The right to freedom of speech may be limited in certain cases. An example freely given is when a person's speech can cause danger to others (i.e. yelling, "Fire!" in a crowded room when there is no fire). Other examples of speech that may be restricted are speech that deprives another of his basic rights and speech that is of a criminal objective. Nevertheless, even with these restrictions, freedom of speech is given broad latitude by our Constitution and very little speech is restricted.
The question that arises is did Pat Robertson violate one of the above mentioned reasons to restrict free speech or should we allow his speech to be given the broad latitude guaranteed by the Constitution? Here is what he said about Venezuelan tinpot Hugo Chavez, "You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. And I don't think any oil shipments will stop. But this man is a terrific danger and the United ... This is in our sphere of influence, so we can't let this happen. We have the Monroe Doctrine, we have other doctrines that we have announced. And without question, this is a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil, that could hurt us very badly. We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with."
One might claim that advocating the assassination of the dictator of a different country is speech that can cause danger to another. Some have even suggested (gasp!) that this is hate speech. But then, some consider simply quoting some verses of the Bible (e.g. John 14:6, where Jesus said that He is the only way into heaven) to be hate speech.
But did Robertson's words cause danger to another? I think not. There is no way that the things he said could really cause harm to come to Chavez. A dictator like Chavez is well protected from the danger of assassination. Certainly the danger exists for any tinhorn dictator. However, such tinpots surround themselves with trusted bodyguards and compartmentalize their guards into segments that can watch one another.
Saddam Hussein was protected from assassination from this type of guard. When they pit one segment of their guards against another, these dictators divide and conquer. There is no real danger that Robertson's speech would cause the assassination of Chavez.
Along the same lines, Pat Robertson can say absolutely nothing that could endanger Chavez. Any danger he is in is from his own countrymen, and not from Robertson. Pat Robertson cannot "reach out and touch" Chavez with the words he spoke.
Was there criminal intent in what Robertson said? Was there a criminal objective? It is criminal to conspire to kill someone. In some cases, it is criminal to threaten to kill someone. It is criminal for people to threaten the assassination of the President, unless the president is a conservative and members of the left threaten him.
But is it criminal to advocate the assassination of an enemy leader of a government belligerent to the USA? I seem to remember a senior member of the Clinton administration advocating the assassination of Saddam Hussein. That was George "Stephy" Stephanopoulos.
In the past, the law has allowed the assassination of foreign potentates. There has been a long history, in the common law, of allowing for the assassination of a foreign leader during wartime. This was accepted practice in the USA until Executive Order 12333 put a stop to it in 1981. There have been recent moves to rescind this executive order.
Pat Robertson only advocated the assassination of Chavez. He is no more guilty of criminal intent or objective than George Stephanopoulos was.
Additionally, the rules of free speech have been decided by the founders, the legislators, and the courts of the United States. These laws were enacted by Americans for Americans. Such laws do not apply to non-US citizens residing outside the United States. Chavez is not protected by our system of jurisprudence from the danger or the criminal intent of speech spoken by Americans. Chavez certainly has no rights under our Constitution, so no American can deprive him of those rights.
Thus the speech of Pat Robertson, though offensive to some and certainly not particularly wise, cannot be restricted for any of the reasons we may restrict speech in our country. Calls for censure against Robertson are hollow demands that do not have the confidence of law behind them. If we begin to restrict another's speech that is merely offensive or unwise, then eventually our own speech will be restricted.
Copyright © 2005, Mark Oaks. All rights reserved.