Statement of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts Concerning the ‘Mohammed Cartoon’ ControversyThe ACLUM, the oldest civil liberties organization in the United States, by its charter, history, and policies, concerns itself primarily with governmental threats to civil liberties. However, on extraordinary occasions, a non-governmental event proves so threatening to liberty that the organization sees fit to speak out. The current world-wide controversy concerning radical Islamic opposition to the publication and republication of cartoon images involving the Prophet Mohammed is such an event.The ACLUM views with the gravest concern the severe threats lodged against journalists, newspapers, and others in the news media, throughout Europe and other parts of the world with a free press. It is with equal concern that we acknowledge the realistic fear expressed by so many media outlets in this country that have, due to that fear, refrained from reproducing the offending cartoons in their news reporting. While it is the undoubted right of any news organ to voluntarily refrain from publishing anything—including for reasons of self-imposed taste or sensitivity to the deeply held beliefs of individuals or groups—it is not truly a voluntary act when a newspaper decides not to publish in the face of realistically perceived threats of violence.ACLUM believes it is unconstitutional for the government to penalize the publication of so-called “hate speech” or other speech deemed offensive by segments of the population. Yet ACLUM also recognizes there is a constitutional right to refrain from using such speech as a result of voluntary adherence to notions of civility. Not only must government refrain from pressuring the news media to abstain from publishing such material as the cartoons at issue, but government must also take affirmative steps to protect individuals and organizations that decide to publish such materials. It is further incumbent upon local, state, and national governments, as well as political leaders, to reaffirm the nation’s resolute opposition to the use of threats of violence as a weapon of censorship. The very basis of freedom depends on government to protect civil society from such assaults. This is not a time for any and all who love freedom to remain silent.
The ACLU of Massachusetts has issued a clear and principled statement on the ongoing controversy regarding the printing and reprinting of cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed. Stay tuned for FIRE’s upcoming update on how this controversy is playing out on America’s college campuses.