Tag: Freedom of expression

Don’t Be Fooled

Over the weekend, there was a massive march in Paris in response to the Charlie Hebdo killings and subsequent hostage events. World leaders — with one notable Nobel-prize-winning exception — marched with the protesters to show their commitment to freedom and unity.

At least, that’s what the narrative is. But, as usual, the narrative is bull:

Following the terrorist attacks on the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the EU has issued a joint st​atement to condemn the act and work to prevent extremism and safeguard freedom of expression. The leaders’ suggestion? More surveillance and internet censorship.

The statement, adopted by EU representatives including UK Home Secretary Theresa May, focuses on addressing radicalisation “in an early stage.” It condemns the January 7 attacks, in which two Islamist gunmen killed 12 people, and specifically mentions the internet as a factor in the “fight against radicalisation.”

“We are concerned at the increasingly frequent use of the internet to fuel hatred and violence and signal our determination to ensure that the internet is not abused to this end, while safeguarding that it remains, in scrupulous observance of fundamental freedoms, a forum for free expression, in full respect of the law,” the statement reads.

“With this in mind, the partnership of the major internet providers is essential to create the conditions of a swift reporting of material that aims to incite hatred and terror and the condition of its removing, where appropriate/possible,” it continues.

Ignore the caveats, concentrate on the message: they want to control internet content. And as we’ve learned, controlling internet content doesn’t just mean silencing terrorists. It means silencing anyone who says anything deemed racist or bigoted or insensitive. The EU wants to stop terrorists from silencing critics of Islam all right. They will do this by silencing Islam’s critics on their own.

David Cameron has specifically responded to these events by saying he wants to mandate a back door into all internet communication:

British Prime Minister David Cameron reacted to last week’s terrorist attack in Paris by participating in a march declaring solidarity with freedom of expression. Then he went home and attacked freedom of expression with a promise: If his party, the Conservatives, win an upcoming election, they’ll pass legislation that would empower security services to read anything sent over the Internet.

He favors a Britain where everything that anyone communicates can be spied upon if authorities determine that certain conditions are met. In short order, this would enable security services to spy on all innocent communications even as terrorists and non-criminals begin to communicate in code or through still-dark channels. And that is just the beginning of the problems with this privacy-killing proposal.

As has been noted many times, when the government demands a backdoor into your cellphone or computer, that makes it possible for the backdoor to be abused by hackers, terrorists and other criminals.

Oh, and that march? The world leaders weren’t even there:

Now, a different perspective on the leader’s portion of the march has emerged in the form of a wide shot displayed on French TV news reports.

It shows that the front line of leaders was followed by just over a dozen rows other dignitaries and officials – after which there was a large security presence maintaining a significant gap with the throngs of other marchers.

The measure was presumably taken for security reasons – but political commentators have suggested that it raises doubts as to whether the leaders were really part of the march at all.

And their commitment to free expression? You should check out Daniel Wickham’s tweets, which run down their level of “commitment”. Example:

So this March for Solidarity or Unity or whatever was not really a march against censorship or for free speech. Not as far as world leaders were concerned, at least. The only reason they oppose terrorists attacking freedom of expression is because they see that as their job. Fresh off of silencing critics, imprisoning journalists and attacking civil liberties, they are going to use this attack on free expression to ratchet up the attack on our liberties through more censorship, more control of media and more “sensitivity”. Don’t think for a second this is about stopping future Charlie Hebdo attacks. This is about control.

Politicians hate free speech. They hate the free press. They will enact as many controls on expression as they can get away with. The only people who care about our civil liberties are us. The Hebdo attack is seen by the majority of politicians as a way to ramp up their control of us. They will mask it with concern about terrorism, as they always do. But in the end, we will all be under their thumb.

If they were really committed to freedom of expression, they would be challenging the blasphemy laws that infest dozens of countries around the world. If they were really committed to freedom of expression, they’d be trying to free imprisoned journalists. If they were really committed to freedom of expression, they would be challenging the speech codes that have flowered on college campuses. Until they attack those things, I will not believe them when they talk about their commitment to freedom of expression. They’re just placating us.

A lot of people misunderstood the “I Am Charlie Hebdo” thing. It’s not that liking their content. The point is that we are all under the real or implied threat of censorious thugs and we must zealously defend our freedom from those thugs. That mean terrorists, yes. But it also means the thugs who wear suits and ties and march near crowds to show their unity.

You Can’t Say That (Prostitution Edition)

The Supreme Court has yet to render decisions on gay marriage, affirmative action or the Voting Rights Act. But a number of critical decisions have come down, some good, some bad. I’ve been sitting on post on criminal rights for a few days; I’ll hopefully crank it out over the weekend. But I did want to comment on Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International, Inc., which was handed down yesterday.

(Aside: I have become a total SCOTUSblog junkie. They have pages on every case the Court is handling, complete with amicus briefs. When they liveblog decisions, I close my office door. They get it fast and they get it right. They absolutely deserved the Peabody Award they won for getting the Obamacare decision right while the networks floundered. If you care about the Court, they are a must-bookmark.)

About ten years ago, the government implemented two policies for funding organizations to fight AIDS. The first was that they not used funds to promote prostitution or its legalization. The second was that they must explicitly oppose prostitution. The orgs argued that the second requirement impugned their First Amendment rights by forcing them to advocate a political view. And yesterday the Court agreed 6-2 that it did.

(It was always stupid policy — legalizing prostitution would very likely cut into the spread of AIDS. But the Court has no power to overturn laws because they’re dumb.)


This case is about far more than prostitution and HIV/AIDS. The expansion of the modern regulatory state has increasingly led to financial involvement of the government with private organizations — including churches, religious universities, and religious charities — in ways that potentially give the government power over those organizations. Tax exemptions, which have been treated by this Court as tantamount to the provision of funds, are a prominent example. Student loans and grants, which are likewise treated as equivalent to direct payments to the university, are another. Numerous other examples exist, including the direct grants at issue here.

Under the government’s theory in this case, federal, state, and local governments may use these kinds of government funding programs as leverage to pressure organizations into affirmatively expressing particular government-prescribed views as the organizations’ own. For instance, if a government wants to pressure such groups to avow that they support or oppose contraception, pacifism, abortion, the death penalty, assisted suicide, or whatever other policy those then in control of the government choose, then that government would be free to do so.

For the reasons discussed below, that cannot be right. Such a “get with the program” power would let the government badly distort the marketplace of ideas by strengthening groups that toe the government line and financially crippling groups that refuse to say what the government demands. And such a power to coerce ideological conformity would unacceptably burden religious groups’ rights to speak or not speak in accordance with the truth as they see it.

Exactly. As Noah Feldman pointed out, this decision protects conservative views as much or more than it protects liberal ones. Had the Court upheld this provision, there would have been nothing to stop the government from forcing organizations that wanted federal funds or tax exemptions to recognize the legitimacy of gay marriage or the importance of a woman’s right to choose or anything else that popped into their heads. To quote from Robert’s stirring decision:

[T]he Policy Requirement goes beyond preventing recipients from using private funds in a way that would undermine the federal program. It requires them to pledge allegiance to the Government’s policy of eradicating prostitution. As to that, we cannot improve upon what Justice Jackson wrote for the Court 70 years ago: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” West Va. Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette.

Now there’s an argument for this policy, which Scalia and Thomas put forward and is discussed more by Ken at Popehat that goes like this: it’s the government’s money, so you have to play by their rules. There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch. You don’t want to parrot the government line? Don’t take their money.

I would say, as a general rule, that’s not unreasonable. But the history of government using its financial power to compel behavior is long and ugly and has frequently extended to areas where we don’t have a choice (or effectively don’t) about taking their money. Highway funding was used as a bludgeon to raise the drinking age. Financial aid was used to force universities to adopt more aggressive anti-drug and anti-drinking policies. In fact, this very Court has decided that we are not entitled to Social Security money. How long would it take for politicians to mandate certain views in return for benefits?

Amanda Marcotte, always one to completely miss the point, tries to hammer this into a Bush and the evil Christians narrative. But that ignores that the Obama Administration supported this policy. Numerous “feminists” supported the policy or filed amicus briefs in favor. Numerous Democratic politicians supported it and filed amicus briefs in favor. And it would not surprise me at all to see this emerge again with a thin Constitutional veneer.

As Volokh says, our government has tremendous financial and regulatory power. Even if we elected Rand Paul and a bunch of libertarians tomorrow, it would take decades for that power to recede. We have to be very suspicious when it tries to use that power to make people agree with it. To not do so is to ignore the monster in the room.

The Paper Tiger

I mentioned in an earlier post how disconcerting it was for me to see other nations doing what we as Americans used to do pretty well, and do it better. Yes, our retreat, our fall from grace has lowered the bar and made catch up much easier, but to think that others are eating our lunch, at our table in our restaurant, it really sucks ass. Patton was right, Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser, and Americans play to win all the time. Well, we are losing, we are losing our self respect, we are losing the moral imperative in the world of civil liberties, and we are rolling over like bought dogs wrt that which we have forever revered and cherished, the First Amendment.

Here is our president and the Sec. of State exposing their backsides:

When they came for him, I stood by and did nothing, I was not a film maker.

Curious that Hillary falls all over herself apologizing for freedoms men many died for, too bad she only bends knees to the radicals that murder people. Where was this soap box sanctimony, this champion of religious tolerance, when she went to go see that intolerant laughfest that denigrates the Mormon religion, the Book of Mormon:

On Thursday of last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the video project Innocence of Muslims, the one that may or may not have provoked riots worldwide, “disgusting and reprehensible.”
Although Clinton could have seen no more than a 13-minute trailer for the video, she condemned it in no uncertain terms: “Let me state very clearly — and I hope it is obvious — the United States government had nothing to do with this video. We absolutely reject its content and message.”
One would think that Clinton might have had a similar reaction to a musical comedy by the name of The Book of Mormon, a satirical, scandalously potty-mouthed riff on the Mormon religion.

One (with a backbone and an appreciation for the freedom of expression) could find equal hilarity in this silly video, I certainly tried when I made fun of it, it’s bad acting, it’s dreadful set pieces, and the cosmically slapstick power of the vagina in converting any sinner. The true American could should find both amusing, then go home reveling in the good times shared but harboring no hatred or offense at what was clearly meant as entertainment. But with Hillary, one is funny but the other disgusting, vile, and reprehensible. Maybe the two step has something to do with her and her state dept. being so behind the eight ball, so backwardly slow in figueing out what happened, all she had to do was read the MSM lackies who spew propaganda for her, they had the story pegged almost from the outset.

But here again, we see, other nations displaying their onions and standing by the obvious, things we are suppose to do, but not with this guy in the WH.

Exhibit A in the French (are you kidding me, what kind of bizarro world is it that the French understand freedom of speech better then we do?)

Foreign minister Laurent Fabius admitted that satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo’s provocative cartoons, one of which appeared on its front cover, would ‘throw oil on the fire’ of recent anger over an anti-Islam film produced in the U.S.

However, he defended freedom of expression, adding that the fundamental right could only be limited ‘by court decisions’.
Mr Fabius said embassy security was being stepped up in Muslim countries, and that riot police in major cities would receive reinforcements.

As France plunged into a fierce debate about free speech, the government defended Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish the drawings and said it would also block a protest planned by people angry over the anti-Islam movie The Innocence Of Muslims.

Wait, no apologies issued from those cheese eating surrender monkey’s? (disclaimer, issued tongue in cheek)

Europe has a history of standing up for principles that American’s expect their leaders to champion:

The terrorist found it intolerable that Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt would not intervene to deny Vilks the right to draw and to publish his cartoon. Mr. Reinfeldt had in fact been preceded in this principled stance by Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen in Denmark, when mocking cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad were published in Jyllands-Posten in September 2005. He too had refused to yield to demands from the Muslim streets and from non-secular Islamic governments such as Pakistan and Iran—accompanied by threats of economic retribution against Danish companies and incendiary mayhem against Danish citizens and embassies—for censure and censorship of his country’s newspapers.
In each case, however, the principled defense of the right of free expression, indeed of what we might call the “right to ridicule,” has been largely left to these admirable prime ministers from small Scandinavian countries. The only important non-Scandinavian stateswoman to have come to the defense of this right has been Chancellor Angela Merkel, who just received the prestigious Medal of Freedom from President Obama. She spoke at an event in September 2010 at Potsdam, where the Danish cartoonist was awarded the M100 Media Prize 2010, declaring emphatically that “it is irrelevant whether his cartoons are tasteless or not. … Is he allowed to do that? Yes, he can.” By contrast, the leading English-speaking governments have generally failed to express solidarity with the Scandinavian governments and cartoonists, either by words or by actual actions that would cushion them against the threatened economic retribution.

This is the state we find ourselves in, where the rapist gets an apology from the victim, who expresses remorse for somehow provoking the attack, either dressing provocatively or being insensitive to the attacker.

So now this poor schlep of a film maker not only gets a star studded perp walk (the problem is, he is no perp), but a bounty on his head. At least he can feel proud knowing the Sec. of State invoked his name and his film in her groveling to the murderous crybabies.

Citizens Untied

I’ve ever understood the hue and cry among the Left over Citizens United. It seem to me a lot of it is based on misinformation. They think that Citizens opened the door for big evil corporations to make massive policial campaign contributions. But that was already legal. Citizens was a very specific case where a non-profit political group made a movie about Hillary Clinton and were forbidden to show it 60 days before an election. It was an issue of free speech, not money. The same laws used to block Hillary: The Movie could and have been used to shut up unions, environmental groups and minority rights groups. But aided by a media who want to ensure that they are the only ones who can tell us what to think, this bullshit narrative has take hold.

Nancy Pelosi and several other Democrats have thrown their weight behind the “People’s Rights Amendment”. This has no chance of passing, none. It’s a bone to the Far Left. But it’s a remarkable insight into how these people think. Here’s the text:

Section 1. We the people who ordain and establish this Constitution intend the rights protected by this Constitution to be the rights of natural persons.

Section 2. People, person, or persons as used in this Constitution does not include corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities established by the laws of any state, the United States, or any foreign state, and such corporate entities are subject to such regulation as the people, through their elected state and federal representatives, deem reasonable and are otherwise consistent with the powers of Congress and the States under this Constitution.

Section 3. Nothing contained herein shall be construed to limit the people’s rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free exercise of religion, and such other rights of the people, which rights are inalienable.

This is an extremely bad amendment. As Volokh points out, the wording is liberal enough that it would strip almost any non-individual of their basic rights, including churches, corporate newspapers, all non-profits and basically anyone they want:

Congress could ban speech about elections and any other speech, whether about religion, politics, or anything else. It could also ban speech in viewpoint-based ways.

State legislatures and local governments could do the same. All of them could seize corporate property without providing compensation, and without providing due process. All corporate entities would be stripped of all constitutional rights

Except the compliant media, of course.

The idea that we the people have individual rights but that we the people can not pool our resources to exercise those rights is insane. This isn’t about evil money-grubbing corporations. This is about any group — from the NRA to the NEA to the NBA — exercising their rights.

You will rarely find a more perfect distillation of the hatred that our political class have for basic freedom. What pisses them off about Citizens is not money in politics or corporate rights or anything like that. What pisses them off is the idea of people saying nasty things about them. Had Hillary: the Movie tried to go through Hollywood or the MSM, it would have been stopped by the politicians’ dog washers. How dare the citizens try to get their message out some other way!

They despise our freedom. And they more than happy to take advantage of the anti-corporate hysteria of the Left to abridge it. No politician who supports this amendment should be allowed anywhere near power.

Stolen Valor

The Stolen Valor Act — which criminalizes making false claims about military service — is up for review by the Supreme Court. The case involves a California politician who made up a Marine career, including a Medal of Honor. You can see the case for here, which is basically a argument that the Constitutional protection of free speech should not be extended to lies.

But I find myself, not surprisingly, agreeing with Jacob Sullum:

But since the Court is applying a constitutional provision that says “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech,” this approach seems backward. Shouldn’t the question be whether the government has a compelling enough reason to overcome what sounds like a very strong presumption against punishing speech? At the very least, the First Amendment puts the burden of proof on the censors, who must justify their speech limits, rather than the speaker, who need not show that his words have value.

This should be our approach to almost all issues of civil liberties. It is not the people who must justify our freedom; our freedom is implicit; it comes to us from our Creator. It is government that must justify its intrusion.

So, is it justified here? I can’t help but wonder if more generalized fraud provisions would be a better course. If my doctor makes all kinds of false claims about training and awards, I could sue for fraud. If an employee makes false claims about their education and experience, I can fire them. Why shouldn’t false claims of any type be grounds for a fraud complaint or removal from office?

I’m not going to defend Xavier Alvarez, who is a scumbag. But should we be making a federal case out of this? Should he be facing time in federal prison?