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Federal Contempt for Free Speech

Further, Killian’s record confirms his constitutional colors as he issued much the same message at the grand opening of the Chattanooga Islamic Center in 2012. In that setting, the similar veiled warning -- via carefully linked statements -- was that the Framers of civil rights law did not intend to allow “hypocrites” who choose “hate and prejudice as a value system” to practice their “double standard,” enjoying “liberty and freedom” while denying the “same Constitutional and statutory rights to others.” He cautioned that “the federal statutes apply to everyone and will be enforced equally.”

If the feds plan to just invent a new category of speech crimes for heightened protection of Muslim sensibilities they have to first contend with Supreme Court directives that leave no room for confusion.

The first of these hurdles is the Brandenburg Rule that essentially limits government censorship authority to speech that is a direct threat of imminent lawless action.

The Supreme Court has also opined on the subject of “hurt feelings, offense, or resentment” -- even when messages communicate hostility -- and has upheld a longstanding tradition of protecting speech that may produce  “an adverse emotional impact.”

Chief Justice Roberts wrote in Snyder v. Phelps that “this Nation has chosen to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that public debate is not stifled,” although the Westboro Baptist protestors at military funerals were guilty of shouting highly offensive insults.

There is one very important aspect of this discussion that is being overlooked by the very federal government that says it cares so deeply about outreach to Muslims.  This is the reality that there are basically two camps of Muslims living in the United States. Some are radicalized and do incline to, and incite, devastating civilian violence. In the same group -- while not choosing confrontational tactics -- there are those that work to supplant American legal norms with Islamic Sharia.

Most Muslims are here to participate in the democratic system and are not involved in efforts to subvert American values. America needs to have a serious conversation about how to identify the radical elements in order to distinguish them from the Muslims who are not a threat. This can only be accomplished with freedom to speak openly, including the understanding that such a process will involve some who will not speak eloquently or kindly.

Yes, let the response to any suppression of speech relating to public concerns be adamant and any demonstrations against speech controls be emphatic. Importantly, let the speech on this particular issue be persuasive and reasonable. While outrage over recent terror atrocities is proper, expressing hatred and bigotry will not produce the Muslim reforms needed, nor will it persuade un-engaged citizens of the vital need to protect speech.