The recent conflagration, ignited by the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad, bears testimony to the ebullience uncontrolled freedom of speech can cause. Those who championed free speech did not heed the words of Thomas Hobbes, the early English political philosopher, who said freedom, paradoxically, needed law and order to survive.

The curbs inherent in law and order were imperative for freedom's existence and the pretermission made freedom erroneously an end in itself. If freedom was an end in itself, what was its absolute? In this fallacious context, insults and abuse became parts of free speech - a simplistic solution to a complex polemic.

The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights guarantees five basic freedoms - of religion, of speech, of the press, of assembly and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. It does not extend to obscenity and pornography. It is indeed strange that in the dialectic polemic of proponents, it is extended to insult and abuse.

Mr. Justice Black in the Supreme Court, in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School Dist., held that it was a myth to say that any person has a constitutional right to say what he pleases, where he pleases, and when he pleases. It is this nurturing of the myth which created the clash between religion and freedom. It caused the destruction of property, killings and civil strife. While the excessive exacerbation, of the followers of the religious sector concerned, produced a negative image, as admitted by the religious leaders, this paroxysmal severity, however, does not ameliorate the culpability of the freedom protagonists, who initiated the attrition.

The basic freedom of speech, or _expression, is not diminished by the extirpation of abuse and insults. If we are to go by sumptuary law, freedom per se does not mean the abuse or insult of another's belief, his prophet, or his God. The right to the freedom of speech cannot trample on the other basic right to the freedom of religion. Freedom is never free and it operates on a quid pro quo principle. It is acknowledged that freedom is the insurance of free speech but concomitant to this is obedience to law and order, which is the premium paid for the insurance.

 

Dudley Au

 

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