Friday, November 25, 2005

The truth will out

Always read the small print - that is - the stuff in the dull section at the back of Private Eye (articles not on-line).

In the article on the case of Barbar Ahman they note that US prosecuters have widened the interpretation of "material support" to include statements supporting terrorism" - Ahmad is being extradited for allegedly running pro-jihadist websites. Apparently Juries have not been willing to wear this widening.

Anyway, this is all very interesting, and reminded me of the fact that it was the US Supreme Court which first inaugurated the famous Shouting Fire in a Crowded Theatre analogy for constraining free speech while jailing an anti-draft socialist.

Now, I contend the analogy is fallacious, and in effect limits freedom of speech to freedom to speak the truth, which moves the terrain of debate to the question of who should judge the veracity of comments (notoriously, dictatorial regimes usually have laws forbidding journalists to spread untruths, etc.).

The reality is, is that we should have a right to shout fire in a crowded theatre, if we have free speech. I have the right so to do, because there may be a fire. If there is a fire, I must do so. By extension, if I beleive there is a fire, I must do so - and how can the law be brought in to judge whether I truly believed I was right in shouting fire?

Certainly, I ought not to shout fire unless I actually believe there is one - but that is that I have free speech and with it comes the burdensome responsibility of freedom. The example does not constitute an example of the just and rational restriction of free speech, but of the way free speech works.

Through such redefinitions of free speech, the US court has systematically restricted it and undermined it.


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