Anthea Butler, who teaches religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania, apparently thinks the limits of the First Amendment should be determined by the violent reactions of Muslim totalitarians in other countries. She is demanding the arrest of Sam Bacile, who made the anti-Muslim film that might have prompted the deadly attacks on our embassies in Libya and Egypt.
So why did I tweet that Bacile should be in jail? The “free speech” in Bacile’s film is not about expressing a personal opinion about Islam. It denigrates the religion by depicting the faith’s founder in several ludicrous and historically inaccurate scenes to incite and inflame viewers. Even the film’s actors say they were duped.
Bacile’s movie is not the first to denigrate a religious figure, nor will it be the last. The Last Temptation of Christ was protested vigorously. The difference is that Bacile indirectly and inadvertently inflamed people half a world away, resulting in the deaths of U.S. Embassy personnel.
I have no doubt that the movie is ridiculous, bigoted and dishonest. I just don’t care, at least when it comes to the legal question. By Butler’s reasoning, Salman Rushdie should have been arrested for writing The Satanic Verses, which also prompted violent attacks around the world. She is essentially arguing that the limits of free speech in this country are determined by whether violent lunatics in other countries are sufficiently upset about it.
Not just no, but fuck no. Bacile and Terry Jones should be criticized for their stupidity and bigotry; they should not be arrested. Do not confuse moral culpability with legal accountability. PZ responds to a similar argument from R. Joseph Hoffman and he’s absolutely right.