Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Bashing the Florida ACLU

Thanks to Sandefur for sending me a link to this information. I’ve done a lot of work defending the ACLU for a long time, but on this one I will gladly condemn them, at least this chapter, in the harshest possible terms. The Florida ACLU has elected to its board a man named Parvez Ahmed, who said the following at a National Press Club speech on February 16th:

“I think the next steps would be to broaden the scope of anti-hate laws and even contemplate about passing blasphemy laws, because blasphemy with such sacred icons, like the Prophet Muhammad, like the Koran, or the cross, or other religious symbols … So governments, legislatures, international bodies … must contemplate about what are the ways in which an anti-blasphemy law can be passed that can protect the right to exercise freedom of religion.”

I’m trying to find the full text of his remarks, but I can’t imagine what they might say that would not make this a very disturbing statement. Let’s not mince words: anyone who believes in anti-blasphemy laws and hate speech codes has no place on the board of anything involving the ACLU or civil liberties. Anyone who claims that laws against blasphemy protect the free exercise of religion is beyond clueless on the subject of civil liberties and they are exactly the people that the ACLU ought to be fighting against at all times and in all places. It really is that simple.

Comments

  1. #1 steve s
    March 17, 2006

    as an ACLU member (#52506946), I say to Parvez Ahmed, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you. And fuck your prophet. And fuck you some more. I will urge the national ACLU body to revoke your membership.

  2. #2 steve s
    March 17, 2006

    Assuming the report is accurate. If not, sorry. If so, fuck you.

  3. #3 Dave S.
    March 17, 2006

    You can get the flavour of his views by reading Attitudes of Ignorance – A Consequence of Media Portrayal of Islam and Muslims.

    Media organizations will have to reawaken to the principle of unlimited interrogation, which begins by understanding the limitations of the prevailing Eurocentrism and its consequent Orientalism – understood as attitude that views non-western ideas and culture as inferior. Mainstream Muslim scholars and activists must be given airtime and print space to dispel the stereotypes that dog them. Not doing so imperils our liberal democracy where journalists have the sacred duty to improve civic dialogue.

    Or this GUEST EDITORIAL in the St. Pete’s Times in 2004.

    Any attempt to divide Americans along racial and religious lines will be challenged by all people of conscience as we march forward toward a hate-free and secure America.

  4. #4 Michael LoPrete
    March 17, 2006

    I am with you, both in that I don’t think the ACLU has any space to advocate in favor of anti-blasphemy laws and that I don’t think they’re a good idea.

    But let’s try this as a thought experiment, just to play our own devil’s advocate.

    Premise: Free exercise and Free expression are both highly valued rights in society, and extra care must be taken in resolving issues where these rights come into conflict with each other.
    Assumption: It’s not blasphemy, but the law’s implicit endorsement of blasphemy that discourages the public exercise of religion. It doesn’t matter that the minority religion can be blasphemous back, because the effect of the minority on the majority has a de minimus effect.
    Conclusion: Laws that discourage the blasphemous speech that inihibits religious exercise (rather than all blasphemy) should exist. For example, such a law could include blasphemy among the types of speech and behavior that contribute to a hostile work environment.

    If you bought the assumption, as Ahmed may, I don’t think the step to suggest anti-blasphemy laws are that big of a swipe against civil liberties. I’m not sure how we’d measure inhibition, though.

  5. #5 Mark Paris
    March 17, 2006

    The ACLU’s main reason for existing is to protect the Bill of Rights, which specifically prohibits laws restricting freedom of speech and the press. A law prohibiting blasphemy would violate the First Amendment. Ahmed apparently supports an anti-blasphemy law. Therefore, Ahmd does not belong in the ACLU.

  6. #6 Craig Pennington
    March 17, 2006

    Michael,

    I reject the assumption that neutrality under the law is anything like an endorsement of one side or another. Minority status does not convey any right to be protected from private speech. Such a “right” is antithetical to civil liberties.

    That said, I would like confirmation of the contents of Ahmed’s speech. Assuming it is as reported, he has no place on any xCLU board.

  7. #7 Ed Brayton
    March 17, 2006

    Michael:

    The major flaw in that argument is quite obvious: blasphemy does not interfere with the free exercise of religion in any way. Whatever I think or say about anyone’s religion, they remain entirely free to believe it and practice it as they see fit. And I’ll defend that right, even to the point of allowing religious exemptions to generally applicable laws, providing special protections for religious views. But I won’t allow them to silence the views of others, ever, ever, ever.

  8. #8 Michael LoPrete
    March 17, 2006

    Craig,

    You’re right that minority status, without anything more, grants no status. However, don’t we guarantee rights in part to protect the minority against the abuses of the majority? As I noted earlier, we have law that discourages sexist speech; how is blasphemous speech in similar contexts that much different?

  9. #9 Ed Brayton
    March 17, 2006

    What laws do we have that discourages sexist speech?

  10. #10 Henry Neufeld
    March 17, 2006

    I think the problem with this “devil’s advocate” scenario can also be illustrated by looking at the number of things that various religious groups might find offensive. Each religious group has a set of words that they find harmful. In practical terms, protecting religions from speech they find offensive would result in totally regulated speech.

    What objective damage is done to a Muslim when a Christian blasphemes? What objective damage is done to me as a Christian when someone blasphemes Jesus? Is there any way for a non-member to be certain of not blaspheming?

    Any restriction on speech on religious grounds could easily open the door to devastation of all rights to expression.

  11. #11 Michael LoPrete
    March 17, 2006

    Ed,

    Sexual harassment laws, for example.

    (Note: As I said above, I’m playing the devil here, as it sounds as if Ahmed is advocating criminal penalties for blasphemy, which I absolutely could not stand for.)

  12. #12 Michael LoPrete
    March 17, 2006

    Henry,

    It could be that blaspheme is being secularized to refer to bigoted speech based on religious identity, rather than race, sex, gender, etc; if it is, I’ll admit to being fascinated by the evolution of the term.

  13. #13 Ed Brayton
    March 17, 2006

    Michael-

    Sexual harrassment laws should be limited only to actual harrassment, not to sexist speech or to dirty jokes and so forth. Quid pro quo demands are sexual harrassment; telling a joke someone doesn’t like is just a part of the real world and they have to learn to deal with it.

  14. #14 Michael LoPrete
    March 17, 2006

    Ed,

    I note that you say should, and for the moment I’m going to avoid the debate because it’s way too far off topic and I find myself conflicted in terms of the positions.

    It does seem, however, that the law does currently have power to raise claims based on expression and not merely quid pro quo. To be consistant, should the law similarly penalize anti-religious speech? I don’t think the answer is yes, but I can see the argument being made.

  15. #15 JY
    March 17, 2006

    The quote, from the linked source, is somewhat incomplete, with elipses at inconvenient places. I searched for a complete transcript, but haven’t found one yet. I’d hold off on complete condemnation until the source and context are verified (although I haven’t thought of a context that would make the quoted portions innocuous).

    In any event, I’ve asked the ACLU of Florida to clarify. Don’t know if they will.

  16. #16 Ed Brayton
    March 17, 2006

    Michael-

    Absolutely not. To be consistent, the law should get out of the business of deciding what is and isn’t offensive speech entirely.

  17. #17 Ed Brayton
    March 17, 2006

    JY-

    I’ve contacted CAIR and asked for a transcript. There doesn’t appear to be one available on the web.

  18. #18 Craig Pennington
    March 17, 2006

    Michael,

    If I am not mistaken, for any current law regarding sexual harrassment, there is already an equivalent for religion as well as for race (and occasionally sexual orientation.) These laws tend to be limitted to employment, housing and the like. They do not apply to individual speech. Nor should they.

    Ed, I guess I’m a bit of a nut. I’ve always thought the RFRA and similar legislation were bad ideas. Mainly because if there is not a sufficient state interest to justify the intrusion of a generally applicable law on a religious exercise, there probabily isn’t a sufficient state interest to justify the government limit on individual liberty represented by the law in the first place.

  19. #19 steve s
    March 17, 2006

    I emailed the florida ACLU almost 2 hrs ago to see if they can confirm this.

  20. #20 Ed Brayton
    March 17, 2006

    Craig Pennington wrote:

    Ed, I guess I’m a bit of a nut. I’ve always thought the RFRA and similar legislation were bad ideas. Mainly because if there is not a sufficient state interest to justify the intrusion of a generally applicable law on a religious exercise, there probabily isn’t a sufficient state interest to justify the government limit on individual liberty represented by the law in the first place.

    I think that’s true in many cases, but not in this case. Here I think there is clearly a compelling state interest in allowing gay adoptions, but the achievement of that interest is not impeded by granting a religious exemption. That may be an unusual circumstance, but as long as it exists I think there is room for a compromise that achieves both the goal of encouraging gay adoptions and protecting free exercise of religion.

  21. #21 Jim Lippard
    March 17, 2006

    There’s an interesting anti-CAIR site which addresses statements by Parvez Ahmed, e.g.:

    http://www.anti-cair-net.org/press_031_04.html

  22. #22 Hume's Ghost
    March 17, 2006

    “So governments, legislatures, international bodies … must contemplate about what are the ways in which an anti-blasphemy law can be passed that can protect the right to exercise freedom of religion.”

    It’s been passed. Its called the First Amendment. The price of being free to practice your religion means you might have to stomach someone making fun of you, as the freedom of expression necessary for one entails the other.

  23. #23 Henry Neufeld
    March 17, 2006

    It could be that blaspheme is being secularized to refer to bigoted speech based on religious identity, rather than race, sex, gender, etc; if it is, I’ll admit to being fascinated by the evolution of the term.

    I think you may have a point here, but that frightens me as much or more than my own doomsday scenario. Understand that I approach this as a Christian Bible teacher. I’m unusually aware of religious history. Now, if a secular legal concept comes into being that provides a door for the type of speech that religious people call “blasphemy” we’re on a slippery slope for sure.

    Blasphemy tends to cover anything that makes the leadership look bad. It’s defined as speech against the deity, but in practice, it’s speech that hurts the person who says he is speaking for the deity. For example, I have heard frequently and very recently, the claim that person x is doing God’s work, and one shouldn’t “blaspheme the Holy Spirit” by criticizing them. Another claim is that someone speaking against Jesus actually causes pain and suffering to certain Christians. You can’t really check whether the deity is actually damaged or not (an unlikely event in any case) so it’s an easy way to shut someone up without having to take responsibility for demonstrating damage.

    I think there is already an opening for this type of reasoning in some current attitudes of “politically correct” speech. I agree that it is good to have some politeness in society, but when speech can be forbidden simply because someone claims it makes him or her feel bad, then free speech is on the way out.

    Anyhow this comment is already too long. :-) Sorry!

  24. #24 CJ Croy
    March 17, 2006

    I’m skeptical. I’m going to at least demand a source for that quote before I even consider getting angry. I asked someone else I know about this and he told me that counterterror blog has been trying to say that ACLU = CAIR for some time. Do not discard the possibility that he may privately believe this and use CAIR to express these opinions, but that when acting as a member of the ACLU he will stand by the ACLU’s principles.

  25. #25 Ed Brayton
    March 17, 2006

    Henry:

    Good to see you again, my friend. Your long comments are welcome anytime. Hope all is well with you and your family.

  26. #26 Ed Brayton
    March 17, 2006

    CJ Croy wrote:

    I’m skeptical. I’m going to at least demand a source for that quote before I even consider getting angry.

    The quote has been sourced. It is apparently from a February 16th speech at the National Press Club. I am trying to get an entire transcript of the speech, but I have a hard time seeing how those quotes could be made innocuous or benign by context. Unless it has been invented out of thin air – and given that NPC speeches are public events that are typically well covered, that seems highly unlikely – it seems to be legitimate. If it’s not, I’ll gladly retract my response to it.

    Do not discard the possibility that he may privately believe this and use CAIR to express these opinions, but that when acting as a member of the ACLU he will stand by the ACLU’s principles.

    That is an irrelevant possibility, in my view. If that’s the case, it is still absolutely unconscionable to put him on the board of any civil liberties organization. If you think we should punish “blasphemous” speech, you are an enemy of civil liberties, plain and simple.

  27. #27 CJ Croy
    March 18, 2006

    Ed Brayton wrote

    The quote has been sourced.

    Sorry, I misspoke. What I meant is that right now we have no way of knowing if he(or his source) simply made that entire quote up. You are correct about NPC events being widely-covered, but I disagree that the quote being a total lie is implausible. I think lying about this would be significantly less brazen than some of the other things done by this administration, such as McCain’s illegitimate black baby.

  28. #28 Leni
    March 19, 2006

    Henry wrote:

    Is there any way for a non-member to be certain of not blaspheming?

    This is a really good point. You could also ask if there is any way for members themselves to be certain.

    Moreover, what constitutes blasphemy changes over time and adherents themselves often disagree. Just as a practical matter it seems absurd to expect non-adherents to be aware of any potentially blashemous statement.

    I can only imagine what the Scientologists would do with something like this. Frankly, it’s frightening.

  29. #29 Michael LoPrete
    March 19, 2006

    Father Sues Spielberg Over Cutting Daughter’s Hair

    I thought this was marginally relevant to the conversation, at least insofar as “tortious interference with religious observance and practice” can be.

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