Free Speech Under Muslim Attack

We allow our enemies to intimidate us into destroying blood-bought rights.

Freedom of speech is one of our most cherished American rights -at least, we say it is.  Alas, it often seems that our politicians believe that freedom of speech doesn't or shouldn't apply to people who disagree with them.

Pastor Jones, who burns Korans to make political statements, wished to put on a demonstration in front of a large Dearborn, Michigan mosque.  He had no intention of violating the private property of the mosque; he wanted to stage his demo on the public sidewalk, just like anyone else is permitted to do on any other street in the nation.

Instead, he was put in jail for refusing to post bond when he applied for a gathering permit.  The reason?  His demonstration was likely to cause a breach of the peace and lead to a riot, despite there being no evidence or past practice whatsoever of Pastor Jones doing anything violent to anyone at all, anwhere, at any time.

Quite the contrary: the city was understandably worried that the Muslims would riot in response to Pastor Jones.  In fact, one of the jurors that participated in the show trial of Pastor Jones specifically gave the feared violence as their reasoning:

Q: Was the weighing of the free speech question heavily…?

Juror: It was an issue that we talked about but again we were… we were there to really discuss whether it could, uh, provoke a, uh…

Q: Violence?

Juror: Violence in the community.

The Free Press noted the incident, but it was left to an internet site to emphasize the implications of the city of Dearborn knuckling under to threats of violence and denying a permit to an anti-Islamic demonstrator:

Dearborn, Michigan has become a Sharia enclave, much like those populating many European countries. The city of Dearborn, Michigan denied a permit Wednesday for Qur’an-burning Pastor Terry Jones’ planned protest outside the Islamic Center of America on Good Friday.

Islamic supremacists were handed a victory for their violent intimidation and threats. City spokeswoman Mary Laundroche said that Jones’ permit had been denied for “public safety reasons.” In other words, they’re afraid Muslims will riot. And so the rights of free Americans have to be curtailed.  [emphasis added]

The City of Dearborn wanted Pastor Jones to pay the costs of police protection instead of arresting and charging the Muslims who threatened to riot.

This isn't the first time that cities have denied permits to unpopular political groups.  Some years ago, the American Nazi Party wanted to march in Skokie, Indiana, a city with a large Jewish population.  The United States Supreme Court quite properly ruled that the Nazis had a right to march and share their views, as abhorrent as they may be, as long as they weren't directly calling for violence against anyone.

We've pointed out that the KKK has a right to promote their racist views and that their right should be protected just as the Nazis' rights were protected.

If free speech is available only to popular views, then there is no free speech at all.

The Founders felt otherwise.

Dearborn is far from the only governmental body that seeks to restrain freedom of speech.  USA Today reports:

Florida legislators are expected to pass a controversial new law during these final two weeks of their session which would severely restrict what doctors can ask or counsel kids or parents about gun safety. Committees of both the Florida House and Senate have passed such measures.

The Florida Pediatric Association opposes the measure, as well they should.  Pediatricians traditionally discuss all kinds of safety issues with their patients and / or their parents - swimming, diet, smoke detectors, hazardous chemicals, driving, and, yes, handling guns.

What business is it of government what doctors are permitted to discuss with their patients?  Isn't it up to parents to determine what the doctor they've chosen discusses with their children - and to pick a different one if the doctor strays into areas where he ought not?  Not according to Florida lawmakers, it isn't.

When Will We Ever Learn?

Some time ago, a jury awarded $10 million in damages to a church group who had picketed at soldiers' funerals.  The Supreme Court reversed the award to protect freedom of speech.  Despite that sharp lesson, the Wall Street Journal reports that the state of Hawaii is trying to restrict freedom of speech by holding travel writers liable for accidents when tourists visit places they describe.

Mr. Doughty, 47 years old, was one of the first writers to widely publicize remote attractions such as a natural tide pool called Queen's Bath and a swimming hole called Kipu Falls on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

Kauai officials say accidents used to be rare at the two attractions, remote places with rocky terrains. But since Mr. Doughty wrote about them in 1994, at least 10 people have drowned at Queen's Bath and Kipu Falls.

That has put Mr. Doughty and other authors in the cross hairs of politicians such as Hawaii state representative James Tokioka, who sponsored the liability bill in January. "I do believe we are endangering our visitors, and it is our responsibility to keep them safe," he says. "Authors or publishers of visitor-guide publications describing attractions have a duty to warn the public of dangerous conditions."

The bill died in committee this year, but it will be back.  Landowners near the suddenly-popular sites resent increasing numbers of visitors trespassing on their land and worry about getting sued by a trespasser who ignores a "No Trespassing" sign and then gets hurt.  The writers believe that they have a good case, but the fight has just begun:

But the politicians say they aren't backing down. "This has never been about First Amendment rights, it has always been about safety," says Sen. Ronald Kouchi, a backer of the liability bill.

The Hawaiian politicians sing the same song as the Dearborn variety - we have to restrict freedom of speech in the interest of public safety.  Our founders understood that it doesn't work that way.  As Ben Franklin put it, "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

We can imagine Mr. Obama claiming that the Republican's budget ideas would be dangerous to the health of welfare recipients and trying to shut them down in the name of "public safety" or "fairness."  Freedom of speech is absolutely fundamental, and Americans had better never forget it.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Law.
Reader Comments

We aren't the only nation with issues concerning free speech:

Separating Free Speech From Hate in South Africa
Julius Malema, the leader of the governing party's youth wing, is defending his right to sing a song with the seemingly bloodthirsty line "Shoot the Boer!"

JOHANNESBURG — It seemed like a throwback to the days when a white minority ruled South Africa. Inside a colonial-era courthouse that was once a stage for the political trials of anti-apartheid activists, a white lawyer in robes and frilly bib accused a black leader of being a Communist and fomenting hatred of whites.

“Do you know who Vladimir Lenin was?” demanded the lawyer, rekindling memories of the anti-Communist measures that helped crush dissent during apartheid.

In his defense, the black leader in the dock championed his right to lead his supporters in singing a song with the seemingly bloodthirsty line “Shoot the Boer!” — a historical reference widely taken as a threat by Afrikaners, the descendants of Dutch settlers and the creators of apartheid.

Of course, that racist system ended 17 years ago with Nelson Mandela’s election. The African National Congress has been the governing party ever since. But the past is not really past here. Race remains a fraught issue, riveting the country in recent weeks as the hate-speech trial of Julius Malema, the leader of the party’s youth wing, was broadcast live on television. Closing arguments are expected within weeks.

The decision will help establish where free speech crosses the line into hate speech in one of Africa’s most democratic countries. The trial itself may also have strengthened Mr. Malema’s political allure in a nation where four out of five citizens are black.

He is alternately denounced here as a demagogue and hailed as a future president. Even some senior leaders in the A.N.C. worry that his angry brand of populism could resonate with the country’s millions of dispossessed youths.

The final day of testimony, in a wood-paneled courtroom packed with Mr. Malema’s partisans, presented a polarized version of South Africa’s complicated and never-ending debate about how to deal with its racial legacy.

“It’s a clash of atavisms,” said Nic Dawes, editor of The Mail & Guardian. “It’s like those days when you tune into talk radio and you hear a version of the national conversation dominated by the most unpleasant aspects of white anxiety and the angriest black reactions.”

The imagery was powerful: Roelof du Plessis, an Afrikaner lawyer with a heavy Afrikaans accent, accusing Mr. Malema of being a Communist, suggesting that South Africa was heading toward a genocide against whites and accusing Mr. Malema of having carried a gun “illegally” as a child during the armed struggle against apartheid. (Mr. Malema happily confirmed the claim).

“That seems to be typical of Africa, using children to fight wars,” Mr. Du Plessis harrumphed.

At the other extreme, Mr. Malema, 30, arrived each day at the courthouse in Johannesburg surrounded by bodyguards in dark suits and red ties, assault rifles slung across their chests.

In recent years, he has declared a readiness to kill for Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s president; described the leader of the main opposition party, Helen Zille, as a cockroach; and hounded a BBC correspondent out of a news conference, accusing him of “white tendencies.” He has also pushed the African National Congress into a debate on the nationalization of South Africa’s mineral wealth, though party elders warned it could drive away foreign investment.

Some of his statements last year prompted his party to order him to attend anger management classes. Nonetheless, party leaders rallied to Mr. Malema’s defense in the current case, testifying in support of his assertion that the “Shoot the Boer” refrain was a metaphorical call to defeat apartheid, not a literal incitement to violence.

<snip> Metaphorical indeed! Pui.

May 1, 2011 4:28 PM
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