Although it is becoming more clear by the day that the embassy attacks in the middle east last week were not merely the result of an inflammatory movie, but a planned and well-orchestrated attack, the voices seeking to weaken the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution are becoming more shrill.

A professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania, Althea Butler, wrote that the maker of the film should be imprisoned. Hilariously, she even touts her status as a tenured professor to trot out the obligatory, “yes, I support freedom of speech, but…” (There’s always a “but,” isn’t there?) Journalist Mike Barnicle said that the preacher Terry Jones, who had merely promoted the film, should be arrested. Naturally, his fellow journalist Donny Deutsch was quick to agree. Many supposedly liberal celebrities called for the filmmakers to be punished.  The White House confirmed that it had requested Youtube to remove the film, which, to their credit, they refused to do.

Perhaps some background of precedent is necessary. No less a constitutional authority than music producer Russell Simmons brought up Oliver Wendall Holmes’ famous observation that, “you can’t yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater” as a reason to imprison the filmmaker. Ironically, Simmons has championed himself as a defender of free speech in the past, but seems to have changed his mind. To be fair, he wasn’t the only dopey public figure to make this case.

To use the theater example, falsely yelling “fire” in a theater could conceivably result in an immediate panic, resulting in a very probable, immediate loss of life or serious physical injury.To say this is the same as watching a film on Youtube that makes bad pornography look positively Spielberg-esque  is absurd.

Holmes’ quote comes from a significant first amendment case in 1919, Shenck vs. the United States.  Socialist Charles Shenck was arrested and indicted for violating the 1917 Alien and Sedition act, distributing leaflets advocating opposition the military draft. The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, upheld the arrest of Shenck, establishing the “clear and present danger” test, which held that speech may be banned if it was likely to cause immediate harm to the United States.

This decision has been narrowed considerably in the decades following, most notably by Brandenburg vs. Ohio. Here, the Supreme Court established the “Brandenburg Test,” which held that, for speech to be held unconstitutional, there must exist intent, imminence and likelihood. Muslims living thousands of miles away rioting over a movie that has been on Youtube for months hardly meets the criteria of imminence, despite what this ludicrous editorial in the Los Angeles Times might think.  In addition, one must believe that Muslims are mindless savages with no self-control and a predilection for violence in order to make the case of likelihood; itself a bigoted and slanderous belief.  These gentlemen might take offense to that characterization.

Finally, there is absolutely no proof that the creator of the film acted with the sole intent of causing rioting and death in foreign countries. And even if he had, a movie that inflames Muslims by depicting revered cultural icons in an unflattering way can hardly be banned under the first amendment. If that was the case, one may suppose a certain White House-backed movie should be banned immediately.