Where’s the line for hate speech?

by Daily Editorial Board

On Sunday night, two gunmen in Garland, Texas, opened fire at a controversial “Draw Muhammad” contest, wounding a security guard before being killed by police officers. Several days before, an al-Shabab member from Minneapolis had encouraged the attack. 
The Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest was arranged by Pamela Geller, a far-right activist who heads an organization called Stop Islamization of America.
The openly offensive nature of Geller’s event, combined with the violence that followed it, have led many commenters to scrutinize the line between free speech and
hate speech, both of which are permitted in the United States. 
However, while Geller’s contest may have pushed the shooters over the edge, it was not what radicalized them in the first place. Federal sources have admitted that one of the shooters, Elton Simpson, had previously planned to join al-Shabab and been convicted on a terror-related charge. 
Therefore, targeting free speech seems to us like too simplistic a remedy to prevent the radicalization of American Muslims. France and Denmark enforce anti-hate speech laws, but both of these countries suffered terror attacks earlier this year. In France’s case, the attack occurred because of controversial cartoons that existing hate speech legislation did not proscribe.
Geller’s event was despicable and absolutely worthy of condemnation, but we should be cautious about blaming free speech for terrorism. Instead, we should ask ourselves about the endemic societal prejudices that inspired Geller to say the things she did in the first place.