Archive for the ‘free speech’ Category
President Barack Obama’s remarks concerning the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya in Benghazi raise troubling questions. In a statement released at WhiteHouse.gov, Obama states, “While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants.” Really? The U.S. “rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others“? How? Is there a government agency that monitors people’s views on religion? Is there a law that governs speech in this manner? More to the point, has the White House ever seen the movie “Religulous”? (Or, for that matter, Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”!) Has the president read Ed Harris’s “The End of Faith”?
When has the United States ever been anything but a champion free expression?
Regarding people’s attempts to “denigrate the religious beliefs of others,” this is a difficult issue to parse. I was certainly appalled when Terry Jones, a pastor from Florida, burned the Koran — from the standpoint of Christian virtue, I believe even that he offended God — but I supported his inalienable right to do so. (I would have found his action more “heroic” he had done so in Pakistan, however.) But is not Islam a critic of Christianity? Does not Islam denigrate Christian faith by saying Christians are wrong about Jesus’s divinity?
I understand that Obama wishes to placate Muslims offended by a patently offensive YouTube video about the prophet Muhammad (details of the video can be found here), but I do not believe it is wise to dismiss the right of free expression in the name of appeasement. To reject senseless violence is to champion speech that denigrates even religion.
Update: Political fallout from Romney camp — http://firstread.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/09/12/13831714-timeline-political-fallout-from-the-attack-on-diplomats-in-libya?lite
“We are a publicly funded institution. It is crazy to think that we should be required to use tax dollars to allow open access to Internet pornography or to become illegal casinos.” — Director Dean Marney, of the North Central Regional Library (Washington state)
My right to express myself — as in publishing this blog — does not mean the rest of America has to pay for it. Nor does my right to practice religion mean the taxpayer has to build a church for me. I can do those things on my own, and to the best of my ability.
Neither must libraries offer access to porn.
The ACLU is suing the North Central Regional Library for blocking access to porn sites through its filtering system (see story). Essentially, the ACLU contends that communities have no right to function as communities, that libraries have no right to set priorities.
I have always believed the right to be a citizen among a group, a self-willed body, is constitutional. The ACLU argues otherwise.
“Public libraries are a valuable resource for all people in their community. Unlike with books and other printed materials, finances do not limit libraries from providing the vast array of useful information available on the Internet. Libraries should not limit the opportunity of adults to view research articles and other lawful materials,” said ACLU of Washington legal director Sarah Dunne (source).
Forcing libraries to offer porn (or gambling, etc.), however, is a limitation. Libraries have only so many computers, only so much physical space. Somehow, libraries — guided by their communities — have to decide what appears on shelves and on computer screens. Or, is the ACLU saying libraries must offer EVERYTHING? If so, we will have to build libraries the size of stadiums.
No, communities have the right to set goals and priorities — and the process is democratic. It should be honored, not subverted by the ACLU and its overwrought ideas of personal liberty.
The groundswell against “Protect IP/SOPA” is enormous, and with good cause. My particular objection regards how the legislation would affect Internet searches. Google describes the situation this way: “The U.S. government could order the blocking of sites using methods similar to those employed by China. Among other things, search engines could be forced to delete entire websites from their search results. That’s why 41 human rights organizations and 110 prominent law professors have expressed grave concerns about the bills” (source).
That companies and artists should be able to protect their work is unquestionable. Piracy is ruinous, and it stifles competition and creativity (one has only to look at China, where movie producers cannot thrive because nearly everyone there is buying pirated, American movies). But giving corporations and courts broad powers to censor the web is unacceptable.
It has also been noted that “Protect IP/SOPA” won’t actually stop piracy. Ironic. Still more ironic is that the industry is capable of adapting to circumstances. In the 1990s, digital music threatened to destroy the music industry. Countless millions simply downloaded music for free, robbing both artists and corporations of their just profits. Yet, the industry adapted. Today, the industry sells — profitably — 30-second ring-tones of songs for a buck or so. That’s pure gravy.
The greater consideration is, and should always be, the rights of citizens to gather information freely. “Protect IP/SOPA” would damage that right.
Before his departure from the public airwaves, radio personality Howard Stern used to complain about the rules of common decency, which he claimed were arbitrary and restrictive. If he were to return to “regular” radio, he might find the rules less restrictive, perhaps eliminated altogether.
The idea that there should be unwritten rules of common decency — community standards — is rapidly diminishing. Lately, schools have been criticized for not permitting students to wear “I (heart) bobbies” wristbands, plastic bracelets supporting breast cancer awareness. Now, I support cancer research, but “bobbies” is simply pedestrian (frankly, it’s silly), and it’s offensive. (I even hesitate to include the word in this blog.) Yet some schools are now allowing students to wear the bracelets, if worn “sincerely.”
Thank you, ACLU.
You can read the story here: Schools ban ‘boobies’ cancer bracelet
If people want to do away with community standards, fine. But, are communities prepared for what might come? Are parents comfortable with the idea that “privates” might become “publics,” appearing on billboards and commercials? Should students be allowed to wear shirts laden with profanity? Should Howard Stern simply be allowed to use the F-word?
And who is to say that the “boobies” bracelet has to be worn “sincerely”? Without community standards, should not students be allowed to wear those bracelets just because? Who cares if some girls are offended… or humiliated? Who cares?
I don’t know that Americans are ready to rid themselves of community standards, nor do I think they should. But if they do, please allow me to express my ideas too. I want the same opportunity, no matter how offensive my words or beliefs might be.
I want to be able to shout “God!” in a crowded theater, on a corner of a street, and over the world-wide web.
Free speech is sacred. Plain and simple. But “speech,” as an idea, is complex. To use the idea of speech to harass others stretches the viability of this freedom. If it becomes a tool to oppress others, it ceases to be an expression of speech.
That said, the Supreme Court should tread carefully in the case of Fred Phelps vs. Common Decency. The greater evil is a government empowered to suppress whatever it finds offensive.
Phelps embodies obscenity. The demonic activities of his church are so grotesque, one winces to think about them. But, this demagogue has the right to express himself. Whether or not he has crossed the line from speech to harassment is the real issue, and the Supreme Court should limit itself to that matter. Otherwise, we will lose the right of free speech.
Pastor Terry Jones’ plan (now cancelled) to burn copies of the Quran disgusted me. (I blogged about it extensively here at Agabus.com.) But I’m more outraged that police want to charge Jones the cost for protecting his church. According to this MSNBC.com report, two law agencies have assessed Jones a bill of $200,000. Hold on. The man does have the right of free speech — a constitutional right — and no government agency should bill its citizens for exercising that right. It’s appalling that police would even consider such an action.
The story notes that officials aren’t sure what legal right they have to compel Jones to pay. I suggest he burn the bill.