John McIntyre

No right not to be offended

It did not take long after the Catholic League's Bill Donohue published his they-had-it-coming remarks about the killings at Charlie Hebdo for similar reactions to chime in. Charlie Hebdo, people discovered was:

Not very funny.


And offensive.

And blasphemous.


And racist.

As I attempted to make clear in my response to Mr. Donohue,* all of that, true as it is, is beside the point. The point was that if freedom of speech is to be meaningful, disagreeable speech has to be free, too. Or, as Ronald Dworkin has put it, you do not have a right not to be offended.

Let me put it in perspective. The attitudes toward Muslims expressed at Charlie Hebdo do not differ all that much from the ignorant, cretinous views regularly finding expression at Fox News. And much as one criticizes Fox News and hopes vainly for more responsible journalism from that quarter, no one thinks that the government should restrict or shut down Fox News, or that it would be and good and right and sanctified thing for some crazed liberal to shoot up the Fox newsroom.

Free speech is not for the faint-hearted.

*The Charlie Hebdo staff, in the fiercely anticlerical French tradition, also said many rude things about Roman Catholics, which is why, I surmise, Mr. Donohue experienced a burst of fellow-feeling with Muslims.