Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Freedom of speech weaker outside U.S.

The IHT has a good article comparing America's freedom of speech to the rest of the West. Compared to Canada and Europe, the U.S. enjoys much stronger freedom of speech laws. A Canadian lawyer notes: "We don't subscribe to a marketplace of ideas. Americans as a whole are more tough-minded and more prepared for verbal combat."

While the article spends a lot of time on protections given to reprehensible Nazi and KKK-style hate speech, it doesn't spend much time exploring the negative societal impact of limiting speech. As Mark Steyn -- whose book, America Alone, was excerpted in the Canadian magazine Maclean's and triggered a hate crimes litigation -- puts it: "Western governments are becoming increasingly comfortable with the regulation of opinion. The First Amendment really does distinguish the U.S., not just from Canada but from the rest of the Western world."

Many qualities distinguish the U.S. from other countries, but it's unfortunate that freedom of speech is one of them. How can liberty be preserved for future generations in the West if this most basic of freedoms is not protected? I doubt that it can. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Founders for enshrining this protection in the Constitution.

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