The Limits of Free Speech

Police Consider Charging Trump With Inciting a Riot Over Violence at North Carolina Rally, Sarah K. Burris, Raw Story, March 14, 2016:

The Cumberland County Sheriff’s office is considering filing charges of inciting a riot against GOP frontrunner Donald Trump for the Fayetteville, North Carolina rally according to anNBC reporter and local media sources. The rally was the site where Trump supporter John Franklin McGraw was arrested for sucker-punching a black protester and threatening to kill him.

“We are looking at the totality of these circumstances, including any additional charges against Mr. McGraw, including the potential of whether there was conduct on the part of Mr. Trump or the Trump campaign which rose to the level of inciting a riot,” Sheriff’s Office lawyer Ronnie Mitchell told The Fayetteville Observer.

At the rally, Trump asked the audience “Can’t we have a little more action than this?” when protesters were causing a disturbance. “See, in the good old days this didn’t use to happen, because they used to treat them very rough,” he said. “We’ve become very weak.”

Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444, 447 (1969): Continue reading


Freeze Peach

This is critically important:

Free speech is the right to speak your mind without government censorship and without fear of extralegal retaliation like harassment or violence. That’s all!

Free speech doesn’t include the right to speak your mind on any forum anywhere. The government may not prevent you from speaking, but private parties, like blog owners or corporations, aren’t required to let you use their property as your platform.

Free speech doesn’t include the right to be believed or to be taken seriously. People may mock, ridicule or laugh at what you say, or they may reject it outright.

Free speech doesn’t include the right to be listened to. People who don’t desire to hear your opinion can hang up on you, block you on social media, change the channel, close the browser tab. Free speech doesn’t give you the right to bombard people with harassing messages or otherwise force them to pay attention to you against their will.

And free speech doesn’t include the right to suffer no consequences whatsoever for your expressed opinions. As Facebook found out, if you say things that other people find abhorrent, they may boycott you, disinvite you or choose not to associate with you.

Adam Lee


Bribery in a post-Citizens United World

If money is “speech” in an electoral context, what about during the course of governance?

Could direct payment of cash, or some other thing of value, to an official in exchange for some official action, or forbearance from some official action, be construed as a very convincing argument that is protected by the First Amendment?

To give an example, suppose two people have separate meetings with an official regarding a pending application for, say, a building permit. The first person is a resident of a neighborhood that adjoins the property on which the proposed project will be built. That person explains to the official that the project will cause substantial noise pollution at all hours of the day and night, will depress property values to a significant degree, and will cause all of the residents of the neighborhood to develop a non-fatal condition that causes them to grow additional heads that emit flatulence from their mouths, which will cause unemployment problems.

Like this, but I guess with more farts.

The second person meets with the official and explains that the briefcase in his hand has $1 million in cash that will belong to the official if the permit is issued. Continue reading


Inciting Violence

There may be a serious problem with understanding the legal definition of “incitement”:

Fox News contributor Father Jonathan Morris on Sunday called for officials in Oklahoma City to shut down a Satanic black mass because he said worshippers were “inciting violence” by mocking Christians.


[I]n a segment titled “The Fight For Faith” on Sunday, Morris explained to the hosts of Fox & Friends that he felt “bad” for anyone who participated in the event.

“You get yourself into something that is, first of all, satanic, that is supernatural,” he said. “They believe that as soon as you connect yourself with evil, evil stuff happens. I feel very bad for them.”

Morris acknowledged that Satanists had a “political right” to worship, but he said that the city also had a “responsibility to defend the good governance of its people.” Continue reading


No Right to an Audience

PZ Myers on free speech:

You don’t have a right to an audience. This is a critical limitation of free speech right now, in a day when technology has made it trivially easy for abusers to circumvent the limitations of courtesy and protocol.

Words have power. Guns also have power; is unregulated access to guns the best path to a free society? We’re engaged in that experiment in the US right now, and I can tell you…no. Similarly, we have to recognize that words must be used responsibly.

Speech can do great harm. Words can enlighten and educate, but they can also oppress and mislead. As humanists, we must appreciate the importance of truth, and do what we can to stop the promulgation of lies.

There are no easy answers. A commitment to free speech is hard — and the easy answers are so attractive. On the one side we have the contingent arguing “You can’t say that!”, and on the other we have people saying, “I can say anything I damn well please, anywhere, anytime!”, and neither is right. We must be aware that the task is one of navigating between the two extremes.

That’s just his summary. The whole piece is worth a read.


What I’m Reading, May 16, 2014

Youth (1893) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsHow the Purity Myth Perpetuates Rape Culture, Miri, Brute Reason, May 13, 2014

The purity myth, as Jessica Valenti calls it in her book of the same name, includes several interlocking beliefs about women and sexuality that are enforced by many religions and ideologies and continue to inform many Americans’ views of sex–even those who consider themselves liberal or even progressive.

Some components of the purity myth include:

Continue reading


Taking Things Too Far: Chick-fil-A Edition

I’ve been working on a post on the varyingly creative misinterpretations of the First Amendment that have abounded over the past few weeks, but it’s not quite done yet. Sooner or later, someone opposed to Chick-fil-A’s antics, and the antics of its supporters, was bound to spout off at the wrong target. Via Hemant Mehta:

In the wake of the Chick-fil-A controversy, one of the ways the pro-gay-marriage side is fighting back is through the “National Same Sex Kiss Day at Chick-Fil-A” taking place today.
Another way to fight back is to follow the (half-joking) advice of YouTuber Jackson Pearce: Go to Chick-fil-A and ask for a glass of water, which they will give you for free (it’s the Biblical thing to do!), so you’re essentially taking money from them…

(It would be even better if people bought food at KFC and handed it out to homeless people or something… You know, whatever Christians say Jesus would do while they go stuff themselves with some chikin.)

Anyway, Arizona native Adam M. Smith went to a Chick-fil-A drive-thru this week to get the free water. But that wasn’t all. He also lashed out at the employee who served him for the faults of the company and its COO… as if she had anything to do with the matter.

[Here he embedded a video that Smith took of the whole encounter and uploaded to YouTube]

As I watched that, I just felt bad for the employee. She handled the situation perfectly — she did her job, remained as neutral as possible, and tried to explain how the company didn’t discriminate against gay customers (which is true)… meanwhile, Smith came off as a heartless bully (“I don’t know how you live with yourself and work here”). If Chick-fil-A has a problem, this employee had nothing to do with it and he’s wrongly taking his anger out on her. She showed far more class than he did.

For the record, I think it would be great if every Chick-fil-A employee who opposes the company’s stance were to quit en masse, but the world is not such a straightforward place. Jobs are scarce enough that this is not always, or even often, a reasonable demand. I cannot tell anyone else how to react to Chick-fil-A, but I cannot shake the feeling that this form of protest (if you want to call it that) could backfire terribly.

With that in mind, here’s my take on who/what are the proper recipients of Chick-fil-A protests:

  • The Chick-fil-A corporate entity headquartered in College Park, Georgia
  • Senior executives of said corporation
  • Chairman and CEO S. Truett Cathy
  • COO Dan Cathy
  • People who lined up to buy fried chicken sandwiches to protest LGBT individuals and their allies standing up for their own dignity
  • People who honestly think this is a First Amendment issue in anything that doesn’t directly involve certain mayors

Improper recipients of said protests:

  • Individual Chick-fil-A employees who haven’t said a word, because trying to take on the drive-thru worker will not solve anything and will make you look like an asshole.