Just last week I wrote about the threat of free speech coming under attack. Specifically I was talking about the offensive video recently found on YouTube and Google’s decision to remove the video in countries where it would be most offensive. Here’s what I said:
My concern in all of this is that people will use this instance as a reason to support some measures by which the U.S. government could censor content on Google’s web sites. We should be watching carefully for that type of movement. Censorship, like so many other issues, is best handled by the people, not by government.
Well, it’s happening already. We shouldn’t be shocked. Anyone watching for this would have seen it coming. Pakistani Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, said in a recent CNN interview that the U.S. should “rethink how much freedom is okay.”
It’s easy to understand the sentiment without agreeing with it. The argument is that people shouldn’t be allowed to say or do things that cause other people to go on massive killing sprees. Sure, that’s understandable. Nobody wants to hear reports of violence that erupted because of somebody’s opinion.
But this notion that because people get upset over somebody else’s opinion we should be restricting speech is preposterous!
Written by Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.
A sign mentioned in the New York Times coverage of the ongoing protests in the Muslim world crystallized a question that had been nagging at the back of my head since the attacks on the American embassies in Libya and Egypt. The sign read: “Shut up America!” and “Obama is the president, so he should have to apologize!”
What a strange non-sequitur, to Western ears! What does the president—or the U.S. government in general—have to do with some crude, rinky-dink YouTube video produced by an apparent con man? Surely, like the overwhelming majority of Americans, Barack Obama would never even have been aware of the trailer for “Innocence of Muslims” if it hadn’t become the bizarre focus of controversy abroad. Even if the video was more catalyst than cause of the outrage, commenters all along have remarked how absurd, almost surreal, it seems that one shoddy YouTube—surely one of many containing harsh criticism of Islam or its prophet—could trigger such a massive reaction. If people hadn’t died, it would be comical.
After the protests irrupted in the Middle East last week, the United States Embassy in Egypt sent out a statement condemning the video created the Obama Administration insists created the outrage. It was a startling condemnation of free speech and expression, which protect not only speech with which the majority of Americans may agree, but also unpopular or even hate speech that some may otherwise find objectionable.
Some have defended the actions of President Obama since the controversy has erupted, but the reaction from the United States Embassy in Egypt was typical of the Obama Administration, which has fought to curb political speech. But more details have come to light in recent days, such as the White House privately asking Google, which owns YouTube, to review the video. Access to the video has already been restricted in Middle Eastern countries where violence has broken out.
Moreover, the person who made the video, a convicted felon, has been questioned by federal authorities because his activities may have violated the conditions of his release. Obviously, that is a separate issue and not necessarily one that we should say is an attempt to silence speech. However, it does make one question whether federal authorities would bother with him if he had put out a video denigrating Christianity.
Last year, I wrote a post on free speech during the whole Terry Jones Quran burning incident. It started out like this:
In 1987, artist Andres Serrano won the “Awards in the Visual Arts” competition from the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art. The piece awarded was called “Piss Christ” and it depicted a crucifix, submerged in the artist’s urine.
In case you didn’t click on the link above, here are some Andres Serrano images (“Piss Christ” on the left; “Madonna and the Child II” on the right):
Now, suppose Pat Robertson (or any other Christian right winger) came out and said the following: “Andres Serrano should be jailed and prosecuted”. What would our liberal elite say? They would probably come out in defense of Serrano’s artwork. And guess what? They would be right to do so.
If you’ve been paying attention to President Barack Obama and his allies in Congress over the last few years, then you know the appreciation for free speech is, well, non-existent. This problem isn’t limited to the Obama Administration or Democrats; after all, a Republican Congress and Republican president brought us one of the worst pieces of legislation in the last decade with the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. However, the Obama Administration does bring us examples of contempt for free speech.
The exercise of free political speech is one of our bedrock principles in this country. Our Founding Fathers fought against the tyranny of King George III, who frequently sought to take the liberties of colonists and burden them with oppressive taxes. The Founding Fathers, using their natural right to free speech, fought back, condemning King George. With the Bill of Rights, they sought to recognize certain fundamental, natural rights to ensure that the federal government knew its bounds; among them was right to free speech.
The very clear wording of the First Amendment — “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press” — hasn’t always prevented the federal government from passing laws to silence critics. Not long after the Constitution and Bill of Rights were ratified, President John Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts into law, which made it a criminal offense to criticize his policies.
In a new video from Learn Liberty, Professor Brad Smith, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission (FEC), discusses a scenario where Congress passes a law, in order to ensure that parties weren’t being infiltrated by terrorists, that would require all Americans to disclose their political activity — call it, as he says, the “PATRIOT II Act.” . This information, says Smith, would be made available in an online database for all to see, including prospective employers and neighbors. You would no doubt say that this is an invasion of your privacy.
But it may surprise you to find out that such a law, though not under the pretenses outlined by Smith, already exists. The Federal Elections Campaign Act of 1974 allows the government to track campaign donations and spending, making it available online for anyone to see.
With the Citizens United decision a frequent target of President Barack Obama, who constantly lies about the impact of the case, and Democrats and the rise of so-called “super PACs,” the debate over campaign disclosure laws deserve more debate and discussion, as well as attention paid to privacy.
During an election year, voters frequently hear politicians point to public to prove support for their agenda. In trying to push through his tax hike prospoal, President Barack Obama has noted on several occasions that most polls show that Americans believe higher-income earners should pay more in taxes. Another example would be polls that show opposition from Americans to the Citizens United ruling, which protected political speech for domestic corporations.
But should the majority rule? During the debate over ratification in New York, James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, explained the problem of majorities, or, as he called it, “faction.” Madison wrote, “By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”
This is why Madison and other Founding Fathers concluded that a democracy was not consistant the idea of free society that they sought for a new nation. Instead, as Madison wrote, “A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking.”
Madison went into great detail about the problem of faction in Federalist 10, which is worth a read, if you have a few moments. But one can read Madison’s missive and see clearly that the vision the he had for the United States is one that has been largely lost, especially in the last 80 years or so.
There have been a couple of stories about Brandon Raub here at United Liberty. This is one of those stories that is bound to get some legs in the pro-liberty community, so it’s no wonder that we’re discussing it. It’s a story that has all the hallmarks of something we could sink our teeth into.
Marshall McCart wrote:
As of last night, Mr. Truth himself, Ben Swann, stated that he was on it. That makes me feel good. Ben will get to the bottom of it. He has said that at this point—it does not seem to be passing the smell test. Also, the Rutherford Institute has now come out in support of Mr. Raub. But until more information presents itself, I just can’t make an informed analysis; however, I will say this—if he wasn’t involuntarily committed in a proper way…if this was just the government deciding that they would detain this man for words he wrote. Then—we might have a problem. This might be a game-changer. This could be one of the biggest stories in America that hardly no one knows about. If this was done improperly, then the United States Government may have just committed an egregious error.
Meanwhile, Kevin Boyd wrote:
Editor’s note: This is one of two takes on the Brandon Raub story that have been posted today. You can read Marshall McCart’s thoughts here.
The Internet has been up in arms over the detention of former Marine and libertarian activist Brandon Raub. His supporters have been claiming that he has been detained because of the fact he criticized the government and his support for 9/11 “Truth” and other conspiracy theories, which threatens the First Amendment. While the FBI and local police claim that he had posted some threatening posts on his Facebook page and they went and interviewed him as is standard operating procedure. A judge has ordered Mr. Raub held under psychiatric evaluation for the next 30 days in a mental hospital. The fact of the matter is, Mr. Raub is no martyr but instead he is a fool whose posts on Facebook certainly can be construed as calling for violence.
Mr. Raub, like many other wannabe political activists do, use their Facebook pages for political activism. His Facebook wall was full of criticisms of the United States government, the “New World Order”, and the promotion of various conspiracy theories. His profile picture is him standing shirtless in front of a US Marine Corps flag while brandishing a shotgun.
The posts themselves usually consisted of things like one that was posted on August 13:
Sharpen up my axe; I’m here to sever heads.
Here’s another one posted on August 12 about alleged chemtrails: