This is exactly the kind of situation I was talking about in my posts about Free Speech on March 12 and March 17. The group (The American Freedom Defense Initiative) that hosted the Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in Dallas was within their legal rights to do this. Free Speech covers this quite easily. They should not be subject to criminal prosecution or civil penalties. I would have said that they should be billed for all of the extra police work they have caused, but the 40 officers serving as security guards were already paid for by the group.
On the other hand, legal is not the only criterion that they should have used when setting this up, or that we should use when evaluating their choices. The next criterion is ethical speech. Speech that is intentionally designed to insult without a strong and valuable justification is not ethical. I wish that instead of a drive by shooting, there was a huge throng of protesters condemning the group, the contest and its content. The caterer could have boycotted selling them any food. The sign company could have refused to make their signage. The AV team could have refused to set up their audiovisual tech. As I said in the previous post, the legal right to Free Speech does not include the legal requirement to do business with you. Not only would this have been the right thing to do, but it would have prevented the shooting as a nice side effect. I also wish the building management that rented the space to the group for this event had thought better of it, but I also suspect that they had an agenda also. Although I don’t know what that might be, so it is just speculation.
Finally, we have practical speech. I have a feeling that the group intended for exactly this outcome. It instigates Islamaphobia and shows that the “problem has reached our shores.” But the rest of us should be practical too. Just as the group is promoting their legal rights to this speech, we should be promoting the unethical dimension and the fact that it is impractical for everyone except the haters.