Posts Tagged ‘free speech’

Just not in frosting

“Printing business has First Amendment and RFRA right to refuse to print gay pride festival T-shirts” [Eugene Volokh] The Lexington Human Rights Commission had ordered employee training for a t-shirt printer that had objected to printing messages it disagreed with, but a Kentucky trial court judge threw out the order citing both the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Kentucky’s version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, here applicable to a corporation as defendant since it was an incorporated business that had been the target of the discrimination complaint. Compare the bake-my-cake cases, which have generally come out the other way. And see in the U.K., “Patrick Stewart backs bakery after ‘gay cake’ court battle”: Independent, Telegraph, Katherine Mangu-Ward/Reason.

Poll: plurality of U.S. respondents would ban “hate speech”

Most depressing poll of the year? A majority of Democrats and 37% of Republicans say they favor banning so-called hate speech, which would squarely contradict the free speech jurisprudence of the U.S. Supreme Court and thus would implicitly at least call for rolling back the First Amendment to the Constitution. The YouGov numbers favoring such a ban have risen, perhaps influenced by confusion or worse in elite journalistic and academic circles [Edward Morrissey/Fiscal Times, Charles Cooke]

As Ken at Popehat notes in a piece on censors’ tropes: “In the US, ‘hate speech’ is an argumentative rhetorical category, not a legal one.” Related on recent controversies: Paul Berman, Tablet (“it was the Charlie staffers, and not Marine le Pen, whose arrival in New York stirred a protest.”); Art Spiegelman, Time; Mark Steyn (“‘There Is No More Molly.’ Or Luz.”); Erik Wemple, Washington Post (American media’s “crouch of cowardice and rationalization” after Garland attack).

More from commenter DensityDuck:

Given the modern attitude of “anything I don’t like should be illegal”, this isn’t surprising.

When Bradbury wrote “Fahrenheit 451?, he wasn’t suggesting that the government would censor ideas it didn’t like; in his story, it was the people themselves who called for censorship of bad, scary, offensive ideas. Someone who writes of microaggressions and triggers and hate speech would be the bad guys in F451.

On the Garland cartoon show attack

Much can and will be said about the attack in Texas and its aftermath, but here is what came to mind for me. On current trends, many outspoken Americans will soon be living in hiding or under guard. To me that’s a bigger story than whether I find their views unsavory. And of course it’s going to happen to many whose views I don’t find at all unsavory. That’s the lesson of Salman Rushdie and his translators, the Danish cartoonists etc. And even when many respectables are living in hiding, under guard, or dead, a large bloc of polite opinion will still look the other way. Something is wrong in that.

As for what can be done, as a writer, I naturally think in terms of what writers and editors can do. The PEN gala award was a good example of a positive step that deserves our applause. It would be a positive step if Yale University Press had printed the (very tame) Danish Mohammed cartoons when it published a book on that episode. It would be a positive step if CNN and other networks did not black out or crop out even very tame cartoons when covering the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the Danish Jyllands-Posten episode, or the winning Garland contest entry. When there is no solidarity, the minority of publications that remain uncowed stick out more, and so are in more danger.

The threats are nothing new: mobs ransacked newspaper offices and lynched editors in the Nineteenth Century, 21 died when unionists bombed the L.A. Times in 1910, and so forth. Somehow it didn’t shut them up, and I hope we have the resolve not to let it shut us up either.

Controversial speech, the Texas attack, and the murderer’s veto

The unsuccessful attack on an exhibition of Mohammed cartoons in Garland, Texas, near Dallas, is the most recent attempted mass murder on American soil endeavoring to silence expression bothersome to radical Islamists; it is unlikely to be the last. Some thoughts assembled from Twitter:

One early, ill-considered reaction from the legacy media:

But the legacy media coverage didn’t necessarily improve after a day for reporting and reflection:

As commentators have pointed out, the narrow “fighting words” exception in today’s First Amendment law is generally reserved for (at most) face-to-face insults likely to provoke an on-the-spot brawl, not to derogatory speech more generally:

Echoes of the PEN awards controversy going on at the same time:

On which memorably, also, Nick Cohen in the Spectator.

Earlier on the Charlie Hebdo and Copenhagen attacks.

More: Ken White skewers that awful McClatchy piece with its misunderstandings about “fighting words.” And don’t miss Michael Moynihan on those who would “make a bold stand against the nonexistent racism of 12 dead journalists by refusing to clap for the one who got away,” or related and very good Caleb Crain.

“Rejecting the assassin’s veto,” PEN to honor Charlie Hebdo

And very appropriately, too. But at least six literati, including Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, and novelist and New Yorker contributor Teju Cole, have withdrawn from next month’s gala to express distaste for the murdered cartoonists, a gesture about which Matt Welch has a few comments. More: New York Times, AP. And from fatwa target Salman Rushdie, who knows a thing or two about this topic:

“If PEN as a free speech organization can’t defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organization is not worth the name,” Mr. Rushdie said. “What I would say to both Peter and Michael and the others is, I hope nobody ever comes after them.”

Meanwhile, Queen’s University of Belfast, Northern Ireland, has canceled an event on Charlie Hebdo, the university delicately citing a lack of “risk assessment.” [Channel 4, Belfast Live]

Free speech roundup

  • UK wrongful-speech laws sold to public “with mawkish appeals to the protection of the weak” but typically used by strong, rich and well connected [Charles C.W. Cooke on Galloway episode]
  • “Danish terrorist attack survivor: ‘It’s a fight that we can’t ignore'” [Lena Masri, Poynter]
  • “It gives me no comfort to have my constitutional rights trampled in a bipartisan fashion.” [Eric O’Keefe, quoted in M.D. Kittle, Wisconsin Watchdog profile of John Doe target Kelly Rindfleisch via @andrewmgrossman]
  • “I speak here of the rule of law, not the rule of feels.” [Ken at Popehat on BlockBot listings as non-defamation]
  • Rolling back SCOTUS’s First Amendment-based jurisprudence: “Hillary Clinton says she would support a constitutional amendment on campaign finance reform” [Washington Post]
  • “Court Rules San Diego’s Law Prof’s Blog Post Was Not Defamatory” [TaxProf]
  • “Another Day, Another Dumb New York Times Story on Corporations and Free Speech” [Damon Root, Reason, vs. Times columnist Timothy Egan]
  • Sounds promising: Robert Corn-Revere has a book in the works on free speech [Ronald K.L. Collins, Concurring Opinions]

Indian High Court strikes down speech-throttling law

The law in India still poses a variety of civil and criminal hazards for speech, but Section 66A of the Information Technology Act — which originated as a measure to fight “cyber crimes against women” — was an unconstitutionally vague restraint on speech, according to the nation’s Supreme Court. [Indian Express, Hindustan Times, Times of India and more (police still have other legal provisions available against “offensive” speech on social media)]

Scotland’s sad state of statism

We’ve covered many of the individual controversies before — including police crackdowns on the singing of sectarian songs, and the introduction of named government functionaries charged with looking after the interests of every single child (not just, e.g., orphans or those whose custody is contested). And some of the endless nanny statism: Prices of alcohol are too low! The public’s eating habits must improve! And all of Scotland is to be smokefree by 2034, with the legal fate of those who might wish to continue smoking not yet specified. Brendan O’Neill in Reason pulls the whole depressing thing together. Scotland also has not only thousands of CCTV surveillance cameras but also “camera vans,” which “drive through towns filming the allegedly suspect populace.” And did we forget the warnings from Police Scotland about unlawful speech on social media?

France and its speech-throttling litigation

Jacob Sullum on why a nation that mourned the murderous attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo over its provocative speech was nonetheless content to let the magazine be sued, and sued, and sued over such speech:

under French law, insulting people based on their religion is a crime punishable by a fine of 22,500 and six months in jail.

In addition to religion, that law covers insults based on race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, or disability. Defamation (as opposed to mere insult) based on any of those factors is punishable by up to a year in prison, and so is incitement to discrimination, hatred, or violence.

Christopher Caldwell, Wall Street Journal ($):

In France, antiracism set itself squarely against freedom of speech. The passage of the 1990 Gayssot Law, which punished denial of the Holocaust, was a watershed. Activist lobbies sought to expand such protections by limiting discussion of a variety of historical events—the slave trade, colonialism, foreign genocides. This was backed up by institutional muscle. In the 1980s, President François Mitterrand’s Socialist party created a nongovernmental organization called SOS Racisme to rally minority voters and to hound those who worked against their interests.

Older bodies such as the communist-inspired Movement against Racism and for Friendship Among the Peoples made a specialty of threatening (and sometimes carrying out) lawsuits against European intellectuals for the slightest trespasses against political correctness: the late Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci for her post-9/11 lament “The Rage and the Pride,” the philosopher Alain Finkielkraut for doubting that the 2005 riots in France’s suburban ghettos were due to unemployment, the Russia scholar Hélène Carrère d’Encausse for speculating about the role of polygamy in the problems of West African immigrants.

Sullum again:

Other countries that criminalize “hate speech,” including Germany, the Netherlands, the U.K., Sweden, and Canada, are likewise sending the dangerous message that offending people with words or images is akin to assaulting them with fists or knives. …

Sacrilege may upset people, but it does not violate their rights. By abandoning that distinction, avowed defenders of Enlightenment values capitulate to the forces of darkness.

Earlier here, here, here, here, and generally here.