“The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.” So said a unanimous United States Supreme Court in a decision authored by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in the 1919 case Schenck vs. the United States (249 U.S. 47).
A number of letter-writers argued that our editorial calling for an investigation of the producers of a film that disparaged the founder of Islam was a chilling call for abrogating free speech.
That film, let us recall, cost the U.S. ambassador to Libya his life and the lives of three other consular employees. To date, it also has cost the lives of over 50 people, who died in the rioting and violence that the film unleashed.
The producers of the film unashamedly declared that they expected a violent reaction and even welcomed it. “We went into this knowing that this was probably going to happen,” said Steve Klein, an Evangelical Christian anti-Muslim activist and a self-described consultant on the film.
If that is the case, then the film’s producers were falsely shouting fire in a theater. Innocent people died.
Free speech is not the issue here. The issue here is whether the film was deliberately meant to bring on the violence that led to the deaths. If yes, then the only issue here is murder.