Free Speech

Thoughts on Free Speech and Censorship

First Amendment

Google has taken some heat lately over censorship issues. No doubt we’ve all heard by now of the famous “The Innocence of Muslims” video on YouTube that, whether it did or did not cause attacks on our embassies, has been a center of controversy.

It stirs up debate on censorship, so I wanted to offer some thoughts on censorship.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

That’s the whole First Amendment, but if you break it down to an even simpler form…

Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.

That, in a nutshell, is how I feel about censorship. But this isn’t about Congress. This whole issue is about Google and whether or not Google should censor the opinions of its users.

I love censorship. I censor things all the time. If you decide to get obnoxious in comments on this blog, I’ll censor you. I try not to, because I want to encourage debate, but if your comments take away from the debate, yeah, I’ll censor you.

I censor things in my home as well. I censor what TV shows my kids see. I use parental control software to censor what Internet content is available.

Censoring content, whether on my web site or in my home, is my right and my responsibility. The same applies to Google. If something posted to a Google property is inappropriate, Google has a right and a responsibility to censor the content.

A Libertarian, if Controversial, Response to Consulate Attacks

Libya protests

I’m going to say something that is highly controversial amongst libertarians. It may even lead me to be cast out (particularly among one “part” of the movement). If that is the case, then so be it. It is my suggestion to the United States government to deal with the rash of attacks on our diplomatic missions throughout Northern Africa and the Middle East: send in our forces. Find the people who have done these terrible deeds.

Bring them to justice. And then leave.

This flies in the face of generally accepted libertarian foreign policy, at least as construed by many “rank and file” libertarians. We’re not supposed to be in other countries. We’re not supposed to be out there getting ourselves involved. And if American personnel are hurt, we shouldn’t get ourselves involved more.

This, however, is dangerously short-sighted and naive. Yes, we shouldn’t be in foreign countries. On that I completely agree. But we should not, when we are attacked, simply throw our hands up in defeat and pull out. Or do what President Obama did, and “apologize” for one man using his right to free speech. That does not keep us safe, and that does not fix anything.

Giving in to bullies and madmen does not stop them, it emboldens them, as Britain learned so painfully after Munich. There is also no room for it in libertarian philosophy. If someone aggresses against you, if they attack you and destroy or take your property, and worse if they actually kill you and your comrades, they have violated your liberty. That is not something that libertarianism condones.

Point vs. Counterpoint: Chick-fil-A, Gay Marriage, and Boston Mayor Tom Menino

Cross-posted from Friction Tape.

//], via Wikimedia Commons

In a blog post yesterday morning, my former Cato Institute colleague Tom G. Palmer, who is openly gay and who once “brandished a pistol to scare off several men who he feared were about to attack him because of his sexual orientation,” discussed Boston Mayor Tom Menino’s reaction to Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy’s on-the-record remarks about his company’s multi-million dollar support for traditional marriage causes and advocacy. Mayor Menino, in an interview with the Boston Herald, subsequently threatened to lean on city planners to deny Chick-fil-A business licenses it would need to operate within the jurisdiction:

“If they need licenses in the city, it will be very difficult — unless they open up their policies,” he warned.

Menino also told the Herald that

“Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston. You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against a population. We’re an open city, we’re a city that’s at the forefront of inclusion.”

Tom Palmer concluded his post, writing

Sandra Fluke: Totalitarian

Apparently a reporter at the New York Times Magazine didn’t get the memo that left-wing feminist hack Sandra Fluke’s 15 minutes were long past up. The reporter, Andrew Goldman, tracked Sandra down to get her er…..thoughts on some issues related to her call for the American people to pay for her birth control.

First up: About Rush Limbaugh’s despicable comments calling her a “slut” and attempts to have him taken off the air.

Free speech is a complex area legally, but it’s important to recognize that there are distinctions between one’s ability to express an opinion versus one’s ability to use F.C.C.-regulated airwaves to do so, and also one’s ability to engage in speech versus one’s ability to engage in slander.

First of all, there is no moral defense for what Rush Limbaugh said about Sandra Fluke. If Rush Limbaugh called my mother, wife, daughter, girlfriend, sister, or any other woman I care about a slut, I would have some choice words for him. As a Southern boy, I was raised by my single mom to show women respect. However, I will defend to my death Rush Limbaugh’s right to free speech.

How NOT To Win (Part 1)

Author’s Notes: This will be the first of an ongoing series that will highlight libertarian “activism” fails and give advice to what will actually effectively promote liberty. In addition, the link about the event I’m criticizing does contain lots of vulgar language, you have been warned.

As you may know, the town of Middleborough, Massachusetts just passed an ordinance in a town assembly that bans profanity and punishes offenders with a $20 fine. The law is obviously unconstitutional and the town has earned national ridicule for passing it. If the law is ever challenged in a Federal court, it will be tossed out. Just the thought of a lawsuit, along with the national ridicule the law is causing, will likely cause the town to reconsider it, if it is even ever enforced.

Now enter into the mix, Z-list celebrity Adam Kokesh. The last time he was actually being talked about, it was when he was contemplating the murder of Mitt Romney in order to secure Ron Paul the GOP nomination for President. Now like how a moth is attracted to a bright light, Kokesh is trying to preserve his pseudo-celebrity status by staging a self-promoting stunt. He has called for a “free speech demonstration” in the town of Middleborough.

New York movement seeks to ban anonymous comments

The idea of freedom of speech seems to be pretty straight forward.  You don’t infringe on anyone’s right to say things.  However, some Republican lawmakers in New York want to ban anonymous comments on blogs and newspaper websites in the Empire State.

The legislation, which has been proposed both in the State Assembly and Senate, would require New York-based websites such as blogs and the online hubs of newspapers and other media outlets to “remove any comments posted on his or her website by an anonymous poster unless such anonymous poster agrees to attach his or her name to the post.”

“This statute would essentially destroy the ability to speak anonymously online on sites in New York,” an attorney with the Center for Democracy and Technology told Wired, which first reported the news on Wednesday.

Despite the obvious constitutional implications, the co-sponsors of the Internet Protection Act have described the legislation not so much as an assault on free speech and the open web, but more as a safeguard for people—say, politicians—who sometimes find themselves the victims of anonymous online invective.

Has the world gone mad?

ObamaCare’s massive increase of government involvement in health care is already causing its share of problems.  You simply cannot give government a bigger role in something so personal without creating all sorts of conflicts about what should be covered, and what should not.  There are simply too many competing groups with values and needs that do not overlap. The current health care system is already a mess because of this, and further nationalization will only make it far worse.

It’s also not terribly surprising that the first major battle of this war has to do with reproductive health.  During the passage of the law this was already a fierce debate.  Now, the storm that is consuming much of the public discourse is regarding the coverage of contraceptives.  Some argue that they should be covered under the mantle of “preventive services”, while others object to this for religious or fiscal reasons. Whether we like it or not, this is a matter of public interest now.  While most libertarians and some conservatives want to eventually remove government from the issue, it is there for the foreseeable future.  So it’s a debate we must have.

Over the last week, this debate has all revolved around the testimony of Sandra Fluke, a 30-year-old law student at an expensive university who nonetheless found it outrageous that she and her fellow students should have to pay for their own birth control.  Her statements brought up a number of issues, and, in my mind, provided an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the mess that government involvement in health care creates, and the entitlement mentality that has pervaded our culture.  This mentality is all around us; just last week I witnessed a woman throwing a near fit at my local Rite Aid because her $9 over-the-counter allergy meds were not paid for by her insurance.

SOPA author not done with the internet

After the unprecedented protests throughout the internet, one might think that Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) would figure out that perhaps folks take the internet pretty seriously.  One might think that…but they would apparently be wrong.

Another day, another threat to internet freedom. According to International Business Times, beloved Texas Representative Lamar Smith is the author of a new bill that includes extreme surveillance provisions, and a name that will make opponents sound like criminals: H.R. 1981 (bump that last digit up three times for a more fitting title), or the ‘Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011.’

The new name has outraged many opponents of SOPA and other bills that could bring more government control to the internet, like PIPA and ACTA. It’s hard to imagine the whole world turning out against a bill with the words ‘protect’ and ‘children’ in the title, regardless of the actual contents of the bill.

In the words of Business Insider’s David Seaman, it’s “just a B.S. name so that politicians in the House and Senate are strong-armed into voting for it, even though it contains utterly insane 1984-style Big Brother surveillance provisions.” Ouch.

SOPA: Freedom and the Internet, Victorious

Yesterday, I spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives about the massive online protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (“SOPA”) and the PROTECT IP Act (“PIPA”), legislation that poses a dire threat to the Internet and to liberties that our enshrined in our Bill of Rights.

You can watch my speech and read the transcript below:

Long ago, Jefferson warned, “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.” The exceptions to that rule have been few and far between recently, and ought to be celebrated when they occur.

One did this past week with the announcement that supporters of the so-called “Stop On-Line Privacy Act” and the “Protect Intellectual Property Act” have indefinitely postponed their measures after an unprecedented protest across the Internet.

SOPA and PIPA pose a crippling danger to the Internet because they use the legitimate concern over copy-right infringement as an excuse for government to intrude upon and regulate the very essence of the Internet - the unrestricted and absolutely free association that links site to site, providing infinite pathways for commerce, discourse and learning.

The State of Our Union is Dire

Tonight President Obama will deliver his third State of the Union address, but something that happened yesterday illustrates the true state of our union far better than anything you’ll hear tonight. As we reported yesterday, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was detained by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials at the Nashville International Airport. Paul was detained by TSA officials after refusing an invasive full body pat-down following some kind of anomaly in the body scanner’s reading. Some might argue that there’s nothing to get worked up about here. After all, shouldn’t we expect senators to be treated like everyone else? But it is precisely because everyday citizens are subjected to these invasive procedures on a daily basis that Sen. Paul’s detention is so alarming. His high-profile detention by the TSA serves as a reminder that Americans are having their privacy violated every day on their way through the nation’s airports.

You probably won’t hear about Sen. Paul’s detention by the TSA in President Obama’s address tonight. You’re not likely to hear anything about it in the GOP response delivered by Governor Mitch Daniels (R-Ind.), nor even in the Tea Party response offered by businessman and former presidential candidate Herman Cain (R-Ga.). You probably won’t hear about the National Defense Authorization Act, the Stop Online Piracy Act, or any of the other manifold ways that Washington has undermined the Bill of Rights. But whether our politicians want to raise these issues or not, these are the issues that define the state of our union in the 21st century. And the state of our union is dire.


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