They hate us for our freedom

Fred Phelps is picketing soldiers’ funerals.

Lunatic mullahs are the same everywhere, even when they’re called “pastors” (or “priests,” or “rabbis”) instead.

Hat tip: Sisyphus Shrugged, who reports on a creative approach to counter-protesting.

Aside from the sheer weird disgustingness of Fred Phelps’s antics, they raise what seems to me a difficult and topical question: In a world of political violence, what’s the right line to draw between protected speech and incitement?

*Is Tony Blair right to tell the extremist Islamic preaches in London to cool it or face deportation?

*Should Israel do the same with the rabbis who are openly calling for Sharon’s death, as they called for Rabin’s?

*No doubt Pat Robertson will pretend to be shocked and dismayed if anyone acts on Robertson’s suggestion that some additional vacancies on the Supreme Court would be pleasing to God by taking out Justice Ginsburg, but his shock and dismay wouldn’t bring her back. Should he be held criminally responsible?

I tend to believe that generic “hate speech” laws are a bad idea, but that incitement to violence against named or clearly identifiable persons (such as repeating the fatwa calling for Salman Rushdie’s death, or calling for the deaths of doctors who perform abortions) ought to be criminal even if the incitement is general as to who is to carry it out and when.

Note that it’s already a crime to urge the killing of the President (and, I think, the Vice-President). Should that exception become more the rule?

Update Thanks to Kevin Drum for making this an open thread on his blog. Like him, I’m not at all sure whether I agree with me on this one.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: