Free speech vs. hate speech: Where is the line drawn?

Anti-Islamic film at center of riots overseas sparks debate

Published On: Sep 13 2012 03:36:39 PM EDT   Updated On: Sep 14 2012 06:47:18 AM EDT
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

An anti-Islamic film is raising questions about what's considered free speech protected by the First Amendment and where the line is drawn between it and hate speech.

The movie called "Innocence of Muslims" was made in Los Angeles and is at the center of the storm after the attacks this week overseas that killed four Americans.

Protesters continue violent demonstrations in Libya, Egypt and Yemen over the film that portrays Islam as a hateful religion.

"There has always been a cost to freedom of speech," said Gainesville Pastor Terry Jones, who has been linked to the film.

The movie unfavorably portrays Islam's prophet Muhammad, though it's still unclear if the fatal attack stemmed from the outrage over the film.

Jones defends the movie's content. He was asked, "At what point in your mind does preservation of life outweigh freedom of speech?"

Jones responded, "I think, basically, it does not."

Politicians are drawing a more distinct line. During his visit to Jacksonville on Wednesday, presidential candidate Mitt Romney condemned the attacks while reiterating American values.

"America will not tolerate attacks against our citizens and against our embassies," he said. "We will defend also our constitutional rights of speech and assembly and religion. We have confidence in our cause in America, we respect our Constitution."

The question is, what distinguishes freedom of speech from hate speech?

Both are protected in the United States, but with YouTube sending words across the world, it makes it tougher to tell what role U.S. laws play.

"We know today for a virtual certainty that if you burn a Quran and you put it on YouTube, somewhere somebody in the world is going to die as a result of violence caused by that YouTube video," said Rod Sullivan, a constitutional law professor at Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville. "Therefore it's sort of an emerging question as to whether or not the courts can prohibit that kind of speech because it does incite violence someplace else."

Sullivan believes that in this case, the message of the movie cannot be considered "fighting words."

"I think as the law stands right now, this video is going to be protected in the United States from censorship, and the people who made it are going to be protected from any official governmental reaction," Sullivan said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calls the video "reprehensible," saying, "We absolutely reject its content and message." But she adds the U.S. would never stop Americans from expressing their views.