Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Where I stand: for Free Speech

You may not be aware of it, but as we speak, freedom of speech is in grave danger in many places normally thought of as "free countries."

In the UK: a couple of evangelists were preaching and passing out literature on a street corner. A police officer said they couldn't do that in a "Muslim area." They were hustled off to the police department, although no charges were filed. The two are challenging the action.

In France: Bridget Bardot has been fined several times for so-called "hate speech" because she disapproves of the Muslim practice of sacrificing animals, and said so publicly.

In Canada: provincial and national Human Rights Panels (named without a trace of irony) are increasingly being used as means to harass and punish people who express ideas that someone finds objectionable. A pastor who wrote a letter to the editor, finding fault with homosexuality has been fined and--incredible yet true--ordered never to speak disparagingly of homosexuals or those who went after him...ever (go here to read the order handed down by the so-called "Human Rights Panel")! A blogger, Ezra Levant, was hauled before one of these tribunals to answer for his decision to publish cartoons that held the prophet Muhammed up to ridicule. McLean's magazine--a major news publication--has been hauled in for publishing a piece by Mark Steyn that someone claimed was "anti-Muslim."

Here's where I stand:

I have no idea what those street evangelists said; I've seen some who were pretty obnoxious. Same with the pastor in Canada, cited for what he said about homosexual persons. I have no idea if what he said was mainstream or extreme, although my quick perusal of his site didn't turn up anything "extreme." I don't know what Levant's motives were for running the cartoons, although I've chosen not to do so. I've seen Steyn's comments online and on TV, but I didn't read the article that generated the complaint.

Whether they were polite or rude, what we deem "acceptable" or note, is beside the point!

This is what "free speech" means. Yes, there are boundaries--obscenity, slander, libel, indecency, incitement to riot--but under American law, the exceptions are few, and the law errs on the side of freedom. I agree it would be nonsensical to treat "free speech" as meaning anything, because then it means nothing.

That said, we can see the idea of free speech is under attack.

We might recall that in the U.S., it is frequently under attack on college campuses, with speech codes and enforced "diversity" and "sensitivity." And we might note that as we speak, the GOP is preparing to nominate, for the presidency, a U.S. Senator who is very proud of legislation curbing political free speech, the so-called McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act. Many who pooh-poohed that legislation said, "don't worry, the courts will strike it down." The President--who during his campaign, pledged to veto it--signed it, almost certainly confident the Supreme Court would do his dirty work. Only the Supreme Court upheld it. The High Court may yet strike it down, but this, combined with other trends, is a cautionary tale.

I realize I'm not saying anything eloquent or profound here--honestly, I don't have time to frame some eloquent defense of free speech. But given what's happening, I think it's time for everyone who believes in freedom to speak up.

I'm for free speech.


TerryC said...

I'm also for free speech, but don't take such a hard line against McCain-Feingold. Since the FCC no longer requires broadcasters to provide equal time to candidates what we have is a situation where the guy who has the most money gets the most free speech. It may not be that the one with the most money to spend wins the election. But as the race doesn't always go to the swift or the battle to the strong the smart money bets that way. McCain-Feingold was basically a failure in accomplishing what it set out to do, which was curtail campaign spending and prevent the guy with the most money from dominating the issues. As far as I can see it's had not real effect on curtailing abuse by candidates. Nor has it improved the quality of our political debate. So while I fault it for failing I don't see how its prevented any individual from speaking their mind. If they're saying something worthwhile people will hear it, either on the Internet or the MSM. If what they're peddling is political lies, not so much.

Father Martin Fox said...


If you and a group of friends pooled your money to buy ads, not even endorsing a candidate, but in raising attention to an issue, that's free speech.

Only Sen. John McCain thinks you shouldn't be free to do that right before elections, or if you do, your names should be published...

What's wrong with that?

In NAACP v. Alabama ex. rel. Patterson,, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, unanimously, that under the First Amendment, private organizations engaged in public policy do not have to disclose private membership lists, which is a threat to freedom of association, and the disclosure cannot but have a chilling effect on the activity of the organization.

You may not object to having your name published, if you choose to help buy an ad; but many Americans might well be subject to harassment for doing so, or fear it would happen (the context of the NAACP lawsuit), and in any case, why should you be subject to that, simply because you exercised your freedom of speech?

In a free country, you don't have to prove to government what you're doing is acceptable; the government should have to prove why what you are doing is unacceptable.

gramps said...

Is there any doubt that speech is curtailed more by the left than the right? Who gave us politically correct speech that drove a nail in real free speech? Who is pushing the gay agenda and look where that is going? With the new "rights" the courts are giving to gays will it be far behind that a priest in a state is sent to jail for refusing to marry two guys? I do not think so. If gay marriage is equal, on what basis can a church refuse to marry to guys? religious freedom? Does it trump a persons rights? I doubt seriously that you will see free speech exist if the democrats gain the large majorities many are projecting and Obama is president. We will look back on the days of McCain Fiengold as the good old days.

Father Martin Fox said...


This thread isn't about McCain or Obama being better or worse, it's about threats to free speech, and I'm against them regardless of where they come from.

ignorant redneck said...


You have left out the currently enacted new legislation in colorado, that would more or less mandate speech by comercial participation, and the rulings of the New Mexico Human rights Commission that also tend toward mandating speech, by commercial participation.

Rachel Gray said...

Thanks for the quick and clear summary about McCain-Feingold.

IMO, Canada's free-speech situation is absolutely terrible... and America's slavery to judicial overlords is even worse.

K憧iª♥ said...

While I agree that free speech is under attack, talk unfettered can lead to undesirable results. We live in an illerberal democracy, and there is quite some tension between democracy and freedom (if you're wondering how this can be, I suggest reading Fareed Zakaria's The Future of Freedom), so it's really no surprise. Remember: A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again. For some reason, I think the pastor who wrote the letter you mentioned only took a sip.

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