Donald Trump has demonstrated nothing but contempt for the First Amendment. So far in the 2016 race, Trump has come out in favor of closing mosques, censoring the internet, and having the government impose religious tests designed to single Muslims out for abuse. Trump's views make a mockery of religious liberty, freedom of speech, and the venerable notion that the government "shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."
Ironically, the very principles that Trump keeps trashing serve to protect him as well. As free speech lawyer Floyd Abrams and law professor Ronald Collins point out in a new op-ed, Trump's statements "could happen only in America with complete assurance that no criminal proceedings will follow." Why? Because the First Amendment only exists in America. In several European countries, by contrast, Trump-style outbursts have resulted in criminal charges. Here's the scoop from Abrams and Collins:
In the Netherlands, right-wing legislator Geert Wilders faces a criminal trial next year for asking followers who attended a speech of his if they wanted "more or less" Moroccans in the nation, to which they responded "Less, less, less." The charge is that his remarks fomented "discrimination and hatred." In Belgium, a member of Parliament was convicted for distributing leaflets saying: "Stop the Sham Immigration Policy. Send European sub-seekers home" and "stand up against the Islamification of Belgium." The European Court of Human Rights affirmed the conviction on the ground that such language could lead to hatred of foreigners, especially by "less knowledgeable members of the public." In England an individual was tried and convicted for carrying a poster that showed the World Trade Center ablaze with the caption "Islam out of Britain-Protect the British People." The European Court of Human Rights let the conviction stand, concluding that since the poster constituted a "public expression of attack on all Muslims in the United Kingdom" that the speech could provide a basis for criminal sanctions.
All these rulings would be inconceivable in the United States because of the First Amendment. Unlike Europe where hate speech laws could place Mr. Trump in criminal jeopardy, in our better moments here we prefer to openly contest and condemn such odious speech rather than criminalize it.
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