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Free Expression

Free Expression Falling Victim to Fear of Violence

CDT signed on to a joint statement released yesterday decrying the increase in censorship and self-censorship stemming from a fear of violence.  The immediate trigger for the statement was the decision by Yale University Press (YUP) to remove all images of Mohammed from Jytte Klausen’s new scholarly book, "The Cartoons that Shook the World."  YUP said that they refused to reprint the cartoons out of a concern that someone, somewhere, might react violently.  Yale — my alma mater — should be ashamed that it is not upholding the principles of free speech and academic freedom by publishing fully lawful images — even if some find those images offensive.

This YUP scenario highlights the direct connection between incitement to violence and self-censorship based on a fear that there may be people who will react violently. The hallmark of free speech in this country is its protection of unpleasant or unpopular speech, and it is particularly problematic that even our leading academic institutions are bowing to fears and pressures not to publish lawful speech.