The sickening news that Islamic militants had executed the top staff of French satire publication Charlie Hebdo hit very close to home for me. I’ve been shot, sued and repeatedly threatened by people who didn’t like things I published. The cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo worked in the same nothing-is-sacred spirit as we do at HUSTLER, using freedom of speech to make fun of people who try to tell us what we can or can’t say. I’ve heard people ask why we can’t practice free speech without offending people. I tell them: Free speech is only important if it’s offensive. If it’s not offensive, you don’t need the protection of the First Amendment.
But this is not only about freedom of the press. It is about freedom of thought. If you censor a cartoonist or any creative person, you are interfering with his or her thought process. No one has a right to do this. The men who killed the creative minds at Charlie Hebdo wanted much more than to avenge a few cartoons. They wanted people to be afraid to think freely and for the state to react by censoring offensive speech. But in a free and civil society, there is no such thing as a thought crime. Thoughts are free, and people have a right to express them.