Sunday, September 26, 2010

Advocate Censorship on a Forum I Frequent? Expect Something Like This:

From this thread.

Alright, so a bunch of points have been made throughout the debate on free speech and where its limits ought lie. I'll ignore the barrage of personal attacks between Kenny and the censorship apologists as irrelevant. Let's talk substance.

First, I'll note that Nitish cited the popular "Shouting 'FIRE!'" exception to free speech. Likewise, Kenny mentioned the "Clear and present danger" exception. Both of these ideas come from the same despicable Supreme Court case, Schenck v. United States. This case ruled that the U.S. government had the authority to arrest anti-war protesters because their speech could hamper the war effort. Yet it could be just as plausibly argued that American involvement in the war posed a clear and present danger and that the anti-war activists, in the words of Christopher Hitchens, "were the real firefighters, shouting fire when there really was a fire in a very crowded theater indeed." So, if this precedent were current, banning Quran burnings would be constitutional. Thankfully, that precedent was overturned by Brandenburg v. Ohio, which barred the government from restricting speech unless that speech is both intended to incite and likely to incite imminent lawless action. While speech offensive to Islam is likely to incite lawless action, incitement is not the intent, and thus the speech is constitutionally protected by current precedent.

Nitesh wrote:
A possible future danger? It's already happened. It is happening. It will continue to happen. Aren't we in a "War against Terrorism" right now? How would burning a holy book not create clear and present danger?

Yes, inflammatory anti-Islamic speech does provoke terrorism. But if this logic were applied to stop the anti-Islamic violence of the American government, those negative impacts of anti-Islamic speech would be greatly diminished. Do Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups use the fact that individual Westerners burn Qurans or cartoon Mohammed as their primary recruiting tool? No, those grievances are secondary to the fact that the United States government cluster bombs Yemen, increases the use of drone strikes which kill civilians, kills Iraqi civilians even after "combat operations" are over, asserts the power to execute a Muslim American cleric without pressing charges against him, denies Muslim victims of torture the right to sue, funds an Israeli government which used white phosphorus to burn Muslim civilians alive, etc. No matter how much anti-Muslim speech you stop, the West will remain the target of terrorism unless you stop Western governments from initiating anti-Muslim violence. Giving our government more power to regulate speech will be used to interfere with those of us arguing against this violence. Indeed, even with the Bill of Rights untouched by those who would protect Muslims from being offended, the FBI just last week raided the homes of anti-war activists.

Marianne wrote:
Hate speech laws in the United Kingdom are found in several statutes. Expressions of hatred toward someone on account of that person's colour, race, nationality (including citizenship), ethnic or national origin, religion, or sexual orientation is forbidden. Any communication which is threatening, abusive or insulting, and is intended to harass, alarm, or distress someone is forbidden.The penalties for hate speech include fines, imprisonment, or both.

The UK's weak protections on free speech have not been used to facilitate mature discussions, but rather to prevent mature discussions by allowing one side to fine or imprison, rather than refuting, their opponents. Let's look at a few examples. From Wikipedia, indeed the same entry she quoted:

On 13 October 2001, Harry Hammond, an evangelist, was arrested and charged under section 5 of the Public Order Act (1986) because he had displayed to people in Bournemouth a large sign bearing the words "Jesus Gives Peace, Jesus is Alive, Stop Immorality, Stop Homosexuality, Stop Lesbianism, Jesus is Lord". In April 2002, a magistrate convicted Hammond, fined him £300, and ordered him to pay costs of £395.

Now, you might think that being queer identified I might find this result satisfying, but I don't. How are we to have a "mature discussion" of whether my sexual preferences and others like mine are sins if my opponents can be arrested and fined for expressing their views? Furthermore, incidents like these provide homophobes with argumentative ammunition. One red herring brought by homophobes is that recognition of queer civil rights leads to the persecution of Christians, and incidents like this support that conclusion.

On 4 March 2010, a jury returned a verdict of guilty against Harry Taylor, who was charged under Part 4A of the Public Order Act 1986. Taylor was charged because he left anti-religious cartoons in the prayer-room of Liverpool's John Lennon Airport on three occasions in 2008. The airport chaplain, who was insulted, offended, and alarmed by the cartoons, called the police.[11][12][13] On 23 April 2010, Judge Charles James of Liverpool Crown Court sentenced Taylor to a six-month term of imprisonment suspended for two years, made him subject to a five-year Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) (which bans him from carrying religiously offensive material in a public place), ordered him to perform 100 hours of unpaid work, and ordered him to pay £250 costs. Taylor was convicted of similar offences in 2006.[14]

So, in the UK I could be fined, imprisoned, and barred from publicly possessing certain literature and images simply for rudely expressing my view of a faith, even if it's a faith which says I deserve to be tortured for my opinions, sexual orientation, and gender identity. As you might say across the pond, that is bollocks.

The UK's weak protections for free speech have stamped out even mature and non-inflammatory debates. Specifically I refer to the litigation friendly libel laws. Such laws permitted the British Chiropractic Association to sue the excellent popular science author Simon Singh for correctly debunking pseudoscientific claims they had made. Admittedly, Singh eventually won, but only after enlisting the support of most of the British and American scientific and skeptical communities while losing plenty of money on legal fees and tons of time he could have spent writing.

Yours in free speech even for assholes,

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