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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Hate Speech IS Free Speech

I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

I have sworn upon the altar of Almighty God eternal hostility towards every form of tyranny over the mind of man.

Attention, please:  the class will now come to order.  Take your seats and spit out that damn bubble gum. 

Time for a very elementary civics lesson, boys and girls:  freedom of speech means you are free to say what you think.  Whatever you think.

You are equally free, then, to say out loud and in public that you approve of something, and equally free to say that you disapprove of something. 

If your approval extends all the way to love of something, it's okay, you can say that.  And if your disapproval extends all the way to hatred of something, that's okay too, you can say that as well.

It does not matter whether anyone else agrees with your approval/love or with your disapproval/hate.  It does not matter whether your stated opinion is fashionable or unfashionable with any particular group.  It does not even matter whether you are right or wrong.

Freedom of speech means you are free to say whatever you think.  Even if what you think offends someone else's idea of what is right or wrong.

Because freedom of speech - which of course includes not merely oral utterances but also any form of written utterance as well, and even silent demonstrations of opinion - is another facet of an even larger, more important concept that we call freedom of belief, aka freedom of conscience.

A free man, or woman, - unlike a slave - has the inalienable right to think whatever he pleases, believe whatever he pleases, and express whatever he pleases.  Is that point very clear?  Free people can think and say whatever they want.  Slaves and prisoners and children cannot.

Which is why totalitarian regimes always clamp down first on freedom of expression; once that is taken away, the process of converting people to slaves of the State is halfway done.

Continued after the jump . . .

Restricting freedom of speech without a very good reason is a giant step towards creating Thoughtcrime.  Which as Orwell showed so vividly in Nineteen Eighty-Four, results in a nightmare world where people can be hunted down, imprisoned, killed, or tortured merely for thinking the wrong thing.  This is not merely a fictional or theoretical concept:  compare with Spanish Inquisition and Book Burning.

Let's not go there.

Now there are some very good reasons for restricting freedom of speech in certain instances, for the protection of individuals and for the greater good.  You may not, for example, shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater.  You may not tell a public lie (aka libel, slander) about someone.  You may not harass or bully someone by singling them out for ridicule or stigma or emotional cruelty.  You may not disturb the peace or endanger others or defraud them.  You may not violate someone's privacy or impinge upon their liberty or civil rights.  The exact boundaries of these restrictions differ somewhat depending on whether they concern an individual or a group, or a private citizen versus a public person.  And finally, you may not advocate or threaten any kind of violence against people, or the violent overthrow of the government.

(And if your Head Trucker ran the world:  you may not use freedom of speech just to prove you're an asshole.  But this last provision will have to await future developments - and in the meantime is, I regret to state, unenforceable.)

Most people find it very easy to live with these restrictions.  If they have any goddamn sense, or just plain good manners.

And quite apart from all these moral and philosophical reasons is this very practical one:  if you take away the other's guy's freedom of expression and conscience today, he may very well turn around tomorrow and find a way to take yours from you.  And then everybody will be like totally fucking upset and going at one another with hammer and claw, and who knows where that would end.

Let's just not go there.  Instead, let us all just keep close in mind, no matter how much we disagree with someone else's opinions, that "ALL men are created equal . . . with the right to life, liberty (that means freedom, boys and girls), and the pursuit of happiness."  No matter how ignorant or arrogant or numbskull, dipshit stupid they are.

One last thing:  hate speech is not the same thing as a hate crime.  A word is not a deed.  There is a world of difference, for example, between my saying to you, "I hate your guts" - and my bashing your skull in with a baseball bat.  Is that very clear?

Well, good.  Now that we have those points settled, I hope you will understand your Head Trucker when he says that he absolutely, positively, one-hundred-percent agrees with Andrew Sullivan, emphasis mine:
It's utterly disgusting that an evangelical preacher is fined $1600 for preaching what he believes is the truth about homosexuals on the streets of Glasgow:
Shawn Holes, a US Baptist street preacher from New York State, was fined £1,000 (over $US1,500) for telling passers-by in Glasgow city centre: "Homosexuals are deserving of the wrath of God - and so are all other sinners - and they are going to a place called hell." Mr Holes, aged 47, was on a tour of the UK when he was arrested while preaching in Glasgow's main street. In court in Glasgow, he admitted breaching the peace on 18 March by "uttering homophobic remarks" that were "aggravated by religious prejudice".
It's enough to make you give Maggie Gallagher a hug. The preacher doesn't even single out homosexuals; every other sinner is going to hell as well. But please note that the leading campaigner of gay rights in Britain, Peter Tatchell, is as appalled by this as I am. I think more gay men and women need to start speaking out more vociferously in defense of religious freedom - especially when it offends and demonizes gays. This is not about them; it's about us: our respect for freedom of speech and conscience.
Your Head Trucker also entirely agrees with Peter Tatchell:
Shawn Holes is obviously homophobic and should not be insulting people with his anti-gay tirades. He should be challenged and people should protest against his intolerance.  However, in a democratic, free society it is wrong to prosecute him. Criminalisation is not appropriate.

The price of freedom of speech is that we sometimes have to put up with opinions that are objectionable and offensive.  Just as people should have the right to criticise religion, people of faith should have the right to criticise homosexuality. Only incitements to violence should be illegal.

Mr Holes’s £1,000 fine is totally disproportionate. Even people who commit robberies and violent assaults sometimes get off with lighter penalties. This prosecution was heavy-handed and an inappropriate use of the law.  If I had known about this prosecution in advance, I would have gone to court to defend Mr Holes’s right to freedom of expression and to urge that the charges against him be dropped. 

Even though I strongly disagree with his views on homosexuality, if he had decided to appeal against either the conviction or the sentence, I would have supported him. I urge the police and prosecuting authorities to concentrate on tackling serious homophobic hate crimes, instead of wasting public money on petty, distasteful homophobic ranters.
And I hope you all agree too. For homework, read Send Granny to Jail? and Gay Jesus Play Protests Escalate.  The Orwell book report will be due on Monday.  Class dismissed.


TomS said...

Trucker, this is tricky, and not as black-and-white as you,or the writers you advocate, claim it to be.

I respect your opinion, but it is worth more study. You cleverly equate the Glasgow preacher with the threat of eventual Thoughtcrime. Well, to many uneducated and dangerous people certain speech IS incitememnt to violence, by validating the hateful opinions of these folks.

I think some speech should be outlawed as much as libel, or shouting Fire in a theater. Again, it is always gay people who are pressed for more tolerance. If this preacher substituted Homosexual with any other protected group, I doubt the writers you quote would be as quick to defend him.

Russ Manley said...

Which writers are you referring to, Tom - Jefferson and Voltaire, or Sullivan and Tatchell? Or Orwell? In any case, I think the plain sense of their published words is sufficient.

I stand by what I said. A word is not a deed; disapproval is not incitement to violence. And these writers are not merely calling gays but everyone to a tolerant, enlightened stance. I invite you to go back and drink deeply of Jefferson's and Voltaire's thoughts on the matter, the times they lived in, and the enormous criticism and abuse they got from their opponents; and then perhaps their attitudes will make much more sense to you.

It is but one short step from being oppressed to being an oppressor - just as hateful and rigid and self-righteous as the previous oppressor, once the shoe is on the other foot.

History affords truckloads of examples: the early Christians, the New England Puritans, the Israelis of today, and others far too numerous to count.

Nevertheless, thanks for sharing your views. And I applaud you for being the only person so far with enough balls to comment on this topic, either yea or nay.

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