In Canada, Mark Steyn has been sued by a Muslim group for human rights violations. His crime is "hate speech" regarding Muslims. His accusers, a group of four Muslim law students, claim that his articles promote hatred and fear of Muslims. At least two Canadian Human Rights Commissions have agreed to at hear the case.
The accusations against Steyn are pretty flimsy. The main criticism seems to be that he equates all Muslims with the more radical Muslims, and that he criticizes absurd charges of "discrimination" and "Islamophobia" leveled by Muslims looking for special treatment. The charges accuse Steyn of condemning "politicians, law enforcement, and media for any kind of sensitivity and outreach to Muslim communities." (The full text of the complaint is here)
It is debatable whether Mark Steyn is guilty of unfair characterizations of Muslims. It is indisputable that any legal system that supports freedom of speech would defend his right to "condemn outreach to Muslim communities." The suppression of free speech evident in the court's decision to hear this case is amazingly wrong.
And this kind of censorship is common in Canada. For example, Ottawa lawyer Richard Warman has single-handedly launched 15 complaints with the Human Rights Commission. His targets, it must be said, are a lot more unsavory than Mark Steyn. Warman goes after neo-Nazis. To date, he has never lost a case of this nature. Nine White Supremacist websites have been shut down thanks to his efforts.
In fairness, there is something commendable in Warman's attempt to combat hate-- he has spent over $30,000 (Canadian) trying to stop Internet hate. Unfortunately, his modus operandi is basically opposed to every essential of human rights.
Nobody supports Nazi websites. The one time I went to notorious White Supremist site Stormfront.org, to see if they indeed supported Ron Paul (they do), I was filled with both outrage at the hate presented there, as well as a sense of relief that the average IQ on display seemed to be under 75. As far as I (and most people) am concerned, the fewer such sites on the Internet, the better.
But it is not the government's role to remove them. Any government that claims to support freedom of expression has the duty to permit them to stay in operation.
The most obvious line of reasoning for this thesis is the self-evident fact that if government is given the right to judge what speech is and what speech is not permitted, then that government owns a monopoly on what the population may hear. This is already the case in Canada, where conservative clerics are often convicted of hate crimes for condemnations of homosexuality.
It is not difficult on imagine a government putting similar restrictions on opponents of abortion, or the Iraq War, or any controversial issue. (In fact, some on both the left and right already support such measures). By the same token, during the Sixties, such revered figures as Martin Luther King, Jr, could have been cited for "hate speech".
In addition, it is important to consider that even if we had some divine guarantee that all hate speech laws would be only directed at those who commit indisputable hate speech, these laws would still be unjust. The right to free speech is for everyone. There is no guarantee that this right will always be used well. The proper exercise of this right is for the individual, not government, to decide.