Would this be a criminal act?

Say a comedian with a TV show has an episode in which a portrait of Christ gets urinated on.

Say somebody takes that clip and doctors it to replace Christ with a picture of Mohammed… and then puts it on the internet.

Say the comedian comes to a violent end.

Might the act of doctoring the clip and distributing it be criminal (other than copyright infringement)?

Good one.

And the answer is…it depends.

The part you’d have to prove to convict is that the modifier was aware of the potential result and continued with the course of action anyway.

The Supreme Court has ruledthat “fighting words” aren’t protected by the First Amendment. Presumably it would come down to deciding whether or not a reasonable person (and by extension, the defendant) could have foreseen the inflammatory nature of the modified video.

I suspect you want this thread to be about “Why should pissing on Christ be okay and pissing on Mohammad be illegal!?” But it’s more complicated in that. Identical utterances can have different meanings in different contexts. The law does not judge the appropriateness of a speech act in isolation, but rather in regard to its intended and likely effect in the circumstances in which it was uttered. Indeed, a video of someone pissing on a picture of Christ might, in some circumstances, be construed as “fighting words” and not be subject to First Amendment protections.

But what reasonable person could foresee the comedian getting killed?

Besides Adrian Veidt, I mean.

Just to emphasize the importance of context, go back to the old standard: Yelling “fire!” in a crowded theater. There is nothing illegal, immoral, offensive, etc. about the word “fire”. But in the context of a theater packed with people, a reasonable person would expect that the result of yelling that word will be some amount of panic, running, etc. that is very likely to cause real harm to at least some of the people. So that word in that context is not protected speech.

Write that same word in a news story, text it to a friend, yell it in an open field, all no problem. So if believers in Christ have not generally been shown to react with violence to the defiling of his picture, but believers in Mohammad have generally been shown to react with violence to the defiling of his picture, then it could well be reasonable to expect the average person to know that; to know that doing one will not have serious consequences while doing the other will. And that makes the difference.

How is anyone supposed to know that it’s a picture of Muhammed? It’s not like there actually are any pictures of him, after all.

Yes, that could be prosecuted under various blasphemy laws. Whoever doctors the clip probably shouldn’t do it in Saudi Arabia, Iran, or some other country where creating and publishing a likeness of Islam’s prophet, let alone one in which he is being desecrated, is obviously taboo.

I would guess the same way we know a picture of Jesus* when we see it: context.

  • Since, you know, there aren’t any actual portraits of him, either.

What are you talking about? There are plenty of paintings and drawings of Mohammed, though to be fair, none of the extant images date from his lifetime.

Regardless, the fact that there’s no historically accurate likeness of someone doesn’t mean that depictions of them can’t be made recognizable. We don’t have any sources for what Jesus actually looked like; nonetheless artistic conventions have arisen which have associated a certain likeness with him.

not legal advice

I would agree with this. Imagine if you walked into a Catholic church during mass carrying an icon of Mary, which you proceeded to drop on the floor and urinate on in a very obvious manner. Doing this would be VERY different from desecrating a Christian icon at a formal Satanic service, where anyone attending would have been warned that they were attending a black mass and that they might see something disturbing. There’s nothing in US law that specifically forbids desecration of an icon, nor is there anything that specifically forbids you from uttering racial epithets, saying “fire”, or anything like that. Basically, there are appropriate and inappropriate contexts for speech.

Do a search for “fighting words”.

Hmmm… you should look up the origin of the quote about “fire”. It was used to justify stripping US citizens of their citizenship and sending them back where they came from, for exercising their first amnedment rights. IIRC the guy the Supreme Court turfed was urging US soldiers to not fight in some foreign war in 1917.

I forget which supreme later said it was the worst decision of his career.

I guess the question, as with any fighting words, is “was it directly meant to start a fight”? If the manipulator then forwarded the video to every turbanned red-nech he could find, then yes. If he posted it, for exampl on YouTube and people had to request to see it, then how is he creating a provocation? Would not all the people who forwarded an email “Ahmed, it’s Sadam. You gotta watch this…” be equally guilty of the provocation or more so?

It’s along the lines of: if you say “don’t fight in an unjust war”, that’s freedom of speech. If you say “disobey your commands, refuse to serve” that’s inciting mutiny.

If you tell Joe exactly what his mother was, expect a punch in the nose or worse. If he hears that you told someone else the same story, then you were not provoking him.

There is, in fact, a well-know piece of art called “piss-Christ”, just to make the contrast of religious tolerance extremes even more stark. In this case, the artist collected a vatful of his own over time.

That’s a good analogy and hits on one of the issues I wondered about… would society (or a jury) have to accept that the violent end was a reasonable action? In your example, the pisser might get roughed up a little by a few Catholics but I doubt he would be murdered.

It’s one thing to yell “fire” in a crowded theatre… it’s quite another to yell “eek a mouse” and expect the same reaction. In fact you’d expect all those scared of mice to control themselves.

Not to mention grilled cheese, pancakes and others.

I think you have to distinguish between “A reasonable person would think that violence would result.” and “The resulting violence was a reasonable action.”

If I incite someone to murder someone else, my actions don’t excuse theirs. So the murderous Muslims in the OP are not off the hook because someone provoked them into their actions. It’s just that the person doing the provoking may share some of the blame as well.

Say I trick an unsuspecting friend into wearing gang colors and then drop him off in the wrong part of town. If he gets shot by a rival gang, the gang members are still guilty of murder. But my actions in causing the dangerous situation are worthy of some sort of punishment as well.

The right to free speech has to be balanced against the considerations of public safety. Does the utterance serve a valid political or intellectual purpose, or is it merely intended to incite and inflame passions? Publishing a book critical of Christianity deserves far more protection than wandering into a random church and spitting on a crucifix.

Wasn’t the point of this thread to find out if the murder was a charge to be put on person that modified the video instead of the actual murders?

I don’t get that from the OP at all. The question is “Would this be a criminal act?” not “Would this excuse the behavior of the killers?”


IOW what constitutes instigating a murder especially if the murder is totally unjustifiable.