An FBI crime scene investigator works May 4 at the scene in Garland, Texas, where two gunmen were shot and killed after they opened fire on a security officer outside a provocative contest for cartoons of the prophet Muhammad.(Brandon Wade / Associated Press)
FBI investigators stand near an apartment being searched on Monday in Phoenix, believed to be the home of one of two gunmen who were shot and killed the night before outside a venue hosting an exhibit about the prophet Muhammad in Garland, Texas.(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)
An FBI agent views the area where a car linked to a shooting incident in Garland, Texas, was blown up by police as a precaution on May 4.(Jared L. Christopher / AFP/Getty Images)
In the aftermath of the shooting deaths of two people at a Garland, Texas, event on Sunday featuring a “draw Muhammad” contest, many readers directed their anger at the gunmen and another subject that had nothing to do with the killings: The Times.
Several letter writers took issue with a Times print headline that said the shooters and Pamela Geller, whose group put on the event, were “two extremes” and that story’s reference to a “fine line between free speech and hate speech.” A few readers who identified themselves as Muslim defended the free-speech rights of Geller’s group.
Here are some of those letters.
Attorney Hans Bader cites case law:
The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that hate speech is protected by the 1st Amendment. So I was surprised to see a Times article claim there is “a fine line between free speech and hate speech.”
Hate speech is free speech. In 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a hate-speech ordinance in R.A.V. vs. St. Paul, and in 2011, it ruled in favor of a hate-mongering church in Snyder vs. Phelps.
Cartoons of Muhammad are protected speech even if Muslims find them offensive. They are not “fighting words” because they are not a “direct” in-person “insult” (see the Supreme Court’s ruling in Texas vs. Johnson). Nor can they be banned as “incitement,” thanks to the Supreme Court’s Hess vs. Indiana decision.
Huntington Beach resident Ed Gala says his deep disagreement with The Times won’t provoke him to violence:
I consider the majority of what is written in The Times’ editorial pages to be arch-liberal hate speech, and yet, I have never considered using violence to intimidate the opinion writers. That is because like all freedom-loving Americans, I live by this adage: I may not agree with what you are saying, but will defend to the death your right to say it.
Since the founding of our country, millions of Americans have given their lives to defend this right for all of us, including The Times.
Ismail Ahmad — a Bolingbrook, Ill., resident who identifies himself as a Muslim — criticizes Geller and defends free speech:
I am appalled by the killings in Texas. The two gunmen not only injured people, but also attempted to injure our right for free speech and to present a construed and fabricated version of Islam.
As a Muslim American, I take it upon myself to stand up for free speech. The Koran recognizes freedom of speech many times and, in fact, frequently challenges nonbelievers to show why they reject the faith; it does not seek to silence them but encourages dialogue.
Despite the clear and direct challenges in the Koran that encourage fruitful dialogue, groups like Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative continue to hide behind a veil of abusive hate speech. Yet even still, as hate groups revel in their own bigotry, true Islamic principles continue to stand for free speech and fruitful dialogue.