In Wake Of Killings, A New Look At Hate Speech
by Liz Halloran
June 19, 2009
Free Speech In Peril?
Today’s conditions mark a serious test for free speech, but the test is not unprecedented, says Monroe Freedman, a Hofstra University law professor.
Recalling the “red scare” and McCarthyism of the 1950s, Freedman warns that the pendulum can swing too far in the other direction. He remembers two brilliant scholars, twin brothers, who were a year behind him at Harvard Law School. David and Jonathan Lubell were pressured by Harvard to give up their top positions at the Law School Record and had to fight efforts to have them expelled.
Their offense? Called to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee, they cited their constitutional right to free speech and due process, and refused to answer questions about their political activism.
“There’s a lot of scary stuff going on out there now, no question about it,” Freedman says, but he adds that he is suspicious about “mythical, nostalgic thinking” by those who would suggest that the climate is worse now than it’s ever been.
“The bottom line is that we’ve seen it before,” says Freedman, who served as the first executive of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, which laid the groundwork for the museum.
Freedman and his Hofstra law school colleague Eric Freedman, no relation, co-edited the book Group Defamation and Freedom of Speech: The Relationship Between Language and Violence.
Speech can provoke violence, Eric Freedman says. But his co-editor says it is difficult, if not impossible, to draw a connection between provocative speech and action by the likes of James von Brunn, who is charged with killing the Holocaust Museum security guard.
Barnett puts it this way: “It could be argued that right-wing talk radio stokes some of these fires. But the fires were already burning.”