Let’s get clear on one thing. Terry Jones, the delightful Florida pastor who burned the Koran the other day, thereby setting in motion a sequence of events that has led to several days of violence and bloodshed, is a bigot, and a jerk, and many other unsavory things. But if he is made to suffer anything more than the severe disapprobation of every reasonable person it will be an offense far greater than his actions themselves.

It’s been very depressing to find so many bloggers desperately longing for the law to catch up with the wicked pastor. Here’s Laurie Essig expressing a common sentiment:

It’s true that symbolic violence and actual violence are of a different order. But it is also true that symbolic violence creates the conditions for beatings, torture, and murder to occur. Even within the limited liberal philosophical notions of “free speech,” certain forms of incindiary speech are excluded from protection. You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater. You ought not to be able to scream “God Hates Fags” at the funerals of U.S. soldiers or the victims of homophobic violence. And burning a Holy Book in an effort to incite violence around the world should be a criminal act.

Too bad they’re not. As more symbolic violence against Muslims, gays, and anyone else whom God hates is allowed to flourish without limits, actual violence in the real world will grow exponentially. Perhaps it’s all part of God’s hateful plan. But then again, maybe it’s just the result of blindly allowing certain forms of hate speech to flourish because we refuse to see that speech is not always free. (Emphasis Added)


Do I really need to give the lecture about how freedom of speech is meaningless if it doesn’t cover vile and offensive speech? That’s not a limited, liberal philosophical notion of free speech, that’s simply what the phrase means. Once we start down Essig’s road, where does it end? If Jones’ actions are to be considered an incitement to violence then it is hard to imagine what sort of political expression would not be so considered. Essig singles out speech directed towards gays and religion for her disapproval. But how does she feel about flag-burning or anti-war protests? I’m sure she is aware that her justifications for curtailing speech have been used with equal force by people wishing to outlaw those activities.

The fact that hooligans and psychopaths will use offensive speech as an excuse to commit violence is the price you pay for a free society. We accept that price because we recognize that the alternative, in which the government decides which ideas are acceptable and which are not, is far, far worse. We understand that what starts as a high-minded attempt to curtail “symbolic violence” leads inevitably to limits on speech we happen to like. And we also understand that when A commits violence because B did something offensive, the proper apportionment of blame, in nearly all cases, is 100% on A and 0% on B.

There are scenarios in which speech effectively becomes action, and incitements to violence are already properly outlawed. But what Jones did is not even close to these grey areas. He and thirty of his followers burned a Koran on private property, in a proceeding that was ignored by virtually everyone until feckless politicians and imams on the other side of the world specifically used it as an excuse to incite their followers. To argue that Jones’ actions were nonetheless an incitement to violence is to grant a heckler’s veto against any sort of offensive speech.

But Essig looks tame when compared to the ludicrous R. Joseph Hoffman. Most of his post is just a silly, insult-laden rant against P. Z. Myers, but he ends with this interesting paragraph:

Jones is a different story. A more dangerous one. He is the ugly Id unchained from the soul of an America I’d hoped had died. It is moronic, armed, and dangerous. It does not question the ontological correctness of its religious and political views. It burns a book in Lake City, Florida, and Muslims (and others) die in Afghanistan and soon Pakistan and elsewhere. Jones does this knowing they will die, praying to his defective God that they will die, in order to prove his belief that the devil is with us. He is with us, and he needs to be charged with and convicted of murder. His name is Terry Jones.

Charged and convicted of murder? Really? You know, I happen to be a great admirer of P. Z. In fact, I’m so offended by what Hoffman wrote that I think I just might go outside and kill the first person I see. I trust Hoffman will turn himself into the authorities when I’m finished.

Hoffman is far more interested in psychoanalyzing people he dislikes than he is in making an actual argument. So let us leave him to his rapt self-admiration and consider instead this long post from Josh Rosenau. The opening several paragraphs are quite good (except for some misplaced vituperation directed at Sam Harris) and strike what to my mind is the right note. That’s where you grit your teeth and make it clear that putting up with people like Jones is the price you pay for basic civil liberties. But I do wish to comment on this:

Which is why it’s necessary that people decry Pastor Jones’s inflammatory actions, and why I find it so strange to see atheists, skeptics, and others trying to defend Jones, or simply focusing on the question of whether he was legally entitled to burn copy of a book he owned.

Considering that we have just seen two people who either think that Jones was not, or should not be, legally entitled to do what he did, and considering that major American politicians are now talking seriously about curtailing basic freedoms because we’re at war and all, I think we can be forgiven for focusing on the legal question.

Sadly, Josh’s post then takes a turn for the worse. He flirts with the idea that Jones’ actions constitute fighting words, which is ridiculous and rather undercuts his earlier impressive rhetoric in defense of freedom of speech. But even worse is this:

To which Jones’s not-quite-defenders will insist that the blame should still rest primarily on the shoulders of those who actually killed a dozen UN workers in Afghanistan. Which is true, but only to a point. It’d be an easier case to make if the Afghan people didn’t have some cause to feel like they are in the midst of a war being waged against them and their religion by a coalition of Christian Western countries. You and I know that Jones is a nutjob who uses his cult-like church as free labor for the furniture business he and his wife run, and that he is just an attention whore, using this stunt to get free press. But given all the attention he’s gotten over the last few months from the media and our government, Afghans can be excused for thinking he might be an influential figure in American political and religious life.

It’s also not unreasonable to think that Afghans would have a lower threshold for American anti-Islamic acts than Muslims elsewhere. On a fairly regular basis, Afghan weddings get bombed and their trucks shot up by American planes and helicopters. As much as a given Afghan may not have liked the Taliban, the American puppet government is corrupt and plenty deadly in its own right. It’s fine for us to say Afghans are being too sensitive if they think a jackass in Florida is a threat or intimidation, but put yourself in their shoes.

This is just infantilization, nothing more. When rampaging mobs start slaughtering people because their imams and politicians tell them that someone on the other side of the world disrespected their holy book, no one should care about their attitudes towards Christian Western nations. When trivial provocations like unflattering newspaper cartoons or lone lunatics burning Korans are enough to set people to days of mindless violence, we are well beyond looking for rational justifications for their actions. Most people in the world, placed in their shoes, would not have behaved the way these folks behaved. And I frankly don’t understand people who look at what happened and think Jones’ actions are the really important part of the story.

Comments

  1. #1 Glendon Mellow
    April 5, 2011

    Great post Jason.

  2. #2 Valhar2000
    April 5, 2011

    On a fairly regular basis, Afghan weddings get bombed and their trucks shot up by American planes and helicopters.

    I say, Josh, have you ever considered the possibility that the proper solution to this problem is to, you know, stop bombing the weddings? That it might be better to remove the troops and stop spending untold amounts of money on a war that cannot be won?

    Oh, but of course, doing that would be inconvenient! Much easier to scapegoat Terry Jones, who is already disliked, and continue to turn a blind eye to the Military-Industrial Complex killing brown people for profit.

  3. #3 msironen
    April 5, 2011

    This is just infantilization, nothing more.

    Yes, because that’s what we’re dealing with here if you care to take a hard look at it. You somewhat acknowledge it yourself here:

    When trivial provocations like unflattering newspaper cartoons or lone lunatics burning Korans are enough to set people to days of mindless violence, we are well beyond looking for rational justifications for their actions.

    I don’t think goading a psychopath, or worse yet, siccing a deranged mob on someone else should be “protected” speech and I don’t think many people actually do but they refuse to see the obvious parallel here.

    In short, I don’t find the “religious lunatics who kill people at the drop of a hat are, despite being religious lunatics who kill people at the drop of a hat, fully rational and responsible agents and therefore no-one can be responsible for the consequences when they purposefully drop a hat” particularly convincing or even a coherent position.

    This however doesn’t mean I’m advocating sanctions against Jones or curtailing free speech in any other way either. Rather it seems we either need to stop exposing people to religious lunatics and/or take away their ability to kill people at the drop of a hat.

  4. #4 greg byshenk
    April 5, 2011

    I generally agree with the above, but have at least a small problem with this sentence:

    Most people in the world, placed in their shoes, would not have behaved the way these folks behaved.

    First, it is far too easy for those of us who have never been even remotely close to something like “in their shoes” to say, “well, we would never do anything like that!” I like to think that I (and ‘we’, referring to my peers) would not have behaved that way, but given that I’ve never been in anything like “their shoes”, it strikes me that a bit of humility is in order. And even more so if one wishes to expand the group to “most people”, since “most people” seem to be capable of some pretty horrible things if caught up in a mob.
    Second, the attitude that sentence expresses, that somehow the others are inferior to “most people”, strikes me as a dangerous dehumanization of the others.

  5. #5 Steven Carr
    April 5, 2011

    Should it be made an offence to poke a dog with a stick until it turns on you?

    Or should we praise the dog and regard it as perfectly valid way of obtaining knowledge, and forbid all criticism of mad dogs, as the world of mad dogs is a world dedicated to exploring human knowledge in a way that science never can?

  6. #6 SoulmanZ
    April 5, 2011

    Do I really need to give the lecture about how freedom of speech is meaningless if it doesn’t cover vile and offensive speech?

    In many other western countries, it doesnt cover vile and offensive speech, yet the media and public feel just as free.

    Plus they are free to not be offended by assholes all the time.

    Do you argue that Canada, most of Europe, Australia (doesn’t even have a bill of rights) and many other countries dont actually have free speech?

    Is this really a binary “all or nothing” that you are either fanatically for, or against?

  7. #7 Johnny Vector
    April 5, 2011

    SoulmanZ, you should start reading Ed Brayton’s blog, right on this here ScienceBlogs machine. He regularly details cases in Europe and Canada where people are fined and jailed for speech that someone considers offensive. Generally what that means is that the existing power structure finds it offensive.

    Simple question: Define “offensive” in an objective, universally applicable way. You have 2000 years. Go!

  8. #8 Ken
    April 5, 2011

    @SoulmanZ:

    Do you argue that Canada, most of Europe, Australia (doesn’t even have a bill of rights) and many other countries dont actually have free speech?

    Yes, I would certainly argue that. Popular speech needs no defense. The US First Amendment was created not to protect popular speech, but to protect unpopular speech. If we restrict speech that the majority of people find offensive, there would be no point in having a right to free speech.

    The rest of the “free” world you refer to has the right to popular speech. That’s why you don’t hear people there complaining about not having free speech. Those who would like to complain are not allowed to. The majority is happy since they only have to put up with speech that doesn’t bother them.

    That’s not freedom of speech.

    As for a “right” to not be offended, I’m rather offended by the notion that I may not be able to speak freely, and am offended by the speech of religious zealots (like the Christians) often. Under your system should I not be able to stifle the public sermons of those religious nuts so I am not offended by them?

    I’ll tell you what, though. I’ll agree that speech should be limited based upon offense as long as I’m the only person in the nation who gets to decide what is too offensive. You can trust me. I’m pretty open-minded and fair, so I won’t abuse this substantial power.

    The worst possible thing that could happen would be to give such a power to a majority in a democracy. Once you do that, you end up with nonsense such a blasphemy laws and people getting thrown in jail for handing out flyers about atheism like has happened in England in the past few years. Or should I remind you about the singer in Poland facing jail time for blasphemy.

    No, those countries do not have freedom of speech for all. There is just freedom of speech for the majority in those nations.

  9. #9 Ken
    April 5, 2011

    Everyone should make themselves familiar with the “Heckler’s Veto”. Here’s a good description:

    http://civil-rights.lawyers.com/ask-a-lawyer/What-Is-A-Heckler's-Veto-4568.html

    Wikipedia also has a good overview, but I like Susan Gellman’s commentary on it. The point she emphasizes is that when you censor speech because it will cause a violent reaction, you create an easy way for any radical to stifle ideas they don’t like. As she puts it:

    Without the doctrine of the “Heckler’s Veto” (or, more accurately, the doctrine of not allowing heckler’s vetos), we would be handing the power to control speech over to the most violent and obnoxious people, and soon we would hear only the views they like. Yikes!

    People need to learn that even holy books are just bits of paper, ink and binding material. If you destroy a copy, the words and ideas live on. It’s just a friggin’ book!

    I suggest we start to burn books more regularly. It would get people used to that idea, and help to stimulate the paper-based book industry.

  10. #10 Kevin
    April 5, 2011

    Gee, the words “lengthy post” and Josh Rosenau used in the same sentence…who woulda thunk it?

    Essig is trivially wrong. Indeed, the US Supreme Court decided in favor of Phelp’s merry band of bigots … what … yesterday? Does she not read the papers? Is she trying to substitute her judgment for that of the entire US jurisprudence system? Well, someone has a very large opinion of themselves, don’t they?

    Hoffman is beneath contempt. And your reply to him is exactly spot-on. I hope the prosecutors take note. I think I’ll burn my neighbor’s house because Hoffman offends me. Hoffman should be prepared to face the consequences.

    Rosenau is just … well … boring.

  11. #11 JimR
    April 5, 2011

    I heard a commentator state that some of the deaths in Afghanistan were simple murder. Talibani in the crowd killed random people to inflame matters. Don’t know if this is true, but that certainly does not reflect on Jones.

    Instead of censoring people, we should label them for future acts they take to be linked to past acts. Such as labeling him as the Big Twit Terry Jones. If the news services and blogs would always hang a derisive term in front of his name, we would always be reminded to ignore the twit.

  12. #12 A little common sense
    April 5, 2011

    Reply to #6 Posted by: SoulmanZ

    In many other western countries, it doesnt cover vile and offensive speech, yet the media and public feel just as free.
    Plus they are free to not be offended by assholes all the time.

    Aren’t you judging the content, the relative value of the speech of others, when you categorize them as “assholes”? Aren’t you arguing that if someone else’s speech offends you then they should not be allowed to speak? Is being “offended” really a crime? Or is it simply the normal human reaction to having someone tell you that you are dumber than a box of rocks?

    Do you argue that Canada, most of Europe, Australia (doesn’t even have a bill of rights) and many other countries dont actually have free speech?

    Try ignoring the British Official Secrets Act, which Canada (Security of Information Act) and Australia (Official Secrets and Unlawful Soundings) have copied in customized versions. “Over there,” you go to jail for publishing government documents, no matter how valid the public’s interest.
    So, yes, that argument is pretty damned sound.

  13. #13 A little common sense
    April 5, 2011

    Get out your irony meters!

    When Syrians, Egyptians, and Afghanis burn the Bible, Christians, are expected to sit quietly and not make “incendiary” comments.

    When a Christian burns the Qur’an, Muslims, members of the “Religion of Peace,” are justified in bombing, decapitating, and otherwise murdering people who had absolutely nothing to do with the burning in the first place.

  14. #14 Rieux
    April 5, 2011

    Still pushing this nonsense, eh, SoulmanZ?

    In many other western countries, it doesnt cover vile and offensive speech, yet the media and public feel just as free.

    How nice of you to purport to speak for hundreds of millions of people and how they “feel” about their governments’ censorship. It’s almost as if you… er… have no idea what you’re talking about. Fancy that.

    Plus they are free to not be offended by assholes all the time.

    I’ll take assholes any day over ignorants attempting to blame brutal murders on people exercising their human right to free expression. Still, my position is that said bedrock right protects your ignorant nonsense.

    Do you argue that Canada, most of Europe, Australia (doesn’t even have a bill of rights) and many other countries dont actually have free speech?

    To the extent that their governments engage in content- and viewpoint-based censorship of expression, of course they don’t actually have free speech. The same goes for the United States, in which the First Amendment is violated with alarming frequency.

    By the way, Australia is a signatory to the U.N.’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which provides that “[e]veryone shall have the right to freedom of expression.” And Australian courts have found implied rights to certain kinds of free speech in the nation’s fundamental principles. Nonetheless, as you note, there is no guarantee of free speech in Australian law that is protected from majority tyranny—and that is, indeed, a severely troubling issue for human rights in that nation.

    Is this really a binary “all or nothing” that you are either fanatically for, or against?

    Your ad hominem sneers regarding the strength of your opponents’ support of human rights long since became tiring. Defending freedoms that inhere in being human is not “fanaticism.” Neither, necessarily, is attacking such freedoms the way you are—but the latter is, at least, embarrassing.

  15. #15 Aj
    April 5, 2011

    Re America’s total commitment to freedom of speech.

    I’ve a rather baroque fantasy, an exceptionally explicit sexual fantasy in fact, which I feel should be shared with the children of the world.

    Would the first amendment cover me when I stand outside the school gates and began describing this fantasy out loud?

    If not, why not?

    (If anyone is concerned about the first being intended to cover religious and political speech, I should make it clear that at one point my fantasy does involve me being rimmed by Jesus whilst President Obama strokes my nipples).

  16. #16 Gingerbaker
    April 5, 2011

    Kevin:

    “Essig is trivially wrong. Indeed, the US Supreme Court decided in favor of Phelp’s merry band of bigots … what … yesterday? Does she not read the papers? Is she trying to substitute her judgment for that of the entire US jurisprudence system? Well, someone has a very large opinion of themselves, don’t they? “

    No, Essig is correct. The Phelps clan does NOT have the right to disrupt funerals. The Supreme Court case affirmed that Phelps was not in violation of a time and place restriction on political protests which were too close to funeral services, because they were almost a mile away – too far away to be a disruption.

    Thus, the S.C. did not affirm the rights of Phelps et al. to disrupt funerals, and they did not address the constitutionality of the time and place restrictions now in place in that State, although if you read the remarks of at least one of the S.C. justices, they seem to hint that that such restrictions would be constitutional.

  17. #17 Ken
    April 5, 2011

    @Aj:

    Time and place restrictions are in place in the US. For example, you can’t get your bullhorn out and protest (anything) at 3:00 am in from of a hospital either. As long as the time and place restrictions are not unreasonable, and you have ample opportunity to describe your fantasy at plenty of other times in plenty of other locations, those restrictions will not greatly impede your freedom of speech.

    There are also obscenity law you may also have to deal with, but I disagree with most of those laws anyway.

    America is still the most free in terms of speech of any country I’m aware of. As has already been pointed out, most nations of the world have laws preventing speech that the democratic majority considers to be offensive, especially in terms of hate speech and anti-religious speech.

    In the US, even if it is 100% known that your speech WILL cause violence and death, even to American citizens, the Supreme Court says that the First Amendment still protects your speech. Tell me anywhere else that does that.

  18. #18 Gingerbaker
    April 5, 2011

    Ken said:

    ” If we restrict speech that the majority of people find offensive, there would be no point in having a right to free speech.”

    That is typical binary thinking, and demonstrably untrue. Currently in the U.S., you can’t show a naked breast on broadcast TV, or say certain words on radio, etc. So, we have decades of proof that restricting the speech that even a minority of people find offensive has not obliterated the utility of our 1st Amendment protections.

    Additionally, if we were to follow your prescription of (supposed) free speech absolutism, we are relegated to the rather unAmerican position that the rights of corporations to corrupt the political system must be vigorously protected, as it has just been decided by the Supreme Court that corporate money deserves full 1st Amendment political free speech protection.

    Instead of falsely insisting that we don’t already restrict free speech, you might want to reconsider your strategy, and insist on one more carefully crafted restriction?

  19. #19 Jeff Chamberlain
    April 5, 2011

    I, too, have reservations about this sentence: “Most people in the world, placed in their shoes, would not have behaved the way these folks behaved.” However, mine are different from #4′s. I’m more inclined to think that the sentence is inaccurate. I’m thinking that people “in their shoes” would have behaved in exactly the way “these folks” behaved — that’s what it means to be “in their shoes.” And that’s the problem.

  20. #20 Aj
    April 5, 2011

    @Ken

    Indeed I’m not aware of any free-er systems, but I was interested in the limits of the American first amendment; limits which a number of Americans seem to deny exist (beyond shouting fire in the theatre that is).

    The sexual fantasy outside a schoolyard example came to mind during discussions around the recent Phelps decision, when a lot of people seemed to be ignoring that the court had found for Phelps on the basis that the protest was restricted and hence did not count as harassment (and I have to say, as a wussy European, I wasn’t opposed to those restrictions).

    Regarding other countries where speech is protected so long as it conforms to what a majority finds acceptable, I’m not sure that this is exactly the case. After all, a lot of such restricted speech is really very popular indeed. Those implementing such bans rather see that as the real problem.

    But I’m not sure what you mean by speech which will cause violence and death is protected in America. With the possible exception of Muad’dib, no one’s speech alone causes death without some other agency. Isn’t calling directly for violent action still prohibited?

  21. #21 Ken
    April 5, 2011

    @Gingerbaker:

    The particular restrictions you mention have to do with the fact that the spectrum used by the media you refer to (broadcast TV and radio) is owned by the government and only leased to private organizations. The First Amendment does not protect the government or government owned resources. As such resources became more abundant (or more efficiently used to be precise) the restrictions are being relaxed.

    I can easily see naked breasts and hear all the dirty words I like on broadcast media now.

    Even in the case of time and place restrictions, they is not wholesale banning of the breasts and dirty words. The fact that such speech is so readily available proves that the time and place restrictions are not preventing the speech from being disseminated. Once it becomes too difficult to see women’s breasts and hear dirty words, I assure you I will be protesting!

    Within the time and place restrictions, such speech is still legal in the US. Hate speech and blasphemous speech is illegal in most of the world outside of the US no matter the time or place. It’s those other nations that have turned the issue into a binary solution with such speech being illegal at any time and place.

    Look at the Polish artist Doda. She is being prosecuted for her words and ideas, not for when or where she chose to speak.

    Surely you see the difference between wholesale censoring of ideas and reasonable time and place restrictions.

  22. #22 greg byshenk
    April 5, 2011

    Jeff, I don’t think you want to completely to the other extreme, which you seem to be doing, in 19 above.

    Being “in their shoes” means being in the same situation, but not being identical to them, and it is demonstrably true that different people can behave differently in the same situation.

    Having seen some riots up close, I suspect that many people, including many of “us” (for ‘us’ read “enlightened westerners as opposed to the ‘them’ of backward asians”) would behave similarly if caught up in the situation and the mob. I am pretty sure that at least some people would not, but I don’t think that you can draw an easy distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’ in this sort of case.

  23. #23 Ken
    April 5, 2011

    @Aj:

    For “incitement to violence” to be used to restrict speech in America the speech must directly call upon people to go out and commit violence.

    If, on the other hand, people say that if, for example, the Nazi’s are allowed to march and speak, then the anti-Nazi’s WILL go on a rampage and riot and destroy a town, and the threat is credible and likely, the speech is protected and must be allowed even if it is known it will result in violence and death.

    I’m perfectly willing to admit other restrictions as well such as libel (with the caveat that the US is also one of the best at defending the speech over the potential damage of libelous statements). The fact that free speech cases have to go to court at all tells us that there are some restrictions, but in America, the speech is so important that it’s extraordinarily difficult to censor and suppress it completely.

    As for “yelling fire in a crowded theater”, while it’s often cited as a thought experiment, even in law, that actual speech is not what is illegal. It is the panic created by the speech. The thought experiment, though, helps define the boundary between free speech as protected by denying the Heckler’s Veto, even in the face of violence, and speech that specifically is a call to violence, thus being incitement.

    The reality is that, in today’s America, if you were to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, the only thing that would come from it would be that popcorn would be hurled at you and you would get yelled at to shut up and sit down. Perhaps it’s time for a new thought experiment to help define the line between illegal incitement and protected speech that results in harm.

  24. #24 cwfong
    April 5, 2011

    If Jones is free to knowingly incite a mob to kill someone for no reason except to demonstrate the ignorance of the mob, then I should have the right to incite someone to kill Jones because he’s likely to keep on inciting mobs to kill others somewhere to satisfy whatever perversions seems to be motivating him. I hereby invite all those who hate Jones to incite someone to kill him with full knowledge that its against the law to do so and that there will be consequences.

  25. #25 Raging Bee
    April 5, 2011

    But if [Jones] is made to suffer anything more than the severe disapprobation of every reasonable person it will be an offense far greater than his actions themselves.

    Really? So if someone sues him for inciting to riot, that would be worse than the murders he (knowingly) helped to incite?

    I was all set to respond at length to this post, but you’re gong to lead off with a sentence that callous and stupid, and that blatantly indifferent to the suffering on the other end of all this, then there’s really no point in wasting that much time here.

  26. #26 EK
    April 5, 2011

    “…when A commits violence because B did something offensive, the proper apportionment of blame, in nearly all cases, is 100% on A and 0% on B.”

    Why not 100% on A _and_ 100% on B? I think the Banach-Tarski Paradox can apply to the sphere of guilt.

    I agree that actions like those of Jones should not be made illegal because this gives veto power over free speech to anyone willing to commit terrorist acts. It also gives a free-speech veto to those with the power to define anything they don’t like as “hate speech.” Both are obviously and totally unacceptable.

    So, because Jones’s actions must not be made illegal, therefore what he did was, though extremely offensive, _not_ an incitement of violence or “fighting words”??? Oh, horsecrap. OF COURSE what he did was an incendiary incitement of violence and fighting words. Quit pretending it wasn’t. I bear an ugly message about an ugly world: You have to accept both sides of this debate and very unpleasantly conclude that not only does offensive speech have to remain legal, but in some sick special cases like this, even fighting-word incitement of violence has to remain legal.

    I’d _like_ to throw his ass in prison for the incitement of violence that he is indeed 100% guilty of, but to protect free speech I’m forced to hold my nose and settle for maximum public condemnation instead of legal action. Fully acceptable solutions sometimes don’t exist.

  27. #27 Ken
    April 5, 2011

    OK, there have been a couple of posts that accuse Jones of incitement. Incitement (in the US) is generally held to be a very direct call to action, where you actually compel others to go out and commit violence. If Jones makes a speech telling his followers to go out into the streets to riot and kill people, that would be incitement.

    Offending someone so that they, as encouraged or directed by others, go out and riot and kill is not incitement. Even if violence is a likely result, if Jones was not directly calling for violent acts, his speech is not incitement.

    cwfong’s statement certainly comes closer to incitement even though cwfong added a layer in the statement by calling on others to incite others to violence. That’s still a lot more direct than Jones was, who did not pressure or encourage others to act violently.

  28. #28 Rieux
    April 5, 2011

    EK:

    Why not 100% on A _and_ 100% on B?

    Because overt innumeracy like that defeats the purpose of expressing apportionment by percent (or fraction). Your statement alleges that A and B are equally blameworthy. The proper mathematical expression of that is 50% on A and 50% on B; and when A is Afghani murderers and B is Terry Jones, such a 50/50 split is morally obscene.

    I agree that actions like those of Jones should not be made illegal because this gives veto power over free speech to anyone willing to commit terrorist acts.

    Well, it’s a step. An obvious step, but a step nonetheless.

    So, because Jones’s actions must not be made illegal, therefore what he did was, though extremely offensive, _not_ an incitement of violence or “fighting words”?

    No. No one has asserted any such “should not be illegal, ergo not offensive or incitement or ‘fighting words’” inference. You are chopping up a strawman.

    More directly, Jones’s actions are arguably offensive. But they are not incitement, and they are not “fighting words.” You can assert “OF COURSE” otherwise, but that changes nothing. Disrespecting a symbol of something other people value—even when that disrespect is flagrant—is neither incitement nor “fighting.”

    It’s nice that you aren’t willing to give thugs the legal authority to silence speech they don’t like, but it’s regrettable that you prefer to give them moral authority to do precisely the same thing.

    You have to accept both sides of this debate and very unpleasantly conclude that not only does offensive speech have to remain legal, but in some sick special cases like this, even fighting-word incitement of violence has to remain legal.

    That’s a heck of a bullet you’re willing to bite, but it’s entirely unnecessary in this case. Burning a Qur’an is not, by any sane legal or moral standard, incitement or “fighting words.”

    I’d _like_ to throw his ass in prison for the incitement of violence that he is indeed 100% guilty of….

    Then I’m not sure that your argument is much more worthy of respect than are the declarations of those folks who would be all too happy to immolate the de jure freedom of expression. Guilt is both a legal and a moral concept, and with regard to these deaths Jones is not guilty in both senses.

  29. #29 tomh
    April 5, 2011

    Raging Bee wrote:
    if someone sues him for inciting to riot

    Seems an odd way of putting it. People don’t get sued for “inciting to riot”, they get arrested.

  30. #30 Sam C
    April 5, 2011

    Do I really need to give the lecture about how freedom of speech is meaningless if it doesn’t cover vile and offensive speech? That’s not a limited, liberal philosophical notion of free speech, that’s simply what the phrase means.

    What a moronic and bumptious statement! What has the definition of the phrase got to do with anything? Your argument is as absurd as complaining that the sky will drop on your head because your easter egg isn’t actually an egg. Or complaining that the Big Bang can’t have occurred because the universe would have been very, very tiny at the time.

    The principle that other people must die for your privileges is simply selfish.

    The world is not the USA. Your national obsession with legalistic literalism does not apply in all countries and all cultures. You guys think “free speech” is the be all and end all; it’s not. Many other freedoms are much more important. Almost every other country has a more nuanced view. Literalism and absolutism are simply childish.

  31. #31 Rieux
    April 5, 2011

    The principle that other people must die for your privileges is simply selfish.

    When someone—American or otherwise—actually argues that anyone else “must die for our” free speech “privilege,” that might be a relevant point.

    You can continue pretending that the Afghani murderers in this case are children, animals, or automata, and as a result that their actions are inevitable and inexorable consequences of others’ speech. But your willful blindness doesn’t make it so.

    Anyone, of any nationality, who believes that speech rights should be made subject to the whims of murderers forfeits any and all credibility to lecture anyone else on matters of principle.

  32. #32 cwfong
    April 5, 2011

    incite |inˈsīt|
    verb [ trans. ]
    encourage or stir up (violent or unlawful behavior) : the offense of inciting racial hatred.
    • urge or persuade (someone) to act in a violent or unlawful way : he incited loyal subjects to rebellion.

    Jones not only refuses to apologize for the burning (or to excuse his actions on the basis of not realizing what happened could or would have happened), he says he intends to do the same thing and worse again. Should there not be a duty imposed on the more rational among us to prevent or at least forestall by whatever legal powers we possess the virtual certainty of these impending consequences?

  33. #33 cwfong
    April 5, 2011

    And you know it occurs to me that I don’t believe that Mary was both a virgin and the mother of Christ, so I’m going to say so in the Catholic Church of my choice and deface to the best of my ability any related icons in the vicinity as a linguistic gesture. In fact, why not just burn down the whole damned church for rhetorical emphasis while I’m at it.

    The point being, if it wasn’t all that clear, that the cretin Jones was not just crying fire, he was setting fire.

  34. #34 tomh
    April 5, 2011

    cwfong wrote:
    Should there not be a duty imposed on the more rational among us to prevent or at least forestall by whatever legal powers we possess

    Fortunately, the “more rational among us” don’t possess any legal powers.

  35. #35 Kevin
    April 5, 2011

    @16…sophistry does not become you.

    The Supreme Court decided that Phelps was within his rights to protest where they protest — which is in the vicinity of and at the time of a service member’s funeral.

    Essig declares such things to be an intolerable offense and would ban such things.

    There is not one millimeter’s or millisecond’s difference between what the Supreme Court ALLOWS and what Essig would BAN. Your attempt to move the goalposts notwithstanding.

  36. #36 H.H.
    April 5, 2011

    The point being, if it wasn’t all that clear, that the cretin Jones was not just crying fire, he was setting fire.

    To his own property.

    In fact, why not just burn down the whole damned church for rhetorical emphasis while I’m at it.

    You own a church? If not, then you’re advocating arson, not protected speech, and your analogy completely falls apart. Your point isn’t a valid one.

  37. #37 cwfong
    April 5, 2011

    I think that to a majority of the world’s religious population, the contents of the Koran are a lot more than just the property of whoever owns a portion of the papers they are copied on.
    Especially when that copy is burned for the purpose of burning what it represents to those people. It’s not an effigy, if that’s also the contention, and not just an icon. iIt’s a living covenant in their eyes, and Jones damned well knows that or he wouldn’t have seen the value of physically destroying it.
    And I’m not “advocating arson,” I’m protesting that free speech stops where arson begins.

    And the rational among us do possess powers to stop this idiot, which include a multitude of those that are not illegal (since it seems I have to point out that the definition of legal includes any powers not just prescribed but those not proscribed as well.

  38. #38 Ken
    April 5, 2011

    Yes, cwfong, you were trying to say that what Jones did was the same as destroying other people’s property. Free speech does not give anyone the right to go into someone else’s church and destroy their property.

    Jones burned his own copy of the Qur’an, not someone’s heirloom. It’s just a friggin’ book. It’s paper, ink and some binding material. Any true meaning is conveyed in the words and ideas put forth, not in the physical book.

    If someone were to burn their copy of the Constitution, I would not bat an eye. If someone were to burn the “original” in DC, I would mourn the loss of a piece of history (and the possibility that something still could be discovered about the people who created it), but I would not be worried at all that the words and ideas could still not protect me and guide a nation.

    Jones is a bigoted fool, but not because he burned a Qur’an. He’s a bigoted fool because he hates people simply because they don’t worship the same God he does in a similar enough way. What a tool.

    Now, if you will excuse me, I’m going to erase a copy of the Qur’an from my book-reader by randomizing the magnetic signals in memory. It’s my copy and I can erase it if I want to, even in front of an audience while being recorded performing that action! Hopefully the bigoted fools in Afghanistan won’t go kill anyone because of that.

  39. #39 Rob
    April 5, 2011

    I don’t think goading a psychopath, or worse yet, siccing a deranged mob on someone else should be “protected” speech and I don’t think many people actually

    Damn straight! And women should wear burqas all the time so that they don’t goad psychopathic rapists with their slutty ankles. Who’s with me? Apparently msironen and cwfong are, anybody else?

  40. #40 cwfong
    April 5, 2011

    @Rob
    Ken’s going to come out from behind anonymity and after the appropriate series of announcements as to his purpose, burn his e-reader in Times Square and see if anybody gives a shit. Then if he survives his injuries, and any subsequent retaliatory attacks, he might get with the program – although I won’t bet on it.

  41. #41 EK
    April 5, 2011

    @Rieux / #28

    You didn’t get opening joke, though admittedly Banach-Tarski is a rather obscure reference for a joke, maybe even at a mathematician’s blog.

    But there’s also a real point here: You said the “proper mathematical representation” for equal guilt is 50-50. No. For starters, you may have the “a little bit pregnant” problem with that statement. More seriously, there’s an invalid assumption that guilt is always linearly separable when often it is not. If A and B are strongly interacting with feedback (like Jones’s behavior strongly influencing the radicals, and the radicals’ behavior strongly influencing Jones) then guilt won’t neatly separate into just A’s contribution and just B’s contribution. There’s also an A-B interaction term. So, a 50-50 split, or a 20-80 split, or _any_ split then becomes an “overt innumeracy” because you’re trying to separate something not linearly separable.

    So, I didn’t “defeat the purpose of apportionment by percent.” Instead, I pointed out that apportionment by percent can’t always be done validly. Murder by itself is of course far, far more evil than Koran-burning by itself. But there’s nothing “by itself” in this story.

    I understand your straw-man concern about whether anyone is arguing that the need to preserve free speech implies that Jones’s actions must not be considered incitement. Please take this as a warning about a psychological temptation, not as a logical analysis of anyone’s particular argument. If you’re entering the debate in support of the free-speech team (and I’m very sympathetic to this team), then there’s a strong temptation to present Jones as being 100% offensive but 0% inciting because that makes your case far more black-and-white. But this case is far from black and white.

    You said “Burning a Qur’an is not, by any sane legal or moral standard, incitement or “fighting words.””

    Yep, you’re quite right, and that’s why Jones should not be legally prosecuted. Unfortunately, the radical murderers are _known_ not to be following any sane legal or moral standard. That’s why this isn’t black and white. Speaking practically rather than legally, the insulted person’s opinion (quite possibly an insane, immoral opinion) of whether there’s incitement or fighting words will determine their reactions, not the law’s opinion. The practical consequence throws a monkey wrench in the legal ideal. Thus, you can be _practically_ inciting in an obscenely evil and immoral way even when you’re not _legally_ inciting. This can occur when you deliberately provoke someone you know to be violently insane or dangerously brainwashed. Jones knowingly lit the fuse on a bomb. You have a slam-dunk argument that the bomb was immoral, insane, and hypersensitive. 100% true, but Jones still deliberately lit the fuse on a bomb. And you say there’s no MORAL guilt at all?

    I’m just not following you where you say that I prefer giving thugs the moral authority to silence free speech. (You quoted the first half of my statement about my temptation to punish Jones, then left off the overriding “but” that followed. Maybe that’s where this bizarre accusation comes from?) We remove the thugs’ legal authority to silence, for reasons we agree on. That leaves everyone free to condemn or praise the speech of others. Some will use the freedom to condemn wisely, and some will use it stupidly. Some will indeed use it to bully. But, alas, free speech means we can’t silence those who, in our opinion, condemn foolishly. It’s a jarring non sequitur to say that this, or anything else in my message, is giving thugs the moral authority to silence free speech.

    Terrorists do have some unjust but effective power to stifle free speech, and unfortunately I admit we do boost their thuggish silencing power a little when we tell Jones to back off on burning Korans. But in a war, you have to choose your battles very carefully. It’s a fair moral criticism of Jones that he made a _really_ bad choice of which battle to fight – But that criticism is mighty far from “giving moral authority” to the terrorists.

  42. #42 tomh
    April 5, 2011

    cwfong wrote:
    And the rational among us do possess powers to stop this idiot

    Such as what? You did say they would be legal powers. Lynching or shooting him doesn’t count.

  43. #43 Rieux
    April 5, 2011

    EK:

    You said the “proper mathematical representation” for equal guilt is 50-50. No. For starters, you may have the “a little bit pregnant” problem with that statement.

    What is that supposed to mean? Blameworthiness is not binary. Some malefactors are more blameworthy than others, even when they contribute to the same wrong outcome. So no, there is no “little bit pregnant” problem with considering 50%/50% a conceivable and coherent manner of assigning blame.

    More seriously, there’s an invalid assumption that guilt is always linearly separable when often it is not.

    That’s “invalid”? It sounds like you are making a tendentious meta-ethical claim, one that you have failed to support. I don’t see any reason why, in this case, apportioning blame in a perfectly ordinary zero-sum manner isn’t coherent. Declaring it “invalid” hardly gets you there.

    You appear to be offering a radically different meta-ethical system, but simply typing “100%/100%” and tossing out a reference to Banach-Tarski fails to get you anywhere.

    I pointed out that apportionment by percent can’t always be done validly.

    No, you asserted that without support.

    Burning a Qur’an is not, by any sane legal or moral standard, incitement or “fighting words.”

    Yep, you’re quite right, and that’s why Jones should not be legally prosecuted.

    Oy. Evidently you didn’t read what I wrote. (I did emphasize “or moral” for a reason; it appears you ignored it.)

    You have repeatedly asserted, in notably brash terms, that Jones’ burning of his Qur’an is incitement and “fighting words,” even if it does not meet the legal definitions of those concepts. For example:

    So, because Jones’s actions must not be made illegal, therefore what he did was, though extremely offensive, _not_ an incitement of violence or “fighting words”??? Oh, horsecrap. OF COURSE what he did was an incendiary incitement of violence and fighting words. Quit pretending it wasn’t.

    The statement of mine you have just bizarrely agreed with (“Yep, you’re quite right”) was a direct rebuttal to your repeated declarations that Jones’ actions were incitement and “fighting words.” Your declarations to that effect are wrong. It is anything but clear what moral standards you are applying to get to that conclusion; whatever they are, they have led you to a monstrous conclusion.

    Which is why I wrote “Burning a Qur’an is not, by any sane legal or moral standard, incitement or ‘fighting words.’” How you can read a direct gainsaying of your position and answer “Yep, you’re quite right” I fail to understand.

    Jones’ action is not “incitement.” We apparently agree that it is not incitement under the legal definition of incitement. But it is also not incitement under any sane moral definition of incitement. You have directly asserted that it is incitement. You are wrong.

    Jones’ action is not “fighting words.” We apparently agree that it is not “fighting words” under the legal definition of “fighting words.” But it is also not “fighting words” under any sane moral definition of “fighting words.” You have directly asserted that it is “fighting words.” You are wrong.

    I hope you understand the nature of our disagreement now. I can’t figure out why the sentence “Burning a Qur’an is not, by any sane legal or moral standard, incitement or ‘fighting words’” did not get the point across to you.

    Unfortunately, the radical murderers are _known_ not to be following any sane legal or moral standard. That’s why this isn’t black and white.

    Baloney. Jones is not morally responsible for the Afghani murderers’ “legal or moral standard.”

    The practical consequence throws a monkey wrench in the legal ideal.

    I did not rely in my reply to you on any “legal ideal,” and it’s beyond me why you pretend I did. It is your moral reasoning here that is ugly and false, not your disregard of some “legal ideal.”

    I’m just not following you where you say that I prefer giving thugs the moral authority to silence free speech.

    Evidently not. Your previous comment contained a harsh and vituperative declaration that “OF COURSE” Jones’ actions are incitement and “fighting words,” and that he bears substantial (potentially 100%!) responsibility for the deaths in Afghanistan.

    How you can write something so strongly condemnatory and then immediately forget that you wrote anything of the kind (simply describing what you did is a “bizarre accusation”?) I, again, don’t understand.

    You have repeatedly stated a moral judgment of Jones’ actions. That judgment necessarily places blame—not legal sanction, but moral sanction—on him for the homicides perpetrated by Afghani thugs. It is my contention that those declarations of yours are wrong, indeed evil. You are doing the thugs’ work for them: using the coercive power of moral condemnation (rather than law) to silence the speech that the thugs want silenced. You are wrong to collaborate with murderers in this way. You are wrong to attempt to silence speech because thugs want it silenced.

    And it appears you recognize it:

    Terrorists do have some unjust but effective power to stifle free speech, and unfortunately I admit we do boost their thuggish silencing power a little when we tell Jones to back off on burning Korans.

    That’s a courageous admission, but it’s an admission that what you are doing on this thread is wrong.

    It’s a fair moral criticism of Jones that he made a _really_ bad choice of which battle to fight….

    No, actually, it isn’t.

  44. #44 Rieux
    April 5, 2011

    Susan Jacoby gets it right (not that Jason didn’t):

    It is tedious to repeat, once again, that—as an atheist and a thinking human being—I disapprove of ignorant religious bigots like Jones, and of politicians, like New York’s Republican Rep. Peter King, who, to promote themselves and their right-wing agendas, engage in activities that question the loyalty of American Muslims as a group. But the idea that Jones is responsible for the savagery of those who murdered the first westerners they could get their hands on in Afghanistan represents multiculturalism run amuck.

    [....]

    Terry Jones is, as he ought to be, a pariah among mainstream American religious believers and among secular Americans. He ought to be a pariah not because he insulted someone else’s religion but because he is an ignorant representative of hate. But let us recall that all he did—and of course, he broadcast his video over the Internet—was place the Koran “on trial” before his online viewers chose the “punishment” of burning.

    [....]

    There is absolutely no moral equivalency between the symbolic act of one demented pastor—who apparently commands a congregation of only 30 warped souls—and revenge killings abetted by the voices of so-called religious leaders in Afghanistan.

    RTWT, of course.

  45. #45 Deepak Shetty
    April 5, 2011

    Im not sure I understand one thing though. Usually we are told that all these religious fights are not about religion , they are about foreign occupation / politics / poverty / choose your favorite excuse. Im wondering why the same people now think the act of religious insult is the cause of the murders. Surely they should be arguing it is the war in Afghanistan that is the culprit?

  46. #46 SoulmanZ
    April 5, 2011

    I find it very, very strange that a community of scientific, skeptical free thinkers is unwilling to consider an alternate viewpoint of the concept of free speech, fanatically so

    even though there is statisical evidence that the people in the countries I mentioned earlier are safer, happier, healthier and like their government more, apparently evidence not only doesnt modify opinion, IT ISNT EVEN WORTH DISCUSSING

    what we have is a preconception
    “free speech is a binary concept, and not having it makes life awful”

    answered by evidence
    “well, statistically comparing the country that believes that to others shows that you are wrong. They are better off, and value free speech with limitations”

    and instead of a real argument, like
    “oh, there are confounders. The stats are biased. They dont mean that”

    we get
    “You are the enemy of free speech. Fascist. You want to destroy everything”

    Sound familiar? Stop acting like religious nutjobs. Religious nutjobs that believe there is only one unquestionable way to live.

    You may be right, but you ARE ARGUING LIKE CREATIONISTS

  47. #47 Deepak Shetty
    April 5, 2011

    SoulmanZ
    I find it very, very strange that a community of scientific, skeptical free thinkers is unwilling to consider an alternate viewpoint of the concept of free speech, fanatically so
    Whatever makes you say that?. The blog post you are commenting on has Jason consider the alternate viewpoint (and disagree with it).
    No matter how offensive you might find it, book burning should not be considered a crime if you have bought your own copy and cannot be used as a justification for violence.

  48. #48 SoulmanZ
    April 5, 2011

    Deepak – that clearly is not true. I dont want to quote mine, but does

    Do I really need to give the lecture about how freedom of speech is meaningless if it doesn’t cover vile and offensive speech?

    sound like a consideration of the alternate viewpoint to you?

    I do agree though that the blogpost is far, far more reasonable than many of the comments that followed

    The evidence does not support that a dogmatic approach to free speech is in any way a positive. Saying that basic human rights cannot be assessed on a rational case basis is like arguing that because humans have the right to eat, they get to eat caviar at every meal, sorta. Not really (I hear another strident cry of strawman coming from a friend!), but kinda.

    Alternate view:
    You get to speak your mind. Just do it in a way that isnt intentionally, unreasonably inflammatory. Jones can give his sermons, but burning a cherished book for publicity? WBC can hate teh gayz, but shouting abuse at soldiers’ funerals?

    Humans have something called self-control. Freedom of speech is not the same as tourettes, it is the freedom to reasonably express your ideas. At least, that is a valid way to consider it, and one almost no-one here is willing to consider

    I can not think of any time in the last 5-10 years in Australia that someone was convicted for violating some legal idea of ‘restricted speech’, unless it was racial abuse, yet AT THE SAME TIME, we dont have Jones or the WBC or any other hate groups spewing their hate everywhere

    And on the other hand the USA is going out of its way to prosecute Assange, destroy Wikileaks and thus stifle freedom of speech/the press, and you actually have the First Amendment.

    Maybe the middle ground is actually pretty good? Behavioural economics 101 – people who understand an implied responsibility exercise it more often than those who think they have carte-blanche

  49. #49 itchy
    April 5, 2011

    Most people in the world, placed in their shoes, would not have behaved the way these folks behaved.

    Most people in Afghanistan — in their shoes — did not.

    @SoulmanZ:

    You get to speak your mind. Just do it in a way that isnt intentionally, unreasonably inflammatory.

    I completely agree with that. I just disagree that not doing so should be against the law. It should get you ridiculed. It might even get your ass kicked. But it should not get you put in jail.

    And I do not want to get put in jail for typing that. And, I assume, SoulmanZ does not want to be put in jail for what he types.

  50. #50 SoulmanZ
    April 5, 2011

    all I was saying though, was that in countries that have a less (on/off) sense of freedom of speech, no-one is put in jail for anything even vaguely in the realm of reasonable

    google “Bob brown’s bitch” for a good example – sexist hate speech given media coverage because the leader of the opposition spoke in front of that sign

    no-one contends the author should be imprisoned (in fact, the author got his 8 year old daughter to paint the sign … maybe child abuse?)

    but the weird approach in america leans towards not even criticising such assholes. The second someone says “well, that was not appropriate” we get normally rational people jumping up and down screaming “First Amendment”

    to the point where when something awful does happen, like Jones, then the discussion cant even be approached. All you get is hyperventilation about rights or something

  51. #51 Rieux
    April 5, 2011

    there is statisical evidence that the people in the countries I mentioned earlier are safer, happier, healthier and like their government more, apparently evidence not only doesnt modify opinion, IT ISNT EVEN WORTH DISCUSSING

    Please. Your glorious “evidence” is not relevant. Free expression is a human right. It means absolutely nothing how “safe,” “happy,” “healthy,” or pleased with their government residents of various nations are.

    You have repeatedly pretended that there is some kind of assertion somewhere in here that the United States is ideal in some respect. It is not. The First Amendment is a wonderful principle that the real-life United States continually fails to live up to—not to mention the myriad other problems that make our nation far less safe, happy, healthy, and free than we should be. And your notion that this discussion consists of Americans standing alone casting aspersions on other nations’ speech codes—as if there are no Europeans, Canadians, Australians, Indians, and others who loudly and bitterly oppose their governments’ censorship!—is simply lunacy.

    You have demonstrated shocking ignorance of the very nature of human rights. They are not subject to majority vote. They do not stand or fall on “statistical evidence.” They are, instead, the hard-won moral work of thousands of years of human civilization. You are evidently content to see at least one such inalienable human right hacked up and smothered (until the speech you feel moved to make is disfavored by the powers-that-be, no doubt)—but that places no obligation on anyone else to see matters the same way.

    You keep pretending that defending the human right to free expression is “fanaticism.” It is not. Cut it out.

    Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

    [....]

    Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

    [....]

    Article 19.

    Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

    – Universal Declaration of Human Righta

  52. #52 tomh
    April 6, 2011

    SoulmanZ wrote:
    but the weird approach in america leans towards not even criticising such assholes

    That’s obviously wrong. You can criticize all you want – we call it free speech. You can even criticize religion.

  53. #53 bad Jim
    April 6, 2011

    Our usual saying in such cases is that the remedy for offensive speech is more speech. We actually place such trust in the reasonableness of our fellow humans that we consider restriction of expression a worse threat than any mob.

    The U.S. hasn’t always been an exemplar of free speech, of course. Any number of people have been imprisoned for sedition or obscenity, and a dependable chorus continues to demand criminalizing unpopular expression, like burning the flag.

    Perhaps we hold to our absolutist patrimony (“Congress shall make no law”) as the only way to keep our local crazies at bay. We still stand as an example that such unlimited freedom, in an extravagantly diverse nation, actually works pretty well.

  54. #54 SoulmanZ
    April 6, 2011

    Good point Jim, that may be the first rational reason I have heard…

    The fact those crazies already exist there make implementing a nuanced policy quite difficult

    I just dont like the immediate leap to the first ammendment when free speech is criticised

    Rieux – well at least, although still being an asshole, you are actually arguing against a specific point rather than just arguing my view is wrong without a reason, so I will answer

    You act like human rights were decided at one point, and never change. There is something veeeeery religious about that

    Finland just made access to the internet a basic human right for it’s population. What do you say about that? A new human right? Do you agree, or would you argue it isn’t a real human right because it isnt considered so elswhere (no true scotsman). If so, where is the real list of Human Rights? The stone tablet of rights, so to speak?

    If you say the UN, then who are you to decide how a country interprets this

    Article 19.
    Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers

    If you cannot even see that no-where does it say that the right of free speech is a no holds barred shout off, then you clearly arent reading it.

    Every person has the right to ‘impart … ideas … regardless of frontiers”. Those are the only words that support your side of things here, and as you can see they are pretty darn vague.

    I will draw your attention to other key areas of the declaration, since you seem to like this stuff

    KEY POINT

    Article 30
    Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

    Now, that there aint no vague thang. Right?

    So, what is it free speech ‘may not’ destroy?

    Article 1
    All human beings … should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood

    hmm… that doesnt sound like you can say whatever you want if it isnt in a spirit of brotherhood

    what else?

    Article 3
    Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person

    So … the UN agrees that free speech DOES NOT trump the right to life or security for others? That seems relevant

    any others?

    Article 5
    No one shall be subjected to … degrading treatment

    oh … like burning a worshipped book? Maybe? Cant degrade others in exercising of freedom of speech? Also sounds kinda relevant here.

    Seems to me, in quoting the UN, you done screwed up

    I will not have the arrogance to say there isnt leeway in any of those statements, open to some interpretation, but anyone with half a brain can see that article 30 states your rights exist UNTIL they remove the rights of others

  55. #55 eric
    April 6, 2011

    SoulmanZ: all I was saying though, was that in countries that have a less (on/off) sense of freedom of speech, no-one is put in jail for anything even vaguely in the realm of reasonable

    No one?

    No one at all?*

    Are you sure?

    Really sure?

    There are multiple counter-examples to your position around the world, every year, where governments jail people for expressing their opinion.

    *Now, I’m not defending all of the positions in those examples. In particular, I think holocaust deniers are a bunch of crazy racists. But if you think putting someone in jail for 6 years for saying the holocaust didn’t happen is reasonable, you’re crazier than they are.

  56. #56 tomh
    April 6, 2011

    SoulmanZ wrote:
    Article 5
    No one shall be subjected to … degrading treatment

    oh … like burning a worshipped book?

    That must sound silly, even to you. Burning a book = degrading treatment? On what planet?

  57. #57 Rieux
    April 6, 2011

    Rieux – well at least, although still being an asshole, you are actually arguing against a specific point rather than just arguing my view is wrong without a reason….

    What a joke. I have buried you in reasons, as well as in evidence of your unbelievable ignorance of the very matters you see fit to pontificate about.

    Now you answer with blind nonsense that, besides continuing your assault on the human right of free expression, overtly accepts the Afghani thugs’ moral theory. You are simply disgusting.

    Then, if you don’t like hostility, if you don’t like being treated like a sociopath, I suggest you stop advocating destroying human rights. Scorn is a perfectly ordinary social shaming mechanism, and you are earning it in spades, over and over.

    Finally, though your convenient amnesia has apparently obscured this fact, my citation of the UDHR was a rebuttal to your absurd pretense that your opponents’ argument is based on nothing but a peculiarly American obsession with the First Amendment. That, like your ignorant declaration that human rights are subject to majority rule, is bullshit—and the fact that human-rights declarations the world over protect the freedom of speech demonstrates it. Your attempts to pretend that free expression is parochial American silliness are both ugly and false, as the UDHR demonstrates.

    Then, your analysis of law is predictably incompetent:

    If you cannot even see that no-where does it say that the right of free speech is a no holds barred shout off, then you clearly arent reading it.

    Of course free speech isn’t “a no holds barred [sic] shout off.” That concept is nothing more than your feverish, mindless strawman distortion of the human right you want to destroy.

    The actual human right to free speech isn’t “a no holds barred [sic] shout off.” It’s just free from the tyrannical coercion you see fit to strangle it with. Your ignorant confusion doesn’t change human rights or the laws protecting same.

    hmm… that doesnt sound like you can say whatever you want if it isnt in a spirit of brotherhood

    Wow. You are a wannabe dictator. You seriously think your self-serving notions of “brotherhood” obliterate any and all human rights that you don’t like. What a disgrace.

    So … the UN agrees that free speech DOES NOT trump the right to life or security for others? That seems relevant

    To a dishonest reprobate, perhaps. Terry Jones’s speech did nothing whatsoever to “trump the right to life or security for others.” You can continue pretending that the Afghani murderers are not people but a mindless “poison” (nice condescending-if-not-unbelievably-racist metaphor there), but that’s bullshit, as you should be well aware.

    Jones burned his own property. Afghani terrorists violated others’ “right to life [and] security.” As long as you keep pretending you don’t see that, your position will remain obscene.

    No one shall be subjected to … degrading treatment

    oh … like burning a worshipped book? Maybe?

    You can’t be serious. You actually think that burning a “worshipped book” is (“maybe”—how cute) a violation of the worshippers’ human rights?

    I’m sorry; that’s the utter end of any credibility you may have had left as an ethical decisionmaker. You would subordinate free speech to the whims of others’ objects of “worship.” Simply unbelievable.

    Cant degrade others in exercising of freedom of speech?

    Wow. You have accepted the Afghani thugs’ moral theory that treating a book in a way they don’t like is a “degrading” attack on them.

    What barbaric idiocy. Terry Jones may be a freaky fundamentalist loon, but you would baldfacedly immolate bedrock human rights. How utterly shameful.

  58. #58 Gingerbaker
    April 6, 2011

    Ken said:

    “@16…sophistry does not become you.

    The Supreme Court decided that Phelps was within his rights to protest where they protest — which is in the vicinity of and at the time of a service member’s funeral.

    Essig declares such things to be an intolerable offense and would ban such things.

    There is not one millimeter’s or millisecond’s difference between what the Supreme Court ALLOWS and what Essig would BAN. Your attempt to move the goalposts notwithstanding.”

    Nonsense. You missed the point of my post and you missed the entire point of the S.C. decision.

    The court ruled that Phelps did not break any laws because they were so far away from the funeral they could not have disrupted it. In fact, the petitioner did not even know that Phelps et al had conducted a protest, and was only informed about it sometime after he returned home.

    As I said, the S.C. hinted that the time and place restrictions now in place would likely be constitutional. So, when Essig “…declares such things to be an intolerable offense and would ban such things…” she is right! If Phelps ever was to get so physically close to a funeral as to violate a time and place restriction, they would be breaking an almost certainly constitutional law.

    Get your act together before accusing someone of sophistry next time.

  59. #59 eric
    April 6, 2011

    Gingerbaker: In fact, the petitioner did not even know that Phelps et al had conducted a protest, and was only informed about it sometime after he returned home.

    Good point, and also very pertinent to the Koran case. The Afghani individuals who committed murder were similarly not aware of the burning, and were similarly only informed of it through third parties sometime afterwards.

    But I doubt this point will change any minds. The folks who want to censor Jones would probably also happily censor the Phelps’.

  60. #60 altın çilek
    April 6, 2011

    Then, if you don’t like hostility, if you don’t like being treated like a sociopath, I suggest you stop advocating destroying human rights. Scorn is a perfectly ordinary social shaming mechanism, and you are earning it in spades, over and over.

  61. #61 SoulmanZ
    April 6, 2011

    Rieux, once again, out

    back to blind bloodyminded assertions. read my last paragraph, clearly nothing you said is even relevant, just more “I am the only one who can have a view on this”

    and [sic]? for what? spelling words correctly? clear troll

    eric: thanks for actually using examples. I disagree with your examples for several reasons, but can’t deny they are relevant

    Sorry, but to me this discussion is getting a little tedious (not your fault, law troll is lawing), so unless you specifically want me to go through the moral ambiguities I see in those cases or the lack of connection they have to my statement, lets just agree to disagree on the fact that even if you have examples, it doesnt change the fact that humans rights abuses in USA, where freedom of speech is enshrined, are easily as bad, and in my view worse, than similar places where it is implied and malleable

    That is my one and only point. Very few other places in the world will you get shouted down for suggesting freedom of speech is not the primary concern in assessing provocation in volatile situations. I think the view does America a disservice in general, and American skeptics a disservice in particular

    Cheers

  62. #62 SoulmanZ
    April 6, 2011

    eric – I didnt see your post before my last reply -

    I (cant speak for others here) am not arguing against you. That is a very valid point. This would certainly be a very difficult case to get a conviction on

    But the fact some approach this with “you are crazy for even considering it” just irks me. Irks me bad.

    tomh – degrading to me appears to be a subjective test right? It isnt for you to decide, it is for the recipient of the treatment
    Rightly or wrongly (well … wrongly, but we accept it) these particular Muslims (and technically all Muslims via the teachings) WORSHIP the book. People hold to this to varying degrees, but according to a fairly literal reading of the Koran it could be argued that to these people burning the Koran (any Koran) would feel the same/be as degrading as defacing a church, or a graveyard, or to be totally literal – burning God.

    How you feel about those opinions verges on irrelevant. Surely you accept that someone can feel degraded when the most important belief in their life is torn down?

    actually, since I am back and talking, I better answer eric for the links he put up.

    Eric – the china link is clearly outside the scope of this discussion of ‘countries who value human rights to a similar degree’
    The other ones are very relevant. I think later I had restricted myself to Austalia, because I assumed this was the case in Europe. But the thing I challenge here (warning: relativism approaching) is that the history of those events, and the societal desire to never repeat them again, is actually of consequence.

    I cannot dismiss them outright. But I think I have eventually fallen on the side of making additional effort to not offend minority groups. I know that itself is a very contentious idea here (ie female athiests and why they dont get involved), but at the end of the day I come down to pragmatism again.

    Deep seated psychological damage does not disappear if you tell someone to ‘toughen up’. No human right was ever gained by a population by a light-switch moment, it was by a struggle for acknowledgment, that had to be followed by a concerted pro-rights effort to nullify and excise the social inertia of the previous approach.

    So, you are not wrong. Those examples are all valid. I just see extenuation, and a very specific, very narrow exception

  63. #63 Rieux
    April 7, 2011

    Soulman:

    back to blind bloodyminded assertions….

    Yes, that seems to be your stock-in-trade. Why you bring this barbarism into any discussion forum I can’t understand.

    read my last paragraph

    You posted some meaningless mealy-mouthed weasel words in an attempt to blur the offensiveness of the moral theory you were (and are) pushing. You failed. Your argument is disgusting, notwithstanding your “Or maybe not, I’m not certain, y’know, just suggesting” nonsense.

    just more “I am the only one who can have a view on this”

    What rot. You are perfectly entitled to your view on anything and everything. It just so happens that your view (1) is directly contrary to the human right to free expression and (2) helps murderous thugs silence their opponents.

    You have every right to hold disgusting views. The rest of us have every right—and also a certain level of responsibility—to point out that they are disgusting.

    and [sic]? for what? spelling words correctly?

    Your ignorance is truly stunning. It just doesn’t stop. (More to the point, it just doesn’t stop you from shooting your mouth off about matters on which you are clueless.)

    Hooray, it’s time to give you some remedial education again.

    You used “no holds barred” as an adjective, modifying “shout off.” But “no holds barred” is not an adjective. As a result, it requires hyphens. And, indeed, “shout-off” requires a hyphen as well. As a result, the correct formulation is “no-holds-barred shout-off.” You omitted the hyphens, which is wrong—thus “[sic]” is called for.

    So for the umpteenth time, you declare something (“clear troll”) that is in fact merely a product of your ignorance. It’s continually depressing.

  64. #64 Deepak Shetty
    April 7, 2011

    @SoulmanZ
    sound like a consideration of the alternate viewpoint to you?
    Yes – Jason is treating you like an adult. Surely it must be obvious to you that free speech is intended to cover the unpleasant cases ? if everyone is preaching love , peace and happiness you wouldn’t need a free speech laws.

    Just do it in a way that isnt intentionally, unreasonably inflammatory.
    and who decides what is “unreasonably” inflammatory? Is drawing a cartoon inflammatory? Is walking without a male chaperone/choosing a male of a different religion “unreasonably” inflammatory? is burning a book “unreasonably” inflammatory”? would burning a flag be “unreasonably” inflammatory? Also most symbolic protest would fall foul of your rule. And for what purpose? That some peoples feeling should not be hurt?

    You want to make rules on stuff that is clearly subjective. You also dont really seem to follow what happens when blasphemy laws are in place (look at some incidents in pakistan). The alternate view you propose have been misused and will continue to be misused.
    You are mistaken when you think Jason and others dont consider these views. We have considered them and we dont think they are right. If you have a stronger case to present , then do that first.

    Jones can do the crap he wants. Everyone including people who dislike Islam uniformly agree he is an ass. What exactly is the problem here? What would you do in Australia? jail him?

    Second your focus is on the wrong issue. What is the more immediate problem?
    That some bigot will burn a religious book? OR
    That some religious people think that offending their religion should be met with violent reprisals?

  65. #65 SoulmanZ
    April 7, 2011

    Deepak –

    who decides what is ‘unreasonably’ inflammatory?

    that is what an independant judiciary is for! To decide what laws mean to untested situations seperated from the political powers that run the country

    is that the problem? That you dont trust the judiciary to be able to walk a difficult morally ambiguous line and come out with the right answer?

    You dont make rules on stuff that is subjective, you make general rules about principles and then apply them case by case. Why else would be even have a judiciary? We should be able to match people to crimes and punish them by algorithm

    What would I (or we?) do in Australia? We certainly allow cases to be brought based on actions that challenge freedom of speech. Search Andrew Bolt for a topical one

    And if you do, know this. We debate whether freedom of speech trumps (in this case) racial abuse. We (and I) do not see this as cut and dried “oh, freedom of speech is nothing. Lets trample it”.

    We also accept that sometimes freedom of speech can be over-ruled by other considerations. Occasionally. In extreme circumstances.

    The UN declaration of rights spells it out clearly in 30 – regardless of what you apply it to, there is legal latitude to restrict someones rights if to do otherwise ‘destroys’ the rights of others.

    Hell, that is what prison is. Everyone has the right to freedom, remember?

  66. #66 eric
    April 7, 2011

    SoulmanZ: The UN declaration of rights spells it out clearly in 30 – regardless of what you apply it to, there is legal latitude to restrict someones rights if to do otherwise ‘destroys’ the rights of others.

    How does burning a book in FL destroy the rights of Afghani muslims? In all your posts, you have yet to explain this.

    Let me phrase it another way: if Jones’ expression of his opinion about islam can be regulated because it offends people in Afghanistan, then SoulmanZ’s expression of his opnion about speech rights can be regulated because it offends people (like me) in the U.S. Right?

    What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. You’re the gander. Be very careful what sauce you put on the goose.

  67. #67 Gingerbaker
    April 7, 2011

    eric said:

    “…The Afghani individuals who committed murder were similarly not aware of the burning, and were similarly only informed of it through third parties sometime afterwards…

    Yup. And that “third party” was Hamid Karzai, the POS militant Islam enabler we (the U.S.) have spent billions supposedly in the name of democracy, freedom, and peace.

  68. #68 Rieux
    April 7, 2011

    SoulmanZ:

    We (and I) do not see this as cut and dried “oh, freedom of speech is nothing. Lets trample it”.

    However you fawningly choose to “see” it, that is in fact your position. You just lie—including, it appears, to yourself—about it.

    The UN declaration of rights spells it out clearly in 30 – regardless of what you apply it to, there is legal latitude to restrict someones rights if to do otherwise ‘destroys’ the rights of others.

    So what? Terry Jones’ exercise of his right to free expression didn’t “destroy” anyone else’s rights in any manner at all.

    It is your constant willful blindness to that reality—and to the consequences of studiously continuing your blindness—that are so offensive. You keep pretending that burning a Qur’an violates someone else’s rights. It doesn’t. And the notion that it does is flat-out tyranny. Shame on you for continually assuming it.

  69. #69 Lenoxuss
    April 7, 2011

    Burning a Quran harms Muslims in exactly the same way that my holding the cowboy toy instead of the astronaut toy harms my very particular (and sometimes very fussy) two-yeard-old nephews. (“No, no, you play with Buzz! Not Woody! Nooo!”) They think I’m making them miserable, but they’re only doing it to themselves. They have the excuse of being two, of course.

    If what I’m implying sounds offensive to certain Muslims, consider it in another light: It’s intentionally respectful. Just as I think that Muslim men are mature and intelligent enough to restrain themselves around a burqa-free woman, so to do I think they can hear thirdhand about some crazy pastor without releasing their anger by violent means.

    Arguments I’m reading here are quite similar to the most common argument I’ve ever heard against same-sex marriage — that it somehow violates the rights of all the Americans who oppose it, simply by occurring. (Furthermore, the preferences of said Americans are relevant because they are religious preferences, and it’s a God-given right that one’s religious preferences must be followed by others so long as, y’know, it’s not some crazy religion.)

    soulmanZ @ 54:

    You act like human rights were decided at one point, and never change. There is something veeeeery religious about that

    Just because religion has the tendency to maintain unexamined tenets for thousands of years past their expiration date, while science and reason continually update their views, does not mean that an old idea can’t possibly be completely right. That’s reversed stupidity.

    If this were so, it would make reality incoherent — no matter what you learned, you would be wrong about it in a thousand years. The Sun remains hot “despite” people having believed so for a very long time. And just like the Sun, the principles of free speech should continue to be observed, analyzed, and discussed in the great Enlightment conversation. I could ultimately be wrong about it, but in this conversation, I’ll continue to defend my near-”absolutist” views.

    To assume that “nuanced” is generally good is, at some level, to accept the golden mean fallacy. In fact, at least some things can be always good, or always bad. Absolutes can be correct.

  70. #70 SoulmanZ
    April 7, 2011

    Hang on, to everyone who replied after me, slow down

    We were arguing a concept – that freedom of speech either is or isnt violable if other rights would be impaired by that freedom

    And your defense of the absolutist approach to free speech is “Well, Jones only caused offense”

    The very fact you argue “he wasn’t bad enough” must mean that, at some level, you can see “inalienable” rights can be modified by obscene actions

    The right to life and security doesnt usually allow for pre-emptive ethnic cleansing for example

    last time I can repeat the same thing:
    I am not arguing for Jones to be put away without a fair trial, that in all likelihood he would win. I AM ARGUING FOR LEAVING BEHIND THIS CHILDISH NOTION THAT THE RIGHT OF FREEDOM OF SPEECH IS PRIMARY AND INVIOLABLE AMONG ALL RIGHTS

    If you can accept that premise, then you can see my apporach has merit. Not that Jones is guilty in Law, but that he is challengable in Law. And that someone who says so shouldnt get yelled down

    Len – absolutes can be correct in areas with evidential basis, ie. science, and even then you would wanna step very very carefully before claiming something is inviolable. To claim absolute knowledge in human interaction at this stage of knowledge (we may get a better understanding of brains and societies down the track) IS religious. I don’t know how the group here (by and large athiest scientists I assume) cannot see the dissonance between this view and their other beliefs.

    You are literally saying “I, or the group I am part of, hold the absolute moral law”. How would you respond to a Christian who said that?

  71. #71 SoulmanZ
    April 7, 2011

    And just so you all know, I am no relativist. I am an absolutist, I guess. I am not using absolutist as a bad word.

    I absolutely think the right way to be is to have some scope to judge actions based on their outcome, regardless of what ‘moral law’ that might violate. In other words, I support article 30 of the UN declaration of rights, absolutely.

  72. #72 Rieux
    April 7, 2011

    We were arguing a concept – that freedom of speech either is or isnt violable if other rights would be impaired by that freedom

    No, “we” are not arguing about that. You keep bringing that up despite being bludgeoned over the head repeatedly with the evidence that there is not the slightest hint of actual “other rights being impaired by that freedom” in the Jones case. It is your very pretense that Jones’ right to free expression is pitted against any other right in this case that is ludicrous and obscene.

    Recognizing, respecting, and vindicating Jones’ right to free expression requires no impairment to anyone else’s rights. None. Zero. Your utter refusal to entertain (or quite possibly even comprehend) that reality has long since become absurd.

    And your defense of the absolutist approach to free speech is “Well, Jones only caused offense”

    “Absolutism” is a red-herring figment of your imagination. You are opposing the right to free speech; others here are defending it. There’s nothing “absolutist” about either.

    And there is in fact nothing troublesome to free speech to be inferred from “Well, Jones only caused offense.” Speech that merely causes offense is, in and of itself, core free expression. In contrast, statements like “You take care of Paulie. I don’t ever want to see him again. Understood?” or “I never knowingly used performance enhancing drugs” are properly considered blameworthy (and illegal), under particular circumstances, in part because “offense” has nothing to do with that conclusion.

    You have utterly baselessly inferred that your opponents would never accept any curtailment on speech whatsoever, no matter what conflicts arose with other actual rights. It’s a sign of the enormous blinders, not to mention the ignorance, that you bring to this exchange.

    Terry Jones burning a Qur’an that belongs to him violates no one’s rights. None. The mental gymnastics that you require to pretend that it does are frightening.

    This case involves “balancing” free speech against nothing. As a result, of course free speech must prevail. That’s not “absolutism,” however much you pretend otherwise.

    I AM ARGUING FOR LEAVING BEHIND THIS CHILDISH NOTION THAT THE RIGHT OF FREEDOM OF SPEECH IS PRIMARY AND INVIOLABLE AMONG ALL RIGHTS

    How cute. Now if any of your opponents had argued in favor of anything resembling that “CHILDISH NOTION,” maybe your hollering would look less ridiculous.

    If you can accept that premise, then you can see my apporach has merit.

    Fail. The fatal flaws with “your approach” have nothing to do with “invio…” I mean, “INVIOLABILITY.”

    And that someone who says so shouldnt get yelled down

    You’re not being “yelled down.” You are advocating the destruction of an inalienable human right. That’s morally objectionable, and you are being predictably (and properly) criticized for doing it.

    You have the right to free speech, but the same goes for those who see the need to call your horrendous ideas by their right name.

  73. #73 Rieux
    April 7, 2011

    I absolutely think the right way to be is to have some scope to judge actions based on their outcome, regardless of what ‘moral law’ that might violate.

    In this case, that places you directly in league with terrorists. Shame on you.

    In other words, I support article 30 of the UN declaration of rights, absolutely.

    What a joke. Your very argument violates Article 30! “[E]ngag[ing] in an[ ] activity … aimed at the destruction of a[ ] … right[ ] and freedom[ ] set forth herein”—that is, the freedom of speech—is precisely what you’re doing!

  74. #74 Deepak Shetty
    April 7, 2011

    is that the problem? That you dont trust the judiciary to be able to walk a difficult morally ambiguous line and come out with the right answer?
    No that isnt it. Do you really want a judge to decide this? Do your courts have that much spare time? Would you have punishments for frivolous accusations? How do you prevent your blasphemy laws from being misused? You do realize that you would have most gnu’s put in jail(or some punishment) because a good number of critics think their writings are unreasonably inflammatory? And again for what?
    because someone decided to burn a religious book?
    it certainly sounds you have a solution and you are looking for a problem to apply it to.

    there is legal latitude to restrict someones rights if to do otherwise ‘destroys’ the rights of others
    And of course no one denies that. The question is do you have the right to not be offended. Most of us land down on the side of no! emphatically , NO!. And especially not for religion.
    You cannot police racists and bigots and other assorted schmucks. You could of course make it unacceptable socially and shame or shun such people. There is no need to involve courts for such matters (again with a consideration of what is gained and what is lost).

  75. #75 Deepak Shetty
    April 7, 2011

    I AM ARGUING FOR LEAVING BEHIND THIS CHILDISH NOTION THAT THE RIGHT OF FREEDOM OF SPEECH IS PRIMARY AND INVIOLABLE AMONG ALL RIGHTS
    But that’s a strawman. Most people agree you cant shout fire in a crowded theatre . Most people agree you cannot have direct incitement to violence / murder.

    The specific case we are arguing about is perceived offense to religious sensibilities. It is in this context that you must make your argument , and it is in this context your arguments will be evaluated.

  76. #76 SoulmanZ
    April 7, 2011

    Yeah, I kinda think everyone is taking one of 2 sides here, a false dichotomy, when there are multiple variations

    When I made that ‘strawman’ I wasnt arguing against you Deepak. You say “most people agree” but clearly some people dont. Some that are arguing so hard they are derailing what would otherwise be a reasonable discussion

    You and eric are good, you argue logistics/implementation or concerns re: precedent setting, even from principle. Thats cool

    I still disagree that a judiciary wont be able to tell the difference between actions that lead to murder and actions that lead to insult, but we clearly have different opinions of our respective countries’ judiciaries

    I was arguing that Jones set in motion a chain of events he personally could have predicted could lead to deaths. I struggle to see how that apprach could lead to the prosecution and jailing of gnu athiests, but if you really feel that is a fair bow to draw, that is how you feel about it

    Lets stop falling for what probably is very commited trolling and letting ourselves be herded into 2 diametrically opposed groups, when clearly we believe shades of grey here

    I was only ever arguing so vehemently against the idea that freedom of speech can never be restricted. I dont think that was a strawman, if you read this thread

  77. #77 tomh
    April 8, 2011

    SoulmanZ wrote:

    I was only ever arguing so vehemently against the idea that freedom of speech can never be restricted.

    You’ve been arguing for a lot more than that. You argue that Pastor Jones should be tried for some crime, convicted, and presumably, locked up. In a lot of countries in the world that would be exactly what would happen. For instance, Malaysia just announced that non-Muslims who recite from the Qu’ran may be prosecuted and punished by imprisonment and fines. “This is to ensure that racial harmony is maintained,” according to a minister of the government. This would seem to be the kind of law you are advocating for, where criticism of religion is not allowed. That way harmony will be preserved.

  78. #78 SoulmanZ
    April 8, 2011

    tomh – I dont think that is true. I have argued for the concept vehemently, not the specific circumstance

    The only mention of Jones I have made is when others questioned my personal opinion, at which point I said “this is my personal opinion, not what I consider a ‘correct’ response – he is guilty”

    When I was asked directly, I answered my opinion. I think he has done wrong. Please also note I was being called ‘weasel-y’ for not providing my own opinion. That started on another thread, and followed me here.

    I have not once argued that I thought “he should be locked up”. In fact, I did say “he would probably win a trial”

    Please also read some of the first responses in this thread to see how well people could accept the concept that some free speech shouldnt be protected

    Seriously, you think I have been advocating Malaysian style laws? Did you read anything I have written?

    If it helps for me to clearly state my opinion – I dont believe freedom of speech should be restricted except in super extreme circumstances, when lives or wellbeing is in clear and present danger. I dont think ‘personal offense’ is enough to fulfil this, but even that has grey zones. Personal offence is enough to get schoolkids to commit suicide following bullying (otherwise known as free speech), and I dont think that should be protected

    In this case, the Jones thing, the primary fact for me was that he was told prior to acting by people who should be listened to that his actions would lead to the very deaths they ended up causing

    There is no real way to reconcile fore-knowledge of deadly action with lack of guilt in my mind. Feel free to argue against that though, but let me know what you think too

    If you truly believe that free speech requires the strictest proximal cause test imaginable, then please address the above bullying issue

  79. #79 SoulmanZ
    April 8, 2011

    Sorry, that last paragraph reads wrong. Instead read:

    “if you believe that restricting free speech due to resultant deaths requires a stricter proximal cause test than I advocate, please address the bullying issue”

    Dont wanna lead anyone off track

  80. #80 eric
    April 8, 2011

    SoulmanZ: I still disagree that a judiciary wont be able to tell the difference between actions that lead to murder and actions that lead to insult, but we clearly have different opinions of our respective countries’ judiciaries

    You think Jones’ action lead to murder and I think it lead to insult. If the two of us can’t agree on this, why do you think a judiciary will do a better job at it?

    What if you get a judiciary of people like me? Are you going to accept the result?

    I was arguing that Jones set in motion a chain of events he personally could have predicted could lead to deaths. I struggle to see how that apprach could lead to the prosecution and jailing of gnu athiests,

    Jones might have predicted that other people would respond to his speech with violence. That is the heckler’s veto. What is to prevent some religious fanatic from threatening to respond to atheist speech in the same way? You seem to completely ignore the problem that the heckler’s veto can be applied to any speech, not just speech you don’t like. So if you argue that its legitimate in this case, you’re going to be stuck with calling it legitimate in other cases.

    There is no real way to reconcile fore-knowledge of deadly action with lack of guilt in my mind.

    If you post to this thread again, I’ll squirt my cat with a water gun. According to your logic, that makes you guilty for what I do to my cat.

    If you don’t post any responses, I’ll take your silence as agreement. Any post in response will be taken as an admission that you don’t believe your own argument applies to you – i.e., hypocrisy.

  81. #81 Rieux
    April 8, 2011

    SoulmanZ:

    When I made that ‘strawman’ I wasnt arguing against you Deepak. You say “most people agree” but clearly some people don’t.

    Yeah? Such as who? Who here has argued that it’s acceptable to falsely shout “fire” in a crowded theatre?

    Your mindless misunderstandings of your opponents’ arguments bear little resemblance to we are actually arguing.

    Some that are arguing so hard they are derailing what would otherwise be a reasonable discussion

    Oh, you poor, poor dear! Is someone “arguing too hard” against your attempts to destroy the freedom of expression? How unfortunate for you.

    I still disagree that a judiciary wont be able to tell the difference between actions that lead to murder and actions that lead to insult….

    Obviously some “judiciaries” frequently can, which is why there are plenty of jurisdictions in which your theories would be laughed out of court. It is your opponents here who can “tell the difference between actions that lead to murder and actions that lead to insult.” It’s just that you are advocating obliterating that difference, at least whenever the murderers declare that they’ll kill people whenever they’re insulted.

    Why do you trust “a judiciary” to make a decision that you yourself clearly aren’t capable of?

    we clearly have different opinions of our respective countries’ judiciaries

    How delightfully snide. That’s right, defenders of human rights are just judge-haters. Sure.

    I was arguing that Jones set in motion a chain of events he personally could have predicted could lead to deaths. I struggle to see how that apprach could lead to the prosecution and jailing of gnu atheists….

    Some of us are “arguing hard” because you are making it continually clear, in statements like that, that you refuse to think about this issue. It is obvious how “that apprach [sic] could lead to the prosecution and jailing of gnu atheists.” You can’t be that slow.

    Here, I’ll spell it out for you.

    1. Reacting to a Florida college student being sent up on disciplinary charges for “disrespecting” the Eucharist at a Catholic service held on the grounds of the public university the student attends, biologist and outspoken Gnu Atheist blogger D.G. Wyers decides to ask his readers to “score” some Catholic communion wafers and send them to his home in Worris, Illinois, so that he can publicly disrespect them.

    2. Eucharist Defense League leader and violent fugitive Gilliam Bonohue, speaking from an undisclosed location in a heavily Catholic neighborhood in Boston, Massachusetts, publicly declares that if Wyers follows through on his threats to desecrate the Eucharist, the Defense League will kill all representatives of the anti-Catholic state of Illinois his group can get their hands on.

    3. The FBI informs Wyers that Bonohue’s threats are credible, and that the Defense League has killed before.

    4. Wyers follows through on his threat, pounding a rusty nail through a communion wafer (as well as several other things); throwing it in the trash; dumping garbage on it; photographing said wafer, nail, and garbage; and posting the photo on his blog.

    5. Bonohue and the Defense League retaliate by blowing up the visitor’s clubhouse at Fenway Park in Boston hours before a scheduled game, killing 47 players, coaches, and staff of the Chicago White Sox.

    6. The Illinois State Police and FBI, following esteemed jurist SoulmanZ‘s legal theory, arrest Wyers for 47 counts of incitement of murder. He’s convicted and sentenced to several hundred years in state prison.

    There you go, pal. Your glorious legal theory leads to the prosecution and jailing of Gnu Atheists; all it takes is for a religious thug to be bloody-minded enough to make credible threats of violence and then carry them out.

    If you don’t think American Catholics are prone to such things (and generally they aren’t), then how about Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris writing something that moves some group of Muslims to riot and kill? Your theory slaps the shackles on them just as readily as it does on Jones.

    Or how about a matter of historical fact? A gentleman named Salman Rushdie (who is very clearly a Gnu Atheist by any philosophical definition of that term) once wrote a novel that deeply offended millions of Muslims. Numerous people have died as a result of Rushdie’s speech. Under your theory, Rushdie should be in prison—and yet you have the gall to say something as clueless as “I struggle to see how [your] apprach [sic] could lead to the prosecution and jailing of gnu atheists”? Unbelievable.

    I was only ever arguing so vehemently against the idea that freedom of speech can never be restricted. I dont think that was a strawman, if you read this thread

    No one here has ever asserted “that freedom of speech can never be restricted.” Whether you have actually been “read[ing] this thread” with any comprehension is entirely in question.

    tomh, then SoulmanZ:

    You argue that Pastor Jones should be tried for some crime, convicted, and presumably, locked up.

    I dont think that is true. I have argued for the concept vehemently, not the specific circumstance

    What an absurd lie. Thankfully, you don’t have the power to whitewash history—in which, on Monday, on the previous thread, you declared:

    I think he is guilty of incitement to murder.

    Why must you try to pretend that you didn’t argue for direct criminal sanctions against Jones? Whatever you now want to pretend, you did.

    The only mention of Jones I have made is when others questioned my personal opinion, at which point I said “this is my personal opinion, not what I consider a ‘correct’ response – he is guilty”

    Another lie. You said nothing of the kind until you got heavy pushback from people willing to call you out on your behavior. “I think he is guilty of incitement to murder” was never leavened by any such wishy-washy nonsense. Stop lying. “I think he is guilty” means “I think he is guilty.”

    I have not once argued that I thought “he should be locked up”.

    Oh, right. “Guilty of incitement to murder” you did say, but “he should be locked up”? Heavens, no! How could anyone think that was what you had in mind? Obviously you think people who are guilty of incitement to murder should be allowed to roam the streets freely.

    How laughably dishonest do you intend to be?

    Please also read some of the first responses in this thread to see how well people could accept the concept that some free speech shouldnt be protected

    “Some of the first responses in this thread”? As in which of them?

    You have shown a total inability to tell the difference between (a) the Jones case and (b) the broader question of what should happen when the freedom of speech comes into conflict with other actual human rights. You continually pretend that (a) and (b) are the same thing, despite being shown repeatedly that the two are fundamentally different.

    Now, pretending that everyone else suffers from your peculiar confusion, you claim that comments addressing (a) are in fact addressing (b). They aren’t. On this point, I guess you’re not lying; you’re just continuing to be clueless. I wish you’d stop that, too.

  82. #82 tomh
    April 8, 2011

    SoulmanZ wrote:
    Seriously, you think I have been advocating Malaysian style laws?

    That’s exactly what you are advocating. After all, you wrote, “I am not arguing for Jones to be put away without a fair trial,” which, in plain English, means that the Christian pastor should be arrested and tried for the crime of giving offense to Muslims somewhere in the world. In Malaysia, if non-Muslims quote from the Koran it gives offense to Muslims, and the perpetrators will be arrested and tried (fairly, of course). Exactly the same type of law you seem to think should be in place in the US.

  83. #83 SoulmanZ
    April 8, 2011

    eric – yes, if the judiciary exonerated Jones, I would accept it. I would still lobby government for laws that protect people from direct harm, even if ‘direct’ isn’t swing fist, break face. I think humans are capable of understanding causation

    We always say here correlation does not equal casuation, but in this setting it is flipped on it’s head. We have murders that would not have happened without Jones’ action. That, at a basic level, is causation

    Don’t get it mixed up with correlation, and say nothing can be done

    tomh – I think my answer to Eric answers you too. I would respect the judiciary, and their decision. I don’t agree with them on a lot of things, but overall they are the legal glue of the country, and even in the US they really do have a decent hand on the till

    Can either of you explain a counte-argument to prosecuting bullies in schools, where their words over a long period of time (no proximate cause, no single causative event) lead to death?

    Would you not want these bullies held accountable for the suicide they force other kids into? Their parents not held accountable? The school not held accountable?

    Answer that, and we may get a little closer together on this issue, or perhaps I will come to understand where y’all stand a little better. Either way, profit!

  84. #84 Deepak Shetty
    April 8, 2011

    You say “most people agree” but clearly some people dont. Some that are arguing so hard they are derailing what would otherwise be a reasonable discussion
    I don’t think thats the case – I dont think anyone is contradicting a general freedom of speech may conflict other rights(Im assuming you are referring to Rieux). I think most people here don’t want the courts involved for perceived religious offense due to book burning or statements or written words. Period. The religious take offense at too many things for such a thing to be feasible.

  85. #85 Deepak Shetty
    April 8, 2011

    @SoulmanZ
    I’d also add Jones burning a book in his own time isn’t degrading treatment(as you suggest somewhere). But say a soldier making a muslim captive(perhaps even a terrorist) to watch the Koran being burnt – that would be degrading behavior. And I doubt you’d find any of us saying free speech over all else when thats the case.

  86. #86 Rieux
    April 9, 2011

    if the judiciary exonerated Jones, I would accept it.

    Why in the world is “the judiciary” relevant to this argument at all? We—including you—are talking about what the law should be. That’s not the role of the (trial) judiciary, it’s the role of the legislative branch, and of constitutional courts.

    “The judiciary,” as in the trial court that has the power to “exonerate Jones,” is a finder of fact. Its only role is to apply the law that exists, both statutory and constitutional, to the facts as it determines them to be. You are advocating law that would leave a trial court with no choice but to convict Jones of inciting murder. Pretending that you can somehow hide behind the judiciary—as if it’s their decision, and not yours as wannabe legislator—is simply absurd.

    So again, the fundamental problem here seems to be your severe ignorance about law and how it works. “The judiciary” is the very entity whose hands your argument would tie.

    Like this:

    I would still lobby government for laws that protect people from direct harm

    …by which you obviously mean Jones. What would be the purpose of such laws, if not to ensure that “the judiciary” convicted people in Jones’ shoes, just as you think it should?

    …even if ‘direct’ isn’t swing fist, break face.

    Oh, right: “direct” as in “not direct.”

    It’s notable how frequently barbarism needs to be protected with Orwellian doublethink of just that variety.

    I think humans are capable of understanding causation

    Well, most of us are. Certain people who shall remain nameless find the fundamental ethical principle of proximate cause inconvenient, so they pretend it doesn’t exist.

    It’s so cute that you sneeringly pretend that the human right to freedom of expression depends upon “humans” not being “capable of understanding causation”!

    We have murders that would not have happened without Jones’ action. That, at a basic level, is causation

    “Basic” as in “don’t bother me with details; I don’t like that whole ‘proximate’ thing, because it stops me from punishing the people I don’t like.”

    We are all but-for causes of all manner of death and suffering. Some of us have taken the time and energy to recognize the futility of blaming people for playing a role in a chain of causation they bear no moral responsibility for.

    And why do you insist on simply ignoring all of the horrendous pitfalls of your moral theory? Your “solution” to the problem enables any murderous thug to silence (or render criminal) any form of speech he doesn’t like. Your theory renders Salman Rushdie a serial killer, and the Danish Mohammed cartoonists mass murderers. If your law governed, Infidel and Why I Am Not a Muslim, to say nothing of The Satanic Verses, would never have been published. How can you just sit there with your self-satisfied “ooh, I understand causation! I respect the judiciary!” nonsense while you wish away the right to criticize thuggish philosophies with a wave of your careless hand?

    I would respect the judiciary, and their decision.

    But you clearly don’t. The American (appellate) judiciary, interpreting the First Amendment, has made it overwhelmingly clear that Jones is criminally liable for absolutely nothing. Yet you think he’s guilty of incitement to murder. That is the opposite of “respecting the judiciary, and their decision.” You’re lying again.

    Can either of you explain a counte-argument to prosecuting bullies in schools, where their words over a long period of time (no proximate cause, no single causative event) lead to death?

    First, proximate cause has nothing to do with a “single event.” An accumulation of multiple events over a long span of time can constitute proximate cause. Again, it becomes laughable that you declare “I think humans are capable of understanding causation,” when it’s very clear that you don’t.

    Second, and more importantly, bullying involves assault, battery, and harassment. It is prosecutable as assault, battery, and harassment. It appears you think that when “words over a long period of time” lead a bullying victim to kill him- or herself, that the bullies are prosecutable for homicide. (“Incitement to suicide?”) Unfortunately, that’s just your ignorance talking. (Your ignorance has been saying an enormous amount lately.) Bullies are not criminally liable for the suicides of people they bully, unless there is some reason to believe that the victim was not capable of independent decisionmaking. As a result, your hypothetical collapses immediately.

    Law simply doesn’t look anything like you believe it does.

    Would you not want these bullies held accountable for the suicide they force other kids into?

    No, of course not. They should be held accountable for what they did, not for what someone else decided to do. If a bully does what Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney did, it’s murder (and, in that case, torture). If not, it’s assault, battery and/or harassment. Your insistence on making up new crimes in order to punish people you hate is precisely what penal law was created to prevent.

    Their parents not held accountable?

    For murder? Are you insane?

    Shit, you’re serious. You want to prosecute bullies’ parents for the bullies’ actions. Is there anyone whose status as a human being with moral responsibility you aren’t willing to ignore?

    The school not held accountable?

    For what? Failing to stop the bullying? Sure, why not? But for murder?

    See, when you simply pretend that proximate cause is a nullity, that death can put anyone behind bars.

    I sincerely hope that you are never, ever in a position to judge anyone else’s criminal culpability, or to draft legislation that would define such issues. Your ideas on this score are simply terrifying.

  87. #87 tomh
    April 9, 2011

    SoulmanZ wrote:
    tomh – I think my answer to Eric answers you too.

    You answered nothing, but then I didn’t ask you anthing. You’ve made your position quite clear. You think the US should have laws that clamp down on free speech if that speech might offend some wacko on the other side of the world. Seems a bit of an odd position to take, but, to each his own.

  88. #88 SoulmanZ
    April 9, 2011

    tomh -

    I just think that America should be able to have this discussion without everyone’s panties getting twisted

    If you honestly can’t see a difference between what Jones did after advice it would lead to deaths, and garden variety inflammatory free speech then we are at the end of the discussion I guess

    Cheers for it though (and eric and deepak too). It is always interesting to hear how intelligent people elsewhere in the world view issues, especially ones that seem to clearly sorted where we live. Isn’t it both weird and cool that we are all so sure of our own country’s interpretations of something so fundamental? Opened my eyes a bit to the differences of very similar cultures

  89. #89 Rieux
    April 9, 2011

    And so you run away, having faced up to none of the consequences of your stance, having done nothing to explain how you can bring yourself to allow murderers to impose speech codes on everyone else in society. Your questions have been answered, your points rebutted, and you’re reduced to saying “If you honestly can’t see” and slinking away.

    Your moral theory leads to the imprisonment of innocent people for exercising their human right to free speech. Stick your “we are all so sure of our own country’s interpretations” where the sun don’t shine; regardless of where on the globe any of us is, you are condoning tyranny. Shame on you.

  90. #90 eric
    April 11, 2011

    I just think that America should be able to have this discussion without everyone’s panties getting twisted

    We have this discussion with every flag burning court case. Your side loses. Always has. Every time. So I agree with Tomh and Rieux: you obviously don’t respect U.S. legal precedent in this case because if you did, you wouldn’t bother calling for a meritless lawsuit.

    My cat screeched in indignity and confusion when she got squirted. Poor kitty! And this was causually your fault. You knew what would happen when you posted, and you intentionally posted. You mean, nasty, cat-injurer, how does that make you feel?

  91. #91 david
    April 13, 2011

    Jason writes: “Let’s get clear on one thing.”

    Do you really think this is a good beginning, a good rhetorical practice, a persuasive practice, and have you considered who else or what types use this same beginning?

    I guess not.

  92. #92 Dan L.
    April 13, 2011

    The world is not the USA. Your national obsession with legalistic literalism does not apply in all countries and all cultures. You guys think “free speech” is the be all and end all; it’s not. Many other freedoms are much more important. Almost every other country has a more nuanced view. Literalism and absolutism are simply childish.

    Sam C, you’re just wrong here. Free speech is the most fundamental human right. Without free speech the law (not to mention the litigious) decides what is acceptable and not acceptable to say. Obvious problems arise when there is an incentive for legal institutions to outlaw the truth (and there often is). Actually, the situation is even more insidious. When what’s actually true isn’t legal to say, the legal institutions are constructing a new definition of truth and falsehood. Think 1984. Two and two is five.

    Any other human right you care to name is useless without the right to free speech. Without free speech you can’t protest the abrogation of your other rights, you can’t print it, you can’t even legally make it known to others that there is a problem. Since it’s the legal institutions deciding what constitutes truth in the absence of free speech, as far as the broader society is concerned there is no problem.

    If anything, freedom of speech is too constrained even in America. The one time I was in court another man was there because he had yelled at his neighbors to quiet down through the window of his own house. The Dead Kennedys famously had a whole run of an album seized because of some H.R. Geiger artwork included in the sleeve. Obscenity laws and the amorphous “disorderly conduct” laws give legal institutions plenty of wiggle room to punish behaviors that should be legal in any free society.

    The only way to protect all of our rights is to steadfastly resist any encroachment on free speech, even if such encroachment is intuitively reasonable from one’s own perspective.

    Another point is that the arguments for restricting free speech seem to take it for granted that the speaker is responsible for “offended” folks rioting, which is quite simply opening the door for the unscrupulous to use speech restriction laws to their own advantage. How sure are we that the Islamic clerics decrying the Koran burning are actually legitimately offended and aren’t simply demagogues using the incident to consolidate their power by riling their followers? How sure are we that those threatening violence are really speaking for Islam and not for themselves?

  93. #93 Triggerfish
    April 13, 2011

    Free speech
    Free markets
    Free set of dishware with every purchase

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