White: Even in face of violence and ignorance, free speech must be preserved

The film “Innocence of Muslims,” a 13-minute hateful disjointed rant about Islam and its prophet, has gone from relative obscurity to worldwide infamy over the last week.

The film has been used by some in both the Middle East and Northern Africa as a rallying point for violent demonstrations in which four Americans have been killed, one of them a U.S. diplomat.

While recognizing its inflammatory and violence-inducing nature, by right, the video should be allowed to remain online.

Filmmaker Sam Bacile, a California resident who identified himself to the press as an “Israeli Jew,” created the video, originally hosted on YouTube. Since the riots began, Google – the parent company of YouTube – has banned the video from its site in five countries where it violates laws. Some nations have taken even more forceful action: In Afghanistan, YouTube itself has been banned.

The Obama administration has called on Google to remove the video, yet Google refuses to do so, stating that the video falls within its video guidelines. While I understand the Obama administration’s concerns and calls from the public to take the video down, I agree with Google and believe it should be allowed to stay on the Internet.

Allow me to be clear – I am in no way in support of the video itself. It is a hateful film that offends not only by what it portrays, but also by its gross immaturity and lack of knowledge of the actual teachings of Islam. The creation and posting of the video, however, is within the bounds of Bacile’s First Amendment right to free speech, no matter how hateful, asinine and uninformed the video is.

Those who argue that the video should be taken down state that it is merely “hate speech” and should not be protected as part of the First Amendment. In the United States, however, it remains protected. The Supreme Court’s rulings have supported this time and again, most recently in Snyder v. Phelps in 2011. As Chief Justice Roberts said, we must protect “even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”

Additionally, if the government is allowed to choose what speech can be banned, who knows where it may end? No liberal government should be allowed to pick and choose what can and cannot be said based purely on the content of the speech.

Those proponents of banning hate speech also argue that it adds nothing of value to the discussion in our democratic society and should be taken down. I disagree. When I watched the video, it reminded me of the people who continue to perpetrate intolerance across the world and of how important it is that the rest of us exercise our own rights every day to fight against their message. It reminded me just how dangerous intolerance can be, and why we as a society must spend every day fighting against it.

That is why we need to allow hate speech. It reminds us that hate still exists and must be battled everywhere, every day.

There is more than enough blame to go around for the events that have transpired over the last week or so. And yes, Bacile’s idiotic and vile video should never have been made. But we should not bury our heads in the sand and pretend that by removing his video, we remove his ideas.

We should not pretend people like him do not exist – that hate is not out there. Hate still exists in many forms on all corners of the world. Those who avoid blame are those who fight it.