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Fire! The 'clear and present danger' in some free speech page 3
Sarah Chayes' op-ed column on free speech and 'clear and present danger.'

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Date published: 10/7/2012

continued

Indeed, Justice Holmes' original example, shouting "fire" in a theater, is not a call to arms. Steve Klein, an outspoken anti-Islamic activist who said he helped with the film, told al-Jazeera television that it was "supposed to be provocative." The egregiousness of its smears, the apparent deception of cast and crew as to its contents, and the deliberate effort to raise its profile in the Arab world a week before 9/11 all suggest intentionality.

The point here is not to excuse the terrible acts perpetrated by committed extremists and others around the world in reaction to the video, or to condone physical violence as a response to words--any kind of words. The point is to emphasize that U.S. law makes a distinction between speech that is simply offensive and speech that is deliberately tailored to put lives and property at immediate risk. Especially in the heightened volatility of today's Middle East, such provocation is certainly irresponsible--and reveals an ironic alliance of convenience between Christian extremists and the Islamist extremists they claim to hate.

Sarah Chayes, former special assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is a resident associate at the Carnegie Endowment and a contributing writer for the Los Angeles Times.


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