Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Right to free speech doesn't exist to offend

Your correspondent Michael McCarthy (Write Back, September 27), writing on Muslim anger over insults to Mohammed, refers to a "universally condemned liberty" to shout "Fire!" in a busy theatre.

The original reference comes from 1919, when Oliver Wendell Holmes asserted that the right to free speech "would not protect a man in falsely shouting 'Fire!' in a theatre and causing a panic."

However, since then the free speech bar has been set higher.

To be illegal, it must directly incite specific criminal action.

My view is that the right to publish offensive material should be fully protected. However, making and distributing deliberately provocative material seemingly only for the purposes of generating a (preferably violent) response is both juvenile and unhelpful.

JOHN MORGAN

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