fungal-resistant-skin fungal infections in the workers.

    Buy organic.

    And I’ve been ridiculed for some pretty absurd things before, but mocking me for caring about the AIDS epidemic is a new low.

  6. Karen

    You’re way off track.

    Randyjet, an intelligent, curious, and thoughtful fellow mentioned American imperialism was very limited and said our most notable action was the Phillippines.

    I thought he was overlooking a lot of our history concerning Latin, Central, and South America. And Hawaii. And Mexico.

    I said nothing about self loathing. It was primarily a list of things. You can make your own judgements about those events. Loathe them or Love them. All I’m interested in is that these events in American history are on the books. I did give a very brief mention of context by saying our imperialism was more nuanced than Great Britain or Belgium. I did not mention Portugal. Please. Hold the lecture. I am aware of their terrible history.

    Then you go off on some crazy tangent that includes whining about middle class ACA premiums. That’s after a brief history of the Marquesasians in Hawaii. And “everybody does it”.

    Well so they do. But what began the conversation was a great big whole missing slug of American history whose void may cause people to think that everybody does it – BUT NOT US. I thought that deserved attention.

    Now please, go on about the evil done to you by the ACA.

  7. @WadeWilliams

    You said, “Must be something else that I can’t quite put my finger on…”

    Hmmm. The aforementioned organist???

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Rerporter

    PS: One of my friends brought a discarded kitten to me this morning. On her way to work, she found it next to the road in a commercial district, like somebody had just thrown it out of the car or something. I named him Jolson, because he is black, and has the cutest little black face. He is sitting in my lap, and my other two cats are not exactly happy about him. Yet.

  8. Squeeky makes every effort to draw Americans together.

    Last count her only exceptions were gays, feral blacks….and…and

    Damn. She added some group this morning and I’ve forgotten just which group it was. Oh well. She’ll probably let us know in just a couple of minutes.

  9. Isaac, We are indeed entitled to your own opinions, no matter how flawed they may be. Another superior aspect of the world’s oldest, and greatest democracy. Right? Just bustin’ balls. You don’t need to answer.

  10. Karen

    Check your math. Eisenhower and Reagan were not presidents two hundred years ago. Allende was not in office 200 years ago. Here’s a bit about United Fruit:

    “The United Fruit Company was an American corporation that traded in tropical fruit (primarily bananas), grown on Central and South American plantations, and sold in the United States and Europe. The company was formed in 1899, from the merger of Minor C. Keith’s banana-trading concerns with Andrew W. Preston’s Boston Fruit Company. It flourished in the early and mid-20th century, and it came to control vast territories and transportation networks in Central America, the Caribbean coast of Colombia, Ecuador, and the West Indies. Though it competed with the Standard Fruit Company (later Dole Food Company) for dominance in the international banana trade, it maintained a virtual monopoly in certain regions, some of which came to be called banana republics, such as Costa Rica, Honduras, and Guatemala.[1]

    United Fruit had a deep and long-lasting impact on the economic and political development of several Latin American countries. Critics often accused it of exploitative neocolonialism, and described it as the archetypal example of the influence of a multinational corporation on the internal politics of the banana republics. After a period of financial decline, United Fruit was merged with Eli M. Black’s AMK in 1970, to become the United Brands Company. In 1984, Carl Lindner, Jr. transformed United Brands into the present-day Chiquita Brands International.”

    Note they flourished in mid-20th century. That was not 200 years ago. And I had a Chiquita banana just this morning.

    Your math is simply terrible.

      1. The government IS the arm of United Fruit, especially when the Dulles brothers ran he CIA and State Dept. They used US military power for their own ends to secure the best deals for their country. The CIA used to check the employment applications to the EXXON refinery in Venezuela and they would only hire those who had unswerving devotion to the USA and Exxon.

  11. Squeeky – the trend is for driving a wedge between communities, rather than drawing them together. Emphasis the differences, be as divisive as possible, riot at the drop of a hat.

    More and more, we are getting driven apart, and a lot of it is driven by people who consider themselves intellectuals.

  12. Squeeky Simon Legree,

    Apparently you’ve read some of my comments. And unless you, too, have access to the miraculous billowy bonnet, I presume that is how you are analyzing my character. If your analysis is that I am a homophobe and a racist – I’m perfectly fine with that.

    There’s a woman who lives down the street from me. I’ve known her and her family for years. Sadly she is afflicted with schizophrenia and occasionally thinks I am a messenger from St. Michael sent to take her to Bethlehem. I’m also perfectly fine with that.

    I don’t think there’s any connection between the two of you…. goodness knows she doesn’t remind me of Simon Legree.

    Must be something else that I can’t quite put my finger on…

  13. If someone forces a gay baker to cater for one of those churches that opposes homosexuality, having to sit there during the sermon, can they please post a video online?

    Sometimes you have to show when telling won’t get the point across.

  14. @KarenS

    I agree with you. If us white folks are sooo bad, why don’t these self-loathing whites go live in countries run by black and brown folks. And, if us white folks are sooo bad, how come so many black and brown folks swim the Rio Grande to come here??? It looks like they would stay in their own countries where non-exploitive fair-minded good black and brown folks run things. Like Liberia, and Mexico, and Uganda, etc. etc.

    They are just the New Puritans, scrounging around trying to find something to make their congregation feel guilty about, so they can pass the collection plate, and then when the crowd thins out, go diddle the organist, in a figurative sense.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  15. Max:

    “Don’t call a baker a homophobe for refusing to bake a gay wedding cake…
    … It’s offensive to their religion.”

    Cool. Then I can force you to participate in a religious ceremony that prologues with a rousing sermon on the sinful nature of homosexuality.

    If you want to force business owners to participate in other people’s religious ceremony, expect that gift to just keep giving.

    Personally, I take a “live and let live” and “to each his own” philosophy. Forcing people to participate in religious ceremonies that are at odds with their own religious beliefs is not freedom of religion or free speech, and it is not allowing everyone to just live how they feel is bed. Gay couples want the freedom to live their lives how they want, to get married, but they won’t allow others to live according to their own beliefs, not to participate.

    I have long supported gay marriage, but I have to say this forcing people to participate is quite alienating.

  16. Wade – it has been well established that the Constitution is not a living document, malleable to changing social mores. Rather, it requires the lengthy process of amendment to avoid the Constitution meaning one thing today, another tomorrow, as changeable as the political party in power. We can count on having the freedoms it protects, and if we want to change it, we amend it, rather than reinterpret it.

  17. Wade is trying to excuse beating his chest about the actions of the US two hundred years ago while blithely ignoring that virtually every single culture ever recorded acted exactly the same.

    I call shenanigans. He can try to writhe out of it, but it’s an absurd line of reasoning. Of course we should accurately teach our history. “Accurate” means learning our history in the correct context, such as what was going on contemporaneously.

    They used to say that in Venezuela, people fell out of tress into Cadillacs. By the time Chavez was through with it, half the population lived in poverty. Human rights are abused in China, Russia, and the Middle East. Africa suffers from the exploitation of child soldiers, tribal warfare, raging disease, and famines, and it STILL practices slavery in some areas. Canada, France, and Great Britain is steadily eroding its rights of free speech.

    I do not understand this self loathing of Americans. There is a certain type of individual which romanticizes the rest of the world, even though our high rate of immigration shows how the world votes with its feet. They want to repeat the socialist experiment, and expect a different result, or emulate the criminalization of free speech like in Europe and Canada, and expect a different result. They despise whites because hundreds of years ago there was slavery, and after the assassination of Lincoln, Jim Crow Laws held on for a while. So they hate themselves, but ignore that we’ve spent literally trillions of dollars to try to help the poor and minorities.

    The Portuguese don’t loathe themselves, and they were some of the most prolific slave traders hundreds of years ago. Nor do the French or the British, and they were the biggest colonial power since the Romans. So why is it such a common phenomenon here? Does it make people feel like their angst is “doing something?” Do they think, for example, that making the middle class pay hundreds of dollars more in health insurance “evens the playing field” by further widening the gap between rich and poor?

    Self loathing pity competitions might get murmurs of agreement at a cocktail party completely devoid of introspection, but it won’t work here.

  18. I have these opinions as do many, perhaps half if not more than half of all Americans. We feel as we do focused on what America can be. It seems that you focus on what America was. There is no hanging here unless it be you by yourself as you explain me and the Constitution. My focus on how things should be is shared by many and has more to do with human nature than some particular iteration of what it means to be American. I believe that there are truths and ideals that are greater than America. The sadness of America can be found in those who believe that it starts and stops with their interpretation. It is a work in progress, progress being the essential ingredient.

    Free speech is a responsibility as well as a right. Consider the words slander, libel, defamation of character, etc. The main ingredient in most chauvinistic societies is that what one is born with is greater than what one earns. This is the origin of racism, bigotry, and other holier than thou concepts. No one is better than any other simply by virtue of where they were born and the rights that come with that happening.

    Perhaps my having viewed the world from North of the border, East of the border, and within the border, gives me an advantage. I like to think so. In any event, without embarrassing yourself any further, why not agree to disagree. Let’s not pull the authority routine. I state my opinion and the reasons why I feel this way. This, as well, is a work in progress. I used to have fixed ideas that were not that well thought out.

  19. @WadeWilliams

    All of your excessive name calling seems to have a psychological root called “POrojection”. . .About which:

    This is known as Psychological P0rojection, a theory in psychology in which humans defend themselves against unpleasant impulses by denying their existence in themselves, while attributing them to others. For example, a person who is rude may constantly accuse other people of being rude. (M. Spindell, Philosopher.)

    Sooo, according to the Theory of POrojection, there is a very good likelihood that you are both a homophobe, and a racist.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

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