When Does Disapproval Become Coercion?

by Chris Bodenner

In a sharp and nuanced post, Wendy Kaminer warns liberals who both condemn Cordoba critics and want Dr. Laura off the air:

[L]inguistic bans enforced by social disapprobation are not legal bans that violate First Amendment rights, and Schlessinger's critics have their own rights to shame or boycott her and other speakers they disdain.  But they have no right not to be offended, and if she should be wary of encouraging bigotry, so should her liberal critics, as the furor over the lower Manhattan mosque has shown.

Muslims have a legal right to build their mosque near Ground Zero, opponents are apt to acknowledge, but, like Dr. Laura, they are excoriated for exercising their rights offensively.  "Our position is about sensitivity," the ADL explains, stressing that its opposition to the mosque has been "deeply misunderstood" and expressing pain at being accused of bigotry.  But by elevating sensitivity over liberty, the ADL promotes bigotry (perhaps unintentionally but not forgiveably.)  The ADL also promotes what John Stuart Mill famously decried as the "despotism of custom."  Sensitivity policing by private citizens is protected by the First Amendment but undermines its foundational commitment to freedom of speech and religion.  It is sophistry, or self-delusion, to claim that sensitivity-based opposition to a Muslim community center and mosque is consistent with support for the fundamental right to build it.

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