Free speech rights fuel debate over anti-Muslim movie clip

Free speech rights fuel debate over anti-Muslim movie clip
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — A Bakersfield woman's request to have an anti-Muslim movie clip taken off the Internet highlights the debate over free speech. A judge refused to order Google and YouTube to remove the offensive trailer.

Cindy Garcia argued she was duped by the filmmaker when she played a role in the low-budget film "Innocence of Muslims," and she's now getting death threats after altered versions of the clip led to violence in the Middle East.

The judge turned down the request to get the trailer removed, in part, because the filmmaker had not been served with a copy of the lawsuit.

The Internet companies reportedly argued removing the clip would be a violation of free speech.

From the California State University, Bakersfield Kegley Institute of Ethics, Dr. Christopher Meyers said he couldn't comment on the legal aspects of the case, but sharing ideas is a basic tenant of democratic society. Sometimes that means allowing offensive speech.

"Sometimes that means that complete idiots send ideas out, and they do extraordinarily offensive things," Meyers said. "The fact that people choose to react violently to the expression of stupid ideas is in itself an expression of stupidity."

Meyers said there are many examples of that, and the recent violent reaction to the anti-Muslim movie is the latest, and very tragic.

In Libya, riots and the deaths of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans are blamed on slurs against Islam in the movie. Violence spread as more people saw the trailer online.

How far can free speech be ethically taken?

In Garcia's legal action filed in a Los Angeles court, her attorney argues the filmmaker and those putting the clip on the Internet, including YouTube "may have a right to free speech, but they do not have the right that extends to 'shouting fire in a crowded movie theatre and causing panic.'"

Meyers said it would be unethical to falsely yell "fire" into a crowd, but when an individual exercises their right of expression, it would be wrong if they know that "this activity presents a clear and present danger or threat of harm to life, or well-being of others."

He maintains the filmmaker had no reason to believe this clip would produce these violent reactions. There are choices in how to respond to offensive speech.

"The right response is to peacefully protest and get others to recognize the wrongness of it," Meyers said. "But to turn that into a violent response, the responsibility has to fall on those committing the violence, not the person being an idiot."

Garcia said she and her family have been the targets of death threats since the clip went on the Internet. Meyers said with the potential global reach for information, "Google is trying to figure out, what are the fine lines to walk."

He added that CSUB happens to be hosting a special lecture on the issue of free speech. Erwin Chemerinsky will be the featured speaker in the event on Oct. 9 in the Dore Threatre on campus. The lecture will be free and open to the public, and starts at 7 p.m.

"If people are worried there's too much speech or not enough speech, this will be a great opportunity to come hear somebody do both a legal and moral analysis of that question," Meyers said.

Garcia also said while the others have a First Amendment right to free expression, they are actually depriving her of free speech.

"They can not use (Garcia), without her knowledge or consent, as a 'puppet' for their own speech, which is exactly what they did when they dubbed over her lines with words that are hateful to the Islamic religion and culture," her lawsuit reads in another section.

Attorney Cris Armenta told Eyewitness News on Thursday that Garcia was disappointed by the judge's ruling, and they disagree with the arguments by Google and YouTube. They plan to go back to another judge in a few weeks, and Garcia is ready for "round two."

Meyers said there are other examples of violence blamed on media influences like talk radio or movies. He points to the incident with the shooter at a movie theater in Colorado, saying some blamed that on the man's fascination with film violence.

"Should we not show Batman films?" Meyers says. "Well, no. But, maybe what are ways to ease people into it a little bit better."

He said the debate on free speech is difficult and ongoing.

"I don't think this issue will ever go away," Meyers said.