Monday, August 13, 2012

We, The People ~ The First Amendment

Well, as long as I’m fixating on the Bill of Rights, I need to back up here and talk about #1. It’s a biggie, and it’s pretty much the foundation of We, The People’s expectation for our government. Let’s look at what it actually says:
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.

Whole libraries are devoted to the First Amendment alone, so I’m not going to try to examine the ramification 800 words or less. What I to do is examine the phrase “…abridging the freedom of speech.”

America, as Aaron Sorkin once scripted, is advanced citizenship:

You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. 
The American President  

Think skinhead Nazi parades and you get the picture. You are not required to like, support, or even observe their political activity, but you must defend their right to hold an event and even display their literature and views. No matter how abhorrent a position may be to you personally, the individual has the right to not just hold it, but to express it.

There are statutes addressing incitement which is clearly prohibited, and false statement of facts which are addressed in laws dealing with libel and defamation. But let’s put those two aside and ask a different question: where is the line between free speech and hate speech?

There should be an easy answer, but there is not and we are struggling mightily with it in Minnesota at this very moment. We have a congressional candidate whose ads are so visually repulsive and verbally skating along the edge of libel that some stations are running disclaimers with the ad itself.

See, there's this guy, Gary Boisclair, who calls himself a Democrat/Tea Party candidate, running against Keith Ellison who just happens to be the only Muslim in Congress. The ads Boisclair are running border on hate speech.

No. They are hate speech. And what does one do for or about that?

Rep. Ellison taking the oath
There are three ads, all of which are pretty graphic and disturbing on a variety of levels,but it's the anti-Ellison ad that makes one second guess why we allow this stuff on television. In the ad, Mr. Boisclair said,

“Congressman Ellison swore an oath to uphold the Constitution on a Koran. The Koran says Christians and Jews are infidels…..”

He goes on to state that the Koran says Christians and Jews should be killed, maimed, and crucified. In the background, gruesome black and white photographs run with Sura chapter:verse numbers and what appears to be English translation.  Except the English quotes don’t match up with the Koran if you go looking for the actual verses. Bad translations taken completely out of context, they are no more violent that just about anything you can find in the Five Books of Moses dealing with non-Israelite people like Moabites or Amalekites.

But that’s not the point.  Mr. Boisclair goes on to say,

“Do you really want someone representing you who swears his oath on a Koran, a book that undermines our Constitution and says you should be killed? I’m Gary Boisclair and I approved this message. “

Can you imagine the outcry if Gary Boisclair said, “Jews use the blood of Christian babies to make Passover matzah,” or “Catholic priests seek out young boys for demonic rituals?” Would a television station run that ad?

Well, apparently they would have to. My call to KARE-11’s news desk confirmed what I suspected to be true: no matter how disgusting they thought the ad was, they were required by law to run it. I asked the nice guy who answered the phone, “When does it constitute hate speech?” He didn’t know…and said they were asking the same the lawyers.

Which brings me back to the original question: when does it officially become hate speech? Well, there actually is an answer. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, in a report called The Role of Telecommunications in Hate Crimes, defines hate speech as:
§  Speech that advocates or encourages violent acts or crimes of hate.
§  Speech that creates a climate of hate or prejudice, which may in turn foster the commission of hate crimes.

Based on the second definition, we might have a winner in Mr. Boisclair.

The FCC, however, would disagree. The FCC does not permit television stations to edit the content of ad for candidates running for federal office.

Statutes and Rules on Candidate Appearances & Advertising 
Section 315 [47 U.S.C. §315] Facilities for candidates for public office.
(a)    If any licensee shall permit any person who is a legally qualified candidate for any public office to use a broadcasting station, he shall afford equal opportunities to all other such candidates for that office in the use of such broadcasting station: Provided, That such licensee shall have no power of censorship over the material broadcast under the provision of this section. 

For better or worse,  Mr. Boisclair’s ad falls under the protected speech category. The only thing we can do is sit back and wait to see if this takes root, and what it spawns.

I would defend to the death the right of free speech. I believe that without it our nation would stagnate and we would never grow. I may not share a belief but it is your right to have it. To assemble. To parade. To have a website. To do just about anything…..except yell fire in a crowded theater. In the end, this is really all about The Constitution: what it says, what it means, and ultimately what relationship it has to the fabric of America. 

Meanwhile, back at the electoral ranch, Romney has chosen Ryan as his running mate. Let the games begin!

Wifely Person Tip O'the Week
Take a moment and read the Bill of Rights
It really is exciting stuff.


  1. Your post is so timely. Yes, there is hate speech "that creates a climate of hate or prejudice, which may in turn foster the commission of hate crimes" daily in so many of the political ads on the air waves and in print, declared as free speech. The media loves the revenues. But the people experience the fruit of such speech in emotionally charged debate empty of real issues of concern to our nation and events like the shootings in Arizona and Oak Creek and in the National Holocaust Museum. I know that Free Speech is sacrosanct, but I also know that hate and prejudice is the goal of what passes for free speech by some very shady characters who would deprive many of our citizens of the same rights and freedoms. I hope our legislators have the wisdom of our founding fathers to do something about it.

    1. so you mean - you're against "free speech" but, don't want to say so.

      About sum it up?

  2. I second Vicki's comment. A climate has been created which encourages hate speech disguised as 'freedom of speech'. Worse, we have seen that hate translate into murder yet no real change has come about from those tragedies. While the political leadership races to "comfort the survivors", it is really more akin to hand waving in an election year. They are beholden to their moneyed benefactors and hate/prejudice etc. are a great way to divert the public's attention away from what really are the top priorities for the nation (jobs, healthcare, education, protection of our planet etc.). Once you get the average girl or guy to start see-ing everything as Us vs. Them, through hate and prejudice, you can lead them anywhere.

  3. Plenty of disgusting hate in the Talmud, not that you'll hear much about it.

    And the average Jewish dude or dudette engages in the pleasant cognitive dissonance whereby "God's" especially crazy screeds in scriptures are ignored.

    But those black coated, beared fellows at Herod's wall take it very, very seriously.

    And they - are colonizing the West Bank, stealing water and trees, building Jewish-only roads and towns - all while claiming to be victims.

    Cute, huh?

    Don't much hear about Jewish fundamentalism or atrocities in the OPT, but you do hear about every bottle rocket popped off from Gaza.

    You also don't hear much about the Israeli bombing raid that engendered the bottle rocket.

    I'm not sure why that is.

    1. Actually, if you read news from outside the United States, you might hear a more balanced picture of Israel and her neighbors.

      And if you were a Jew actively involved in Judaism and Jewish studies, you'd also know you'd hear a whole lot about violence in the Talmud and Torah. These things are not brushed aside or otherwise ignored. Quite the contrary; these things are debated hotly and openly. That's what the Talmud is for, but I'm guessing you don't know anything about that sort of open debate in a religion. The Haredim in Israel and elsewhere speak only for themselves and not the entire Jewish population. They can have their own debates.

      As I said in the blog, I will defend to the death your right to have an opinion and, as you can see, I am publishing yours even though much of it is off topic, but I suspect this is some kind of test of my mettle.

      I don't have to like what you say. I don't have to agree with you. And, since this is my blog, I don't have to publish you either....but I think it's important to hear divergent opinions.

      Civil debate is always welcome here.

    2. Hard to take you seriously with the "defend to the death" hyperbole. I wonder what inconvenience you would actually be willing to tolerate to support speech you do not agree with.

    3. Well, you clearly don't know me. I believe that freedom of expression _is_ worth dying for. It is the fundamental right that makes the others truly possible.

      It's not about agreeing or disagreeing; it's about the open exchange of ideas, philosophies, and dogma.
      If it came down to it, I would enlist, enroll, or be otherwise engaged in fighting for to preserve that right.

      It's. Just. That. Important.