August 1, 2001
7:30 AM   Subscribe

After the recent race riot troubles we have had here in England (bradford and oldham), was this really a good idea to allow Louis Farrakhan into the country. A sentance taken from one of the realated articles sum's it up pretty well "freedom of speech does not allow the right to shout "Fire" in a crowded theatre"
posted by monkeyJuice (6 comments total)
Silencing him and making him a martyr is a big mistake. I say let him in, let him talk and if he doesn't make any sense show him the door.
posted by victors at 7:37 AM on August 1, 2001

That quote was from an opinion (Schenck v. U.S.) by Jusice Oliver Wendell Holmes. (Holmes later backpedaled from this idea, creating the "marketplace of ideas" concept in his equally-famous dissent in Abrams v. U.S.)

The "fire in a crowded theater" test, also known as the "clear and present danger" test, was used to justify the conviction, under the Espionage Act, of a socialist protester for distributing leaflets protesting the draft for Americans in the first World War. The leaflet allegedly endangered the war effort.

I think it's pretty clear today that the ideas contained in that leaflet fall squarely within the bounds of First Amendment protection. But even though Holmes later changed his mind, hindsight shows that the government was clearly wrong, the "fire" quote is used to justify all sorts of restrictions on speech today.
posted by mikewas at 8:34 AM on August 1, 2001

Firstly, the racial dynamic in the Farrakhan case is quite different from that which underpinned the rioting in the north of England.

Secondly, this is another example of the Human Rights Act working properly. There are laws in place to protect against the incitement of racial hatred; should Farrakhan do so if and when he visits the UK, they can be brought into play without any question of their being superseded by the right to free expression.
posted by holgate at 9:24 AM on August 1, 2001

Besides, it's never pointed out that it's perfectly fine to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theatre... if there really is a fire.
posted by poseur at 9:30 AM on August 1, 2001

I spose so, holgate... but its not going to make matters any better.
posted by monkeyJuice at 9:49 AM on August 1, 2001

You also have a right to shout "Fire" in a crowded theatre. You do... Of course, there are consequences of that action, and you'll be arrested for reckless endangerment or some such, but you have a right to say it.
posted by fooljay at 11:38 AM on August 1, 2001

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