In the U.S. we've become used to hearing stories of artists, poets, cartoonists, journalists and other creative types being arrested and worse for expressing their views via their chosen medium in other countries.
For example, Egypt, which is renown for prosecuting artists, activists and journalists for insulting Islam recently banned a journal by respected poet Helmi Salem because one of his poems compared God to a villager who feeds ducks and milks cows.
In 2005 rioters killed Christians in Denmark, burned churches and called for the execution of cartoonists following the publication of cartoons disrespecting prophet Mohammed.
In Britain, a 15-year-old boy was charged last year for holding up a sign outside a
Scientology building declaring, "Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult."
Dutch prosecutors this year have brought charges against the Arab European League for a cartoon questioning the
Geert Wilders was barred from entering Britain because he made a movie describing the Quran as a "fascist" book and Islam as a violent religion.
In France, actress
Brigitte Bardot was convicted for saying in 2006 that Muslims were ruining France in a letter to the Interior Minister.
We have shook our collective heads and patted ourselves on the back for OUR constitutional right to Freedom of Speech. We may not like, agree, or appreciate some of the left wing, right wing, religious and/or bigoted sentiments of our artists, writers, poets, political cartoonists - but as long as they stay within the boundaries of the law, WE'VE respected their right to express. Well...for the most part. Our smug, self righteous days are ending. Times, they are a changing as a climate of censorship continues to grow.
Recently, Yale University Press published The Cartoons That Shook the World, a book by Jytte Klausen on the 2006 controversy surrounding 12 Mohammed cartoons. Yale, however, (over Klausen's objections) cut out the actual pictures of the cartoons.
Still, if you live in the United States, creating a painting and putting devil horns on a picture of the pope won't get you an automatic jail sentence here. Yet. That may soon change if recent resolutions supported by the United States are any indication.
The Obama administration supported the effort of the U.N. Human Rights Council to recognize exceptions to free speech for any "negative racial and religious stereotyping." The exception was made as part of a resolution supporting free speech that passed this month.
Jonathan Turley points out in his article, "the laws achieve tolerance through the ultimate act of intolerance: criminalizing the ability of some individuals to denounce sacred or sensitive values. We do not need free speech to protect popular thoughts or popular people. It is designed to protect those who challenge the majority and its institutions. ...The public and private curtailment on religious criticism threatens religious and secular speakers alike. However, the fear is that, when speech becomes sacrilegious, only the religious will have true free speech. It is a danger that has become all the more real after the decision of the Obama administration to join in the effort to craft a new faith-based speech standard."
Freedom of Speech is fundamental to who we are. It is the most essential tool an artist has. When that freedom dies, so do the arts.