Posts Tagged ‘freedom of speech’

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Hump Day Catch-All: From Congressional Idealists to WikiLeaks Hackers to Westboro Protests

12.09.10

With so many items in the news of blog-worthiness, sometimes it helps to just offer a few tidbits of info for each.  Today is one of those days: I’ll be tackling tax cuts, DADT, Westboro Baptist Church and Elizabeth Edwards, and WikiLeaks.

Tax Cuts and DADT

For all the talk of bipartisanship and compromise, it seems that neither party is quite ready to give in on some topics to which they hold dear.  The Republicans in the Senate have blocked passage of a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” just missing out on the filibuster-proof 60 vote majority by only three yeas.  And across the hall in the other chamber of Congress, the House Democrats rejected the compromise tax plan unless certain changes were made — although, it’s unclear exactly what would have to be amended to get the necessary vote.

Dems: pass the compromise tax cut bill and swallow your pride — be grateful for the extended unemployment benefits and other stimulus that comprises much of the $900 billion in spending and reap the benefits of the expected economic recovery that comes with the tax cuts continuing.

Repubs: just side with equality for once and pass the DADT repeal — it’s going to happen eventually, anyway, and getting the tax cut for the rich should bolster support from your base even if they’re leery about letting gays serve open in the military.

All Things WikiLeaks

Wow. If you haven’t been following this story, it has huge implications and ramifications on privacy, government power, and freedom of the press.

It’s gotten to be like a total movie.  Assange has been arrested without bail and is currently incarcerated in England; meanwhile, hacker supporters of WikiLeaks have literally taken down – at least partially – the websites of Visa and MasterCard and PayPal for their actions — which was caving to government pressure to stop supporting donations to WikiLeaks.  I’m finding this whole thing fascinating and can’t wait to read up more on it.  Conspiracy theorists must be having a field day with this.

Wild to see how this man’s crusade against government secrecy will probably, in the short-term at least, end up causing even less transparency and possibly even more restrictions of freedoms in America.  Will be very interesting to see how this all plays out.

Fiscal Austerity

Britain’s moved much more quickly on making the harsh decisions required to balance their budget that America keeps putting off: cutting spending.  People love the idea of cutting spending so long as it’s not the programs that they like or from which they reap benefits.

Students rioted in London today in response to the government’s decision to raise tuition fees threefold. I can’t say that I support their methods whatsoever — violence isn’t the answer — but, as a former student who is still paying off my thousands and thousands in loans, I can understand the frustration and anger.  Especially if I were against the policies that had been part of the reason why my country was in such fiscal disarray, I’d find it downright unacceptable to bear the brunt of the burden of paying it off.

It’s not like not going to college is much of an option these days. Taking a look at the current unemployment rates here in the States, the less-educated are the ones who are mainly out of work, not college graduates.  So by raising tuition, it’s basically saying that it costs that much more to be an active, productive member of society.  They have the right to be angry, even if their tuition rates are still relatively affordable compared to those here in America.  It’s not like the cost of living ever truly goes down.  And it’s not like wages really go up in concert with those costs.  Hence: rioting.

Westboro Baptist Church

The lovely folks down in Florida have decided to protest the late Elizabeth Edwards’ funeral with their traditional fare of “Thank God for Breast Cancer” and “God Hates Fags” posters and chants.  To understand this mentality is to be mentally ill.  There’s truly no other explanation for the kind of misguided hate that these people ooze consistently, aiming their extreme judgment on people in their time of deepest sorrow.  I pity them because they must be some of the most damaged souls out there, battling such horrific demons of their own that they need to project that darkness onto those they’ve never even met in most cases.

The free speech battle will continue, I’m sure.  I’ve said before my thoughts on it.  If we can restrict when and how people can shout the word “FIRE!” then it doesn’t seem to me a stretch to disallow protests at anyone’s funeral.  Although, perhaps I’m being overly protective on this one.  Maybe it’s a necessary evil to protect all of our free speech and right to assembly.

Conclusion

Doing these bite-sized views of multiple stories in one blog is not nearly as time-saving as I imagined it would be.  I just end up riffing too long on each subject that it gets to be rather lengthy accidentally.  For those of you still reading this, thanks for sticking around.

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Why Restricting Westboro Baptist Church’s Protests Wouldn’t Harm Free Speech

10.06.10

Westboro Baptist Church could be one of the more offensive groups in the country today.  These people protest fallen American troops’ funerals to promote their anti-homosexual message.  To most anyone outside their congregation, it’s beyond appalling.

The lawsuit brought on by one of those deceased soldier’s families has caused the question of whether or not these protesters have the right to do what they’ve been doing.  The original verdict found in favor of the family, awarding them millions of dollars in the judgment.  However, this was then overturned by an appeal, citing that the Church’s right to free speech had been infringed upon.

Now it’s at the Supreme Court.  And they’re not having an easy time figuring it out, either.  Where is the line?  At what point do you say that your free speech is not allowed because other people find it offensive?

I’m a huge fan of the First Amendment and despite finding the actions and teachings of the Westboro Baptist Church outrageously wrong, offensive, heartless, and cruel, I worry about depriving citizens of free speech simply because I disagree with their stance on homosexuality.  I wouldn’t want my right taken away to voice my opinion on homosexuality — I mean, that would pretty much take away this entire blog!  The right to free speech is maddening at times because it requires us to hear things that we may not find acceptable whatsoever.

Take for instance pornography.  It was illegal for years — adult performers actually jailed for their participation in these films — due in part to the moral stance of the majority against promiscuity and what was deemed perversion.  Agree or disagree with porn, but it’s a person’s right to engage in that form of expression due in part to the freedoms in the First Amendment.

That said — you can’t just express your freedoms by stripping down and getting busy in front of a cemetery — regardless of whether or not a funeral is going on.  I imagine that would break some lewd conduct laws, no doubt (my lawyer friend feel free to chime in here for just what laws would be broken), just like I can’t walk down the street naked claiming that I’m expressing myself.  In that case, why can’t there be a law that restricts protesting at cemeteries during funerals? Isn’t the emotional sensitivity owed to those mourning the death of a loved one worth restricting free speech in a limited capacity? Surely if we accept that people must wear clothes when in public spaces, we can accept that people must keep their opinions to themselves while people do something as sacred burying their dead.

And on a final note, I just had to include this baffling reasoning by the WBC:

Church members say their broader message was aimed at the unspecified actions of the military and those who serve in it. They believe U.S. soldiers deserve to die because they fight for a country that tolerates homosexuality.

What does it say about them that they live, work, and are active, taxpaying (I’m assuming) citizens of this same country for which our troops fight? How are they somehow separate? The amount of cognitive dissonance is mind-numbing — that is, if any thought is even going into their rationale to begin with.

Image courtesy of NoHoDamon’s Flickr Photostream.

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Why We Shouldn’t Stop Rev. Jones’ Quran Burning Party

09.08.10

Rising from the still-smoldering debate over the legitimacy of the Park51 community center is the Rev. Terry Jones’ proposed “Burn A Quran Day,” scheduled for this Saturday, September 11th.  Just like the name implies, from six to nine in the evening, people will gather to set copies of the Islamic holy text ablaze to show their opposition to the faith held by the radicals who attacked New York City nine years ago.

Jones’ plans have been met with considerable opposition of their own by just about everyone in the State Department and even from the military — General Petraeus warned that this very act could harm our efforts to control Afghanistan, even endangering our troops.

This hasn’t deterred Jones and his Dove World Outreach Center church.

Jones, who has about 50 followers, gained some local notoriety last year when he posted signs in front of his small church declaring “Islam is of the Devil.” But his Quran-burning scheme attracted wider attention… The Quran, according to Jones, is “evil” because it espouses something other than biblical truth and incites radical, violent behavior among Muslims.

Religious freedom sure is an odd thing, isn’t it?  People want it when it suits them, but want ways around it when it doesn’t.  It’s part of the freedom’s brilliance and why it’s so vital to our Constitution.  Just like the Muslims have the right to build their mosque near Ground Zero, Jones and his own crew radicals have the right to burn some books.  Freedom of expression, of speech, of religion, however you want to slice it: they have the right to do this.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it an effective, worthwhile use of time.  Combating extremism with more extremism isn’t going to work.  Not to get all squishy, but you can’t beat hate with more hate.  You can’t beat ignorance with more ignorance.  You beat brutality with civility.  You overcome oppression with freedom.  You trump prejudice with acceptance.

What people don’t want to realize is that conflating all Muslims into radical terrorists is the same fallacy as Muslims condemning all Americans as infidels.  So, by blaming the entire religion of Islam for the terror attacks, Rev. Jones and his followers are responding to the mentality with which they disagree by adopting that exact mentality themselves. There’s very little in the way of logic going on here — it’s simply an “I’m right, they’re wrong” line of thinking.  No rationality required.

Another paradox is that these 50-odd people and their inflammatory plans for Saturday really could’ve just come and gone without much notice from anyone, except the media exploded this thing to the point where all levels of government voiced their opinions, it’s all over the news, all over the blogosphere.  It’s everywhere.  We could’ve all ignored Jones and his followers’ sad, unfortunate response to tragedy and they would’ve faded away without much of a whimper — no television stories for people abroad to see and misinterpret.

Although, that’s never going to happen — nor should it necessarily.  It is a news story, after all.  But does it require the amount of national exposure that it’s receiving?

People wonder why others hate Americans and then when snippets of news of Americans burning Qurans flood the airwaves, it’s not hard to see why they might be too fond of us.  Because just like how we only catch glimpses and read certain stories about what kind of people they are in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, and Palestine, you have to figure that people in those countries only catch glimpses and read certain stories about us, too.  And who knows what is being passed off to them as representative of Americans as a whole. Odds are that if there’s video footage of a bunch of Floridians burning Qurans gleefully, claiming that the entire faith is of the devil (remind you much of Ahmadinejad calling America the “Great Satan” at all?), that will make it over to those Islamic nations with which we’re firmly entrenched overseas.

While we can’t stop the Dove World Outreach Center from their Quran-burning plans, we can do our part to embrace our diversity and focus on remaining rational in the face of these highly emotional times.  Let them burn their books.  Because when has that ever changed people’s minds?  The beliefs aren’t in the books; they’re in people’s minds and hearts. They won’t accomplish anything good with their pointless, crude event, so why give them a soapbox any bigger than they already have?  Our efforts are best served doing something else, something productive, something positive.

If we continue to do more and more things that promote tolerance, acceptance, rationality, and – ultimately – positivity, we can outshine any blaze by the loud, radical outliers.

Image courtesy of Sydney Lea Steele — All Rights Reserved.  And no, it has nothing to do with this post other than it makes me happy.  And we need more of that in the world, right now especially.