Charlie Hebdo’s Rights and Wrongs

In the wake of the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris, people worldwide have rallied in support of the principle that any person or publication should be free to broadcast whatever message it likes, however offensive, as long as it does not incite violence itself. But a just society must uphold other principles as well.

DAVOS – In the wake of the terrorist attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, declarations of “Je suis Charlie” have echoed worldwide. And, indeed, Charlie Hebdo should be free to publish what it likes, without fear of violence, as long as it does not directly incite violence itself. But does that mean that other news outlets and individuals should republish it?

To be sure, freedom of expression should almost never be repressed, a point that the United States Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes emphasized in a dissenting opinion in a case concerning the US Constitution’s guarantee of free speech. “[W]e should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death,” he wrote, “unless they so imminently threaten immediate interference with the lawful and pressing purposes of the law that an immediate check is required to save the country.”

From this perspective, I would have marched with the millions who gathered in Paris, proclaiming “Je suis Charlie.” And I fully understand the desire to purchase the subsequent issue of Charlie Hebdo, published – with bravery and determination – a week after the attack. People not just in France, but around the world, want to show their solidarity with the victims and support the fundamental principle of free speech.

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