Two news stories about free expression caught my eye today. The first is a ruling by a UN tribunal in Rwanda that hateful words are a war crime.

NEW YORK — With a trio of guilty verdicts yesterday, the U.N. tribunal for Rwanda has established that men armed only with words can commit genocide.

Three Rwandan media executives were convicted by the international tribunal of committing and inciting genocide, war crimes and persecution in a case that will set a precedent for the new International Criminal Court.

Their weapons: the government-sponsored radio station known as "Radio Machete" and "Hate Radio" and a weekly newspaper whose agenda was the extermination of the country's Tutsi majority.

I don't know exactly what statements were made by these three "journalists", but it's certainly possible that their speech was instrumental in aggravating the dangerous racial situation in Rwanda and in leading to the genocide of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis in 1994. Nevertheless, it appears (and I reserve the prerogative to change my mind if further information comes to light) that their speech would have been protected in the United States. It's illegal to threaten violence against a specific person or group, but merely advocating the massacre of a group is protected speech. America has communists, nazis, the KKK, anarchists, &c., all of which advocate breaking various laws.

At least one of these men did more than simply speak, however.

Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza was sentenced to 35 years in prison for his role on the station's board of directors and, separately, for distributing weapons used to kill Tutsi civilians.
That kind of direct involvement makes him an accomplice to murder.

The other story comes out of New York University: "Keep the Sex R-Rated, N.Y.U. Tells Film Students".

In October, a film student at New York University pitched an idea for her video-making class: a four-minute portrayal of the contrast between unbridled human lust and banal everyday behavior.

Her professor approved. The student, Paula Carmicino, found two actor friends willing to have sex on camera in front of the class. The other students expressed their support. But then the professor thought he should double-check with the administration, which immediately pulled the plug on the project.

What's more, university officials said they would issue a written policy requiring student films and videos to follow the ratings guidelines of the Motion Picture Association of America, with nothing racier than R-rated fare allowed, according to Ms. Carmicino and her professor, Carlos de Jesus. The association says R-rated films may include "nudity within sensual scenes."

NYU is a private university, and is no more bound by the First Amendment than the UN tribunal in Rwanda is. That makes it interesting to wonder, however, whether or not a public university would have been compelled to allow the project. I'm not a lawyer, and so I can only speculate on how such a dispute might be resolved, but in my opinion such a project should be allowed. Why? Consider a hypothetical student who wanted to create a religious film, but was restrained so as to not offend his classmates.

"But she's creating pornography with public money!" you might say of Paula Carmicino, if she went to a public school. That woudl be true. However, because of the First Amendment she would (likely) have the right to do so, as long as the the school was providing resources for other types of film as well. If this is objectionable, my feeling is that the real problem isn't with expression that's "too free", but rather with the use of public resources for creating films of any sort, and with the use of public resources for education.



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