In one of the most famous First Amendment (that protects freedom of speech ) cases in US history, Schenck v. United States, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr established that the right to free speech in the United States is not unlimited.
Another example that defined the limits of freedom of speech in the United States was the 1969 case of in Brandenburg v. Ohio. The court in this case prescribed the ‘imminent lawless action test’ under which “speech is not protected by the First Amendment if the speaker intends to incite a violation of the law that is both imminent and likely.”
In the light of both examples mentioned above lets analyze the case of the anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims. It might not be very difficult for anyone who is familiar with the background of the story that ‘Innocence of Muslims’ has nothing to do with the First Amendment of the United States constitution.
The 13-minute video that ignited a wave of violent protests all over the Muslim world is a deliberate incitement to religious hatred, murder, violence and imminent lawless action. Hence, as per the features of the US Constitution, the film is not protected by the First Amendment. In addition to this, there is yet another angle that makes the video vulnerable to criminal liability.
According to the Wall Street Journal, when the video failed to attract much attention, another Coptic Christian, known for his anti-Islam activism, sent a link to reporters in the US and Egypt on September 6. The email message that included a link to the trailer of the video does testify the deliberate nature of the guilty act.
Furthermore, the statement by Steve Klein, an outspoken anti-Islamic activist who said he helped with the film, in a television interview said that it was "supposed to be provocative." Along with this, the apparent deception of cast and crew regarding the content of the film and the deliberate attempt of raising its profile in the Arab world just a week before 9/11 all suggest intentionality. Added to that, the fact that videos like Innocence of Muslims must not be provided a false cover-up under the umbrella of the First Amendment.
It is crystal clear that First Amendment and Innocence of Muslims have no relation as such, so what was US government supposed to do? Keeping in mind that a guilty act has been committed the filmmaker must have been punished. But, things were much similar in this case as they were in 2010 when Pastor Terry Jones announced his intent to publicly burn a copy of Muslim Holy Scripture, the Quran. He was dissuaded by a number of religious and government officials, but no action was taken to punish him.
What the US fails to understand is that by sparing people like Terry Jones, Steve Klein and Nakoula Basseley Nakoula from the rule of law, it is strengthening the roots of anti-Americanism especially in the Muslim countries.
An evidence of this was displayed when US ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens was killed in Benghazi. The incident proved that not only their soldiers, but even their embassies and the consulates in these countries are no longer safe.
No one is telling them to excuse the terrible acts perpetrated by extremists and others around the world in reaction to the video. The only point is to emphasize that US law makes a distinction between speech that is simply offensive and speech that is intentionally tailored to put lives of people at risk.
It is important for the US to identify its elements of extremism before attempting to eliminate it from other places in the world.