The author notes:
It's worth remembering here that there really is not quite any such thing as pure free speech in the United States, general perceptions to the contrary. A citizen cannot directly incite violence without expecting some consequences, for one. Then there's defamation of character.As though those cases are 'exceptions' to the doctrine of Free Speech when in fact they are not. They are rather claims that occur within speech and it is the violence done thereby that is punished by laws against incitement to violence, and against slander. If that sounds like splitting hairs, consider it this way. In both cases a case must be made against the speaker and harm done proven. It is not the speech that is on trial but the harm to the third party that must be assessed, and with, it must be noted, considerable wiggle-room for interpretation.
Is it still incitement to violence if no actual violence was committed? Have you been slandered if no reasonable person could believe the claims?
The law regarding Free Speech is, therefore: say what you like as long as you are prepared to face the consequences of potentially offending another person's Rights.
I'm well aware that as a journalist I should be an absolutist, and as an American I fully subscribe to the notion of the robust marketplace of ideas and all that. But I think these are difficult questions. It seems pretty obvious that Jones is trying to incite...if not violence, then at least rage, and that there's not one redeeming social quality to the act.I disagree. Firstly, I don't think Jones was trying to incite violence anymore than he was trying to prove that the violence is inherent in intolerant strands of Islam. How reasonable is it to murder people over the burning of a book, however sacred? Is human life not holier? We should be able to apply our judgment to the question without being forced to accept an answer that is contrary to all that we believe in.
Secondly, is speech only free when there is a "social quality" to that speech? This Orwellian terminology might wash with Guardian readers but not with most Conservatives. Jones burned the Koran because he wanted to, not because there was some value to society in doing so (even if he believed there might be). And, like it or not, he has the freedom to do so.