NPR Wrongly Suggests Hate Speech and Blasphemy Are Unprotected by First Amendment

NPR gets a lot of taxpayer money based on a false pretense of objectivity and accuracy. Its departing ombudsman, Edward Schumacher-Matos, says that “as a public media that receives some 11 percent of its funding indirectly from the government, it cannot be partisan or have a declared bias.”

But it routinely gets basic facts wrong. While touting NPR’s supposed superiority over other media, such as Fox News, ombudsman Matos recently made the false claim that the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, whose staff were massacred by terrorists, would not be protected in the U.S. under the First Amendment, because it made “fun” of people’s “prophets and gods,” and constituted “hate speech.”

This was simply ignorant, because the Supreme Court declared blasphemy laws unconstitutional in Joseph Burstyn, Inc v. Wilson, 343 U.S. 495 (1952), stating that “it is not the business of government in our nation to suppress real or imagined attacks upon a particular religious doctrine, whether they appear in publications, speeches or motion picture.”

NPR’s ombudsman also wrongly implied to NPR’s readers that America’s courts consider “hate speech unprotected by the Constitution.” He wrote:

I do not know if American courts would find much of what Charlie Hebdo does to be hate speech unprotected by the Constitution, but I know—hope?—that most Americans would. It is one thing to lampoon popes, imams, rabbis and other temporal religious leaders of this world; it is quite another to make fun, in often nasty ways, of their prophets and gods.

Never mind that the Supreme Court has made clear over and over again that hate speech in public settings is protected by the First Amendment. See the Supreme Court’s decisions in (1) R.A.V. v. St. Paul (1992), which invalidated a hate-speech ordinance; (2) Snyder v. Phelps (2011), which overturned damages for hateful bigoted speech at a funeral; (3) Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement (1992), which said a racist group couldn’t be charged more fees based on its racist message; and (4) Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), which held a racist Klan speech was protected by the First Amendment.

Even under French law, which does ban “hate speech,” Charlie Hebdo had been found not to have engaged in hate speech.