The Islamic world has been ignited into high dudgeon by some Danish cartoonists. I did not know what to think about this matter. After reading about it for a week and not seeing the cartoons published in the American press, I had to go searching for them in the one place where freedom of expression still exists: the Internet.
There I found them. The Wikipedia site is a good place to start, though the cartoons are so reduced one cannot see them very clearly. One can see them clearly enough, however, to come to the rational conclusion that they are NOT objectively offensive. They are not hate speech, but rather a sardonic expression of the cartoonists' reaction to Islamic fundamentalism.
That the Muslim world has now vindicated the cartoonists' original point, that the Western press is prevented by cowardice or political correctness from criticizing Islam, seems to have been lost on everyone. This cowardice or political correctness has the effect of granting special status to Islam. Though everyone else who wants a place at the world banquet has to endure criticism and sometimes ridicule in a civilized way, Islam apparently, feels it has a special status and can just skip that little hazing ritual.
The Vatican has weighed in: taking this opportunity to offer a self-serving diktat that freedom of expression should not extend to challenging others' religious beliefs. That would make it a perfect world for priests and mullahs alike, wouldn't it?
I however, come from a proud tradition of challenging religious tyranny: Lutheranism.
An objectively offensive, vile and hateful expression, such as superimposing the prophet's face on a urinal, (which Andres Serrano essentially did in 1987 by immersing a crucifix into a beaker of his own piss and taking a photograph of it) should spark outrage. Nobody ever said that free speech should be free of consequences: we merely ask that we be free from prior restraint by the government, and the government's agency, Religion.
However, the world is shrinking. The Internet, our 20th Century equivalent to moveable type will permit the most egregious freedom of thought, and the priests and mullahs will not be able to control it. Their efforts to impose restraint will fail.