Last year, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published a series of cartoons - twelve in all - about Islam and the Prophet Mohammad that was deemed offensive by the Islamic community at large. To illustrate, one cartoon showed Mohammad with a turban in the shape of a bomb.
The issue generated international controversy. Some newspapers outside Denmark reprinted the cartoons in support of the concept of free speech. Flemming Rose, the culture editor of the newspaper, stated:
The cartoonists treated Islam the same way they treat Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions. And by treating Muslims in Denmark as equals they made a point: We are integrating you into the Danish tradition of satire because you are part of our society, not strangers. The cartoons are including, rather than excluding, Muslims.
On the other hand, the Islamic community demonstrated their outrage at the cartoons through worldwide protests and calls of boycotts. They condemned the drawings as a form of hate speech and decried what they consider to be the offensive depiction of the Prophet Mohammad as well as the not-so-subtle link made between Islam and terrorism.
This whole controversy makes a very interesting case for examining the role of the law in settling disputes that involve competing legal concepts reflective of competing values. There is a clear diversity issue at stake, it is not difficult to give credence to the arguments of Muslims all over the world that such depiction of their leader will foment even further inter-religious conflict, will marginalize Muslims and will be a setback for the cause of diversity and pluralism. On the other hand, there is no dispelling the argument as well that free speech is a right that should be cherished and protected. It protects not only the speech we love, but also the speech we hate.
How then is this resolved First, there must be an acknowledgement that there is no one way to resolve it. The law is infused with irresolvably opposed principles and ideals, no longer a fabric of clearly-defined spectrums, but is rather a patchwork quilt of various shades of gray.
Having said this, we now proceed to analyze the difficult questions posed by the issue at hand. it must be noted that one area where judicial discretion is especially large is the area of free speech. While the right to free speech is a crystallized principle that has been place almost since the beginning of time, enjoying a cherished position in the bill of rights of virtually all civilized legal systems, the interpretation of what constitutes free and protected speech still has yet to be perfectly refined. This provision has been invoked many times over in the course of history, successfully and unsuccessfully; and Courts have had many opportunities to set standards and devise guidelines to determine if the speech in question should be protected or not.
It becomes more difficult when the right to free speech competes with another right, in this case, the right of religious minority groups to tolerance and acceptance. In "easy" cases, all that should be done is look through jurisprudence until one finds the applicable case with similar facts. In "hard" cases with novel facts, the role of the judge becomes infinitely more difficult. The boundaries are