American Elephants

The First Amendment Is Very Hard For Some People to Understand. by The Elephant's Child

In response to indignant assertions that even in the case of offensive political videos the Constitution guarantees the right of free speech — specifically political speech — some on the Left have claimed that perhaps we overvalue the idea of free speech. Have we come to this?

Well, yes we have. University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner created an internet sensation with an article for Slate in which he argued that the United States overvalues free speech. This was in response to the “Innocence of Muslims” video which President Obama and the State Department preferred to blame for the deaths of four Americans in Libya, rather than take any responsibility. And for which the filmmaker was hauled in for questioning.

Robert Shibley, Senior Vice President at FIRE responded today at the Daily Caller, so you can read both sides of the argument. Our ideas about free speech have changed and evolved. It is very hard to ignore despicable speech, and let me use Nazi Anti-Semitism as an example, and very easy to take offense and demand punishment for the malefactors.

The issue of free speech is best understood by considering the fear under which one must live if there are laws against certain kinds of speech. When a population is ruled by a despot and any criticism severely punished, everyone must take care of what they say for the most innocent remark can be ruled illegal.

Democrats think of the issue from the other end — being indignant about what someone said. Democrats are outraged by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which ruled that the money that corporations donate to favor or oppose an issue is political speech and Constitutionally protected. It is the left-leaning faculty at American colleges and universities that has instituted speech codes, while claiming at the same time that they are teaching critical thinking. It is the left that has promoted laws against “hate speech,” a peculiar concept that a crime is somehow worse if it is done with hate in mind.  Which presumes that society  is officially authorized to do mind-reading, which is absurd.

To be fair, it depends on whose ox is getting gored. Posner refers to the 60s as the time when free-speech loving lefties were demonstrating against a war.  Free speech is hard. We are gradually learning how to honor the First Amendment. It is far, far better to suffer briefly from being offended then to live in fear that your life may be ended by how what you say in interpreted.

There have apparently been numbers of anti-Semitic ads in the New York Subways. (I don’t know, I live on the other coast). Pamela Geller, blogger and activist, won the legal right to post a defensive ad, which says “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel.”Egyptian-American CNN columnist and activist Mona Eltahawy was offended, and tried to paint over the poster with spray paint.  Eltahawy is affiliated with MSNBC, and often smears the Islamist “right wing” and the American right wing.  She was arrested for defacing the subway poster.

Like I said, free speech is hard. Which is what Geller’s poster was all about.


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