Cases in Canada show the value of standing firm.
"Everybody favours free speech in the slack moments when no axes are being ground," 20th-century American journalist Heywood Broun once wrote. The real test of mettle is allowing free speech to thrive while axes aggressively grind. Just ask Canadian publisher Ezra Levant and author Mark Steyn.
In February 2006, Levant's conservative magazine, the now-online-only Western Standard, reprinted the Danish Muhammad cartoons. Shortly thereafter, Syed Soharwardy, the national president of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, filed a Koranic-verse laden complaint against Mr. Levant with the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission, claiming discrimination.
Canada's Human Rights Commissions (HRC) are government agencies, not courts. They were set up, starting in the 1960s, to fight job and housing discrimination – offensive acts, not words. Borne of good intention, some argue they have paved a path to politically correct hell. Those behind the creation of the commissions maintain they were never meant to impede free speech – a right guaranteed under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms – and that "thought crime" cases represent a fraction of the commissions' work.
As many of those complaints were brought against crackpot anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers, or Christian fundamentalists expressing extreme antigay views, few Canadians wasted a moment worrying about them. Therein lies the cautionary tale. The odious have to be free to speak – provided they are not inciting violence – or none of us are.