Tag: Freedom of Speech

Court Season

The Supreme Court is set to issue a number of landmark ruling this month (saving them for the end of the session, as usual). You can read Doug Mataconis or Evan Bernick for good conservative takes. I’ll do quick hits with how I think the Court will rule and how I think the should rule. And, of course, as each ruling comes down, I’ll put up a post.

The thing about the Roberts Court is that they are very conservative. Not in the political sense, but in the temperamental one. They prefer not to make broad sweeping decisions that upend masses of law and precedent. They tend to defer to legislatures. They like to rule narrowly and specifically. Roberts works very hard to build consensus (see last year’s slew of 9-0 decisions). They have been slow to defend civil liberties except for the First Amendment. So while I expect some landmark decisions, I don’t expect any that will radically reshape the law.

I do expect, however, to hear the losing side of several cases scream that the Court has exercised unprecedented power, set fire to the Constitution and brought plagues of locusts. Whichever side they oppose will be acting in a purely partisan fashion while their side are zealous defenders of the faith. You can decide if that hysteria is warranted.


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.

The Purge

For the last few months, Stephen Bainbridge has been talking about “the Purge”, what he perceives as an increased effort to rid campuses of ideas and people that the Left does not approve of. It has manifested in universities cutting funding for conservative groups and preventing them from hosting speakers that some students don’t approve of (lest anyone be “offended”). It has manifested in Rutgers withdrawing an invitation to Condi Rice to speak at their commencement (a precedent followed by other schools). It has manifested in Brandeis withdrawing a speaking invitation to Ayan Hirsi Ali. It has manifested in Charles Murray’s speech at Azusa Pacific being postponed indefinitely.

In isolation, these things wouldn’t be a concern. No one has a right to speak, after all (although I doubt the people who objected to Rutgers hosting “war criminal” Condi Rice would object to hosting a member of the Administration that has droned American citizens to death without trial). But we’re now seeing the second stage: legal harassment of people who may harbor politically incorrect views:

Douglas Laycock, School of Law faculty member and husband of UVA President Teresa Sullivan, is one of the country’s leading experts on religious liberty, and is well-known for a legal stance that often puts him on opposite sides of polarizing political issues: He supports individual religious rights, but also a total separation of church and state, and he’s argued several Supreme Court cases from that position, defending conservative Lutherans and Santería sect members alike.

Some of his recent writings have been heavily cited by members of the religious right, and now he’s facing the ire of activists on the other end of the political spectrum.

“His work, whether he understands it or realizes it or not, is being used by folks who want to institute discrimination into law,” said Heather Cronk, co-director of Berkeley, California-based LGBT activist group GetEQUAL.

Through the activist group Virginia Student Power Network, GetEQUAL found two UVA students willing to take up the cause of calling out Laycock: rising fourth-year Greg Lewis and now-alum Stephanie Montenegro. Last week, the pair sent an open letter to Laycock asking him to consider the “real-world consequences that [his] work is having.” They also submitted a Freedom of Information Act request seeking e-mails between Laycock and various right-wing and religious liberty groups.

They say they just want to “start a dialogue”. Many of you will recognize that language. “Starting a dialogue” frequently translates out of Leftese into English as “you will shut up while I berate you.” Bainbridge calls them out:

Bullshit. You don’t start a dialogue with FOIA requests. This is a blatant effort at deterring public participation by anyone who does not hew 100% to the most radical version of the gay rights movement.

FOIA requests should sound familiar. That was the tactic that, when used in an attempt to fish around in Michael Mann’s records, was denounced by the Left as an Orwellian attack on academic freedom. And it was. But now that it is being applied to someone who isn’t even conservative, but is insufficiently liberal, it’s OK again. And that’s not the first time they’ve flipped on this. When Greenpeace used FOIA to go after climate skeptical Patrick Michaels, the academic-freedom-loving Left cheered them on. They then used the information Greenpeace dredged up to attack Michaels. (To be fair, as Walter Olson notes, some conservative groups are also using FOIA to attack profs they don’t like).

Look, you either believe in academic freedom or you don’t. You either believe in the free exchange of ideas or you don’t. And a significant and vocal part of the Left has made it clear, sometimes very explicitly, that they only believe in academic freedom for ideas they approve of.

I don’t think you win arguments by silencing dissenters. Argue … shout … scream … protest … sure. Make your case; make it forcefully; mock your opponents. That’s fighting bad speech with more free speech. But the tenor of these attacks is edging closer and closer to censorship, closer and closer to ridding the academy of ideas that are considered dangerous or subversive (at least by a small group of like-minded people).

The justification is usually given as protecting people from being offended. But no one has a right to not be offended. Hell, it’s good to be offended sometimes. It can motivate you. The most linked blog post I ever wrote was a debunking of Mother Jones’ claim that mass shooting were on the rise. I wrote it because I was infuriated by their abuse of statistics.

Moreover college is where you should be exposed to a broad array of ideas, some of which may offend you. Being taken out of your comfort zone is how you learn. Sometimes, you learn that you were wrong (of course, nothing offends people more than being wrong). Sometimes you learn that you were right. I always despised communism. It wasn’t until I was exposed to communist writings in college that if found it offended me with its awful understanding of economics and explicit embrace of totalitarianism.

Another justification given is that we don’t want to contaminate impressionable young minds with bad ideas. More garbage. The best time to encounter bad ideas is when you’re in college, when your entire life revolves around ingesting and either accepting or rejecting ideas.

You don’t immunize people from “bad” ideas by hiding them away. You argue, you debate, you explain why those ideas are wrong, you put forward better ideas. If you think Douglas Laycock is wrong on religious freedom, file your own amicus briefs. But don’t abuse the FOIA laws to try to harass and intimidate him. That’s not “starting a dialogue”. That just thuggery.

P.J.’s Amicus Brief

If you like the work of P.J. O’Rourke — or political satire in general — you must read the amicus brief that he filed in the case of Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus. The case concerns an Ohio law that bans false statements about political candidates. SBA said that Driehaus supported taxpayer-funded abortions because he voted for Obamacare, Driehaus sued. Cato is arguing that false statement about politicians are protected speech so they hired a satirist to write the brief. No legal speak, just genius:

[W]here would we be without the knowledge that Democrats are pinko-communist flag-burners who want to tax churches and use the money to fund abortions so they can use the fetal stem cells to create pot-smoking lesbian ATF agents who will steal all the guns and invite the UN to take over America?

Voters have to decide whether we’d be better off electing Republicans, those hateful, assault-weapon-wielding maniacs who believe that George Washington and Jesus Christ incorporated the nation after a Gettysburg reenactment and that the only thing wrong with the death penalty is that it isn’t administered quickly enough to secular-humanist professors of Chicano studies.

That’s just a sample. O’Rourke actually makes the case very plainly that telling massive lies and half-truths about opposing politicians is a time-honored tradition (just ask Mitt Romney, whom the Democrats claimed killed a woman by cutting off her healthcare). He makes the case that the Court should err heavily on the side of free speech and that this law would have a chilling effect. He argues that the best response to free speech is more free speech. I agree.

And be sure to read the footnotes. Sample:

Driehaus voted for Obamacare, which the Susan B. Anthony List said was the equivalent of voting for taxpayer-funded abortion. Amici are unsure how true the allegation is given that the healthcare law seems to change daily, but it certainly isn’t as truthy as calling the mandate a tax.


Update: Thinking about this some more, I think this may be one of the more important cases before the Court this year.

The Left Wing has been gnashing their teeth for a long time on their perception that the Right Wing wins because they lie their socks off. Bush only won in 2004 because the Swift Boat Veterans lied, Obamacare is only unpopular because the Right Wing lies about it, the Republicans only took Congress because of Tea Party lies, Iraq only happened because Bush lied, etc. etc. They have long wanted a “truth detector”, as Bill Clinton put it, to make sure that Americans’ minds are not clouded by the prevarications of the evil Fox News.

The Ohio Law is born of this belief. It sets up the state as an arbiter of what is and is not true and then brings criminal sanctions down on those whom the state deems to have lied. Notably, it exempts politicians from lying about themselves, since they are unlikely to say defamatory things about themselves. When you add in, as I have frequently noted, that some of the “facts” being checked are not, in fact, facts at all, but opinions of what will happen (2013’s “Lie of the Year” — that you can keep your healthcare if you want it — was fact-checked as “true” before the law was actually written and enacted), the danger of this law becomes clear.

This law can’t be smacked down hard enough.

On Hate Speech

Ann Althouse riffs off of Kathy Griffin’s tweet on the Robertson issue with some thoughts about hate speech. I’ll pull a long quote here:

Hate speech similarly affects the minds of the members of the group against whom hate has been expressed, and it can produce the same kind of fear of violence that is caused by a report of a hate crime. Now, there is hate speech and there is hate speech. Think of the most virulent hate speech, and you should see how powerful it is, how justified and painful the fear is. In extreme cases, members of the targeted group should take alarm and even flee in terror. A purveyor of hate speech need not commit an act of violence to create a fear of violence. He might inspire others to commit those acts of violence, and even if he doesn’t, the threat of violence alone has an effect. False reports of hate speech work the same harm.

In the set of statements that could be characterized as hate speech, what Phil Robertson said was not that bad. Many would argue for a narrow definition of hate speech such that what Phil Robertson said would not be in the set at all. Defining the category very broadly is a political and rhetorical move, and it isn’t always effective. At some point — and perhaps with Robertson, we’ve hit that point — you’re being too repressive about what can be said on issues about which decent people are still debating, and it would be better to hear each other out and remain on speaking terms.

There is more good to be achieved by talking to each other and not shunning than by treating another human being as toxic. In fact, to treat another person as toxic is to become hateful yourself. It’s better to let the conversation flow, and if you really think your ideas are good, why switch to other tactics? What’s the emergency? Especially when your cause — like gay rights — is for greater human freedom, you ought to resist becoming a force of repression.

Since making his controversial remark, Phil Robertson has put out the message that as a Christian he loves everyone. Love speech is the opposite of hate speech, and it has so much more to do with Christianity than the reviling of sin in the earlier remark. He wants to speak against sin, but it’s a problem when you aim a remark at a kind of person who has, over the years — over the millennia — felt a threat of violence and the burden of ostracism. I think Robertson knows that.

Hate speech is an actual thing. I don’t think anyone would doubt that a KKK rally is meant to threaten, intimidate and frighten others. But I think, in the discussion of what does and does not constitute hate speech, a respect for open dialogue, mutual understanding and a robust debate requires us to draw the line as narrowly as possible.

If Robertson had said he thought gays should get the Matthew Shepherd treatment that would be hate speech (putting aside that the Shepherd killing may have had more to do with drugs than gayness). But he didn’t. He expressed a moral view that homosexuality is wrong (a view about half of Americans hold) and that he wishes that gays, like all sinners, would turn away from their sin. It’s simply not comparable to what, to pick an example almost at random, Alec Baldwin said about Henry Hyde. Or the insults he hurled at a gay man. In both cases, Baldwin was shouting violent threats at someone he didn’t like. That’s not even in the same ballpark.

Unfortunately, there is an effort in this country, especially from the Left, to define the bounds of “hate speech” as broadly as possible. I have even heard radio talk show hosts accused of hate speech because they have the temerity to vigorously criticize Democrats. Of course, the Left are never guilty of hate speech. No, sir. When they call Phil Robertson a bigot and a homophobe, that’s not hate. When they insult his looks, his family, his faith and his show, that’s not hate. When they compared Bush to Hitler, that wasn’t hate. When they mocked Romney for his temple garments, that wasn’t hate.

Needless to say, I oppose all attempts to outlaw hate speech. And I think speech codes on campuses and elsewhere are shameful. Your right to free speech does not mean your employer can’t fire you for saying something that embarrasses them. Or that you can’t be prosecuted if you provoke other people to violence. But I find the idea of any kind or prior restraint repulsive, especially when we’re talking about a moral debate we’re still having. That’s not “creating respect” or “stopping hate”. That’s trying to make the other side shut up.

There are tens of millions of people in this country who have changed their opinions about gays and gay rights. They didn’t change their minds because they were told to shut up. They did it because people debated them, talked to them, persuaded them. They did it because they got to know gay people as friends, family members and co-workers. They did it because, at bottom, they were decent reasonable human beings. They opposed gay rights not because of “hate” but because of their love of our traditional culture and values. When they are convinced that something is not a threat to that, they tend to come around. I know this because it’s a journey I myself went on 20 years ago when I was in college. That didn’t happen because of speech codes.

Take Your Rights Somewhere Else

Oh, lovely academia and its commitment to free expression:

In a stunning illustration of the attitude taken towards free speech by too many colleges across the United States, Modesto Junior College in California told a student that he could not pass out copies of the United States Constitution outside the student center on September 17, 2013—Constitution Day. Captured on video, college police and administrators demanded that Robert Van Tuinen stop passing out Constitution pamphlets and told him that he would only be allowed to pass them out in the college’s tiny free speech zone, and only after scheduling it several days or weeks ahead of time. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has written to Modesto, demanding that the college rescind this policy immediately.

The FIRE, in case you don’t know, are a completely awesome organization devoted to fighting for academic and personal freedom for everyone. Every year, some idiot liberal expresses shock when FIRE fights for the rights of a liberal organization. I am not shocked: this is what FIRE does. They don’t care what your political views are; they care about freedom.

The free speech zones that decorate about 15% of our college campuses are a disgrace. Colleges should be giving their students more freedom of expression than the government minimum, not less. And it should apply to everyone: from Occupy Idiots to Tea Partiers (yes, there are some on campuses) to gay rights activists to abortion activists. Colleges and universities like to claim that they aren’t exercising prior restraint; they’re acting like an employer who won’t let you engage in political activity at work. But most of them are, in fact, state institutions and almost all of them get massive portions of their budgets from state and federal agencies. When they are completely privately funded, then they can act like private agencies.

I’ve talked about all this before but I had to post this because … this really takes the cake. Telling a kid handing out Constitution pamphlets to get lost on Constitution Day? Holy crap, that’s bad.

Here We Go

In one of Hal’s election posts last week I mentioned that wrt SCOTUS judges and what ideology was more antagonistic to our civil liberties, for my money it was the libs (from now on I’m going to stop using the word “progressive”, it gives them more credit then they deserve, and go to calling a spade a spade). Free speech is only free (and protected) as long as they approve the script ahead of time. And as far as the Second Amendment, Oy vey! But this new Muhammad film as done the world a service, it has brought out all the free speech fascists, exposing their hypocrisy as a defender of any civil liberties at all.

Yeah, they are talking about this guy. I would say that the general consensus is that Jones is a douchenozzle of the first degree. Now that we got that out of the way, what bizzaro world do we live in where anyone cares what some back woods pastor thinks anyway? He “promoted” the film, ohhhhhhhhhhhh, that sure does sound sinister. He has no hand in the script, the making of the film, the production, or even the distribution, but he showed it in his church, so now the MSNBC liberals want the jackboots to kick in his door and go get him, pathetic.

Think they are fringe within their community” Wrong

Anthea Butler is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. The title of her most recent book, The Gospel According to Sarah: How Sarah Palin’s Tea Party Angels Are Galvanizing the Religious Right, gives you a pretty good idea of where she stands politically.

This morning, she strongly implied that Sam Bacile is responsible for yesterday’s embassy attacks and, as a result, should be tossed into jail.

All over some low rent production of a crapolla movie that even the Onion or SNL would not take credit for, here is a small trailer:

Ah yes, the power of the vagina, capable of an instantaneous religious epiphany, hallelujah!!

I wonder if those guys who make the Girls Gone Wild videos, if they had a ME edition, would it have caused this much constipation within the Muslim community?

But since there is nothing worse then a pissed off Muslim (and anything outside of their 12th century lifestyle, gets them all rankled) what is the rest of the world to do? One thing not to do is legitimize their indignancy by apologizing for the cause of “hurt feelings”, get a grip.

Aside from the usual pep talk that everyday we need to watch those bastards in power, keeping their feet to the fire while reintroducing them to their duties of upholding the Constitution and guarding our civil liberties, the other thing that is needed is to constantly show the Muslim community what asshats they are when they can’t handle a little bit of criticism and ridicule. They are the enemies of free expression, we are the advocates for free expression, the savages need to be brought to the adult table, which they will do kicking and screaming, but it needs to be done. We need to do more along the line of “Draw Muhammad Day”, we need to bring them to the 21st century by condemning their barbarity, laughing at their infantile temper tantrums, and reminding them in order to go along you must get along. I know it’s hard to compete with 72 virgins waiting for you, and here is where we need those silent majority types to stop being so silent. They are perverting your religion, do something about it.

The Cost Of Freedom

Jobs, prosperity, and optimism may be in short supply these days, but irony is in abundance. During the Bush years (it seems like such a long time ago) a prevailing theme among the left was ,”Dissent is patriotic”, remember? All the squawking about the wars, the homeland security measures, and {perceived} unilateral attitude in dealing with international affairs, all things critical of Bush were punctuated by Dissent Is Patriotic, like wrapping themselves in the red, white and blue somehow validated their criticisms. Funny thing about that dissent thing, I guess it only goes one way.

I saw this over at weazel zippers, some guy in New Orleans has already gotten into the spirit and has displayed some unflattering signs about our president on his property, much to the consternation of those patriotic dissenters:

Many things are in play here. We have the racial element. No where that I could see was anything on those signs racial in nature, yet, and we knew this was going to happen as surely as the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, any criticisms of Obama can be marginalized by wrapping it with that “racist” blanket. Notice the guy that said it was disrespectful, maybe, but so is Bush/Hitler and Bush/chimp, such is the manner is which some criticize. Notice the woman who said ,”It’s insulting, we mean that he going to have to take it down”, really? Or what? You folks going to storm the premises, trespass on his property and vandalize the signs? To tell you the truth, I am surprised they have not been vandalized already.

You can view images of the signs here. I think the Soros one is a bit goofy and detracts from the others, which has quite a bit of truth attached, albeit from a right leaning perspective.

I thought for sure that ex Mayor Naggan would set him straight, much like Obama going to Stockholm to instruct those folks that the Olympics WILL be going to Chicago, oh, that didn’t work out?

So now the city council is worried that a riot will break out (freedom of speech can rub some people the wrong way, pity) so they call the cops on Tim Reily, those signs are just inflaming the sensibilities of some folks, we can’t have that.

I suspect those stalwarts of freedom city council folks will find some obscure city code regulating the size of signs on private property and have them re worked. And Rev. Sharpton is on the line, he wants Reily arrested for inciting a riot.

I give this guy props for exercising his freedoms, although, depending on the area where he lives, he may pay a price for it. Living in the Bay Area, one truism, verified daily, is that Obama supporters can regale their vehicles with support all day long with no worries of retribution. This can not be said for the other side, and bumper stickers criticizing “The One” or supporting someone in opposition is just asking for it, and with a $500 deductible, realty limits my outward support.

The WBC v. the KKK

How extreme is the Westboro Baptist Church? This extreme:

As President Obama honored fallen soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday, three members of the Westboro Baptist Church protested the ceremony, holding signs that read “Pray for more dead soldiers” and “God hates your prayers,” as the controversial group has become known to do. They were met by about 70 counterprotesters, including members from a group just as contentious as the church: the Ku Klux Klan.

Dennis LaBonte, who told CNN he was a military veteran and the “imperial wizard” of a KKK chapter, said the approximately 10 members of the group came in “support of the troops.” LaBonte, who said he’s not a “hate-monger,” said he “thinks that it’s an absolute shame that [the WBC] show up and disrupt people’s funerals.” The group was cordoned off in a separate area and reportedly “drew little attention.”

WBC member Abigail Phelps said the KKK “have no moral authority on anything.”

When the people who spend their time ranting and raving about the black and the Jews think you’ve gone too far, maybe … just maybe … you’ve gone too far. But it does make me marvel about how wonderful free speech is. In most countries, repulsive assholes like these are in prison or in charge. Here … they’re just an illustration of how much we mean it when we say, “Congress shall make no law”.

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