Freedom’s just another word
Je suis Charlie! The world proclaims its solidarity with Charlie Hebdo. Everyone loves the heroes who died because they would not back down in the face of mindless terrorism. Free speech must be very, very popular then, right?
Actually, free speech has never been popular. Recent polls show a third of Americans believe the government should censor or ban “hate speech.” Shockingly, 51 percent of Democrats think that expressing negative, perhaps crude, feelings about other people or groups should be forbidden.
Both political parties have elected numerous politicians who attack our rights to freedom of expression. Republicans tend to want to ban porn and sacrilegious art, Democrats violent video games and nasty music lyrics. Since people vote them into office, it must be that many voters want censorship of one kind or another.
Fortunately in America, we have a judiciary that has done a good job in defending the core principles of the First Amendment. The courts usually apply very strict scrutiny to government violations of free speech, assembly and the exercise of religion. America is far from perfect, but we are better than Canada, Europe and the rest of the world in defending free speech.
Hebdo itself has been attacked by the French government because it has ridiculed famous politicians, and for being “anti-Semitic.” In Europe only “responsible speech,” not free speech, is protected. You can go to jail for a book that denies the Holocaust, and Catholic Ireland still has blasphemy laws.
The New York Times published pictures of the “Piss Jesus” art that former New York City Mayor Guilliani wanted to ban, but will absolutely not sell pictures of the Prophet Muhammad. No major American media outlet will. Ann Coulter, Bill Maher and Ayaan Hirsi Ali had college appearances recently canceled by morally outraged left-wing student organizations who believe speakers they dislike should be banned, heckled or—in the case of Coulter—physically attacked.
Chris Rock no longer plays college venues because the students are too hostile to anything edgy. God forbid one of his jokes “triggers” a suppressed memory in some over-protected undergraduate, likely one who believes you shouldn’t keep score in sports, as the practice causes terrible, deeply searing anguish.
No civilization has ever survived that believes individuals have the right to never be offended. No one has the right to kill the harmless-if-nasty pleasure I derive from satire, no matter how crude. Racial and religious stereotypes have a kernel of truth that people recognize, while at the same time knowing their expression is deliciously forbidden. I doubt Don Rickles could even play Vegas these days.
The First Amendment doesn’t exist to protect talking about the weather. It exists to protect all speech, even violent speech. Shouting “fire” in a crowded theater is not unprotected speech because you could obtain the same result by tossing a smoke bomb. The crime is a violation of the ticket contract paid to see the show undisturbed. Unprotected speech would be inciting particular people to do a particular crime.
The Supreme Court is currently deciding whether a man who posted violent raps about his girlfriend on Facebook should go to jail. The demonstrations caused by police actions in Ferguson and New York have led to investigations and even arrests of citizens posting violent thoughts about police. Strangely, police who have posted violent thoughts about the protesters do not seem to get investigated.
Please do say “Je Suis Charlie.” Just remember governments and perhaps a majority of individuals, if truthful, would carry a sign that reads: Non, nous ne sommes pas Charlie.