Violence against free speech

A disturbing number of people want to restrict free speech to statements they agree with. They claim that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to speech they hate, or in their vernacular, “hate speech.” The outgoing ombudsman of NPR, Edward Schumacher-Matos, apparently thinks the First Amendment shouldn’t apply to anti-blasphemy laws:

I do not know if American courts would find much of what Charlie Hebdo does to be hate speech unprotected by the Constitution, but I know—hope?—that most Americans would. It is one thing to lampoon popes, imams, rabbis and other temporal religious leaders of this world; it is quite another to make fun, in often nasty ways, of their prophets and gods.

There’s a case for reading these as the words of an abject coward who wants to drag everyone else down to his level, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt — if you can call it that — and assume he really means that religious authority pre-empts human rights, that he wants to ban Life of Brian and not just the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. After all, he says the majority of the country agrees with him, so he must be counting the religious right.

Mob assaulting anti-abortion activists near University of OregonSome Americans go even further, committing acts of violence against people whose views they didn’t like. It’s reported that a mob of students assaulted anti-abortion protesters at the University of Oregon. The Daily Emerald reports:

Several students surrounded three anti-abortion activists at the intersection of 13th Avenue and University Street on Tuesday before attempting to destroy a graphic poster one of the men was holding in protest. …

History major Allison Rutledge was the first to damage the anti-abortion activist’s poster. She stood on it and claimed that the activist didn’t have the right to display the graphic imagery.

“All I’d like to say about why I decided to actually take the sign from him is I realized it was his property, but it was a piece of paper. I considered the sign obscene and offensive and intending to anger and start a scene,” Rutledge said when contacted for comment. “I didn’t want to look at that obscenity.”

Hopefully the police and university will investigate whether Rutledge in fact committed the assault and said those words, and she will be prosecuted if she did. Assaulting people in order to silence their ideas is a crime not just against the person attacked, but against the principle of a free and open society.

This attack has gotten strangely little news coverage; apparently only the local university press and some conservative and libertarian sources have reported it. Some may think, “Oh, it doesn’t matter, it’s violence in a cause I approve of.” Some may even like a society where people who express those views aren’t safe on the streets. But when censorship and violence restrict what people can say, falsehood wins. The people who can’t offer a rational defense of their views are the ones who have to resort to force.

2 Responses to “Violence against free speech”

  1. Cat Faber Says:

    The first instance is a man using his free speech to advocate for an idea I dislike and disagree with. I do, however, feel obliged to support his right to say it.

    The second instance is an individual loosing her temper and stealing and or vandalizing (inexpensive) property. When you advocate for her enslavement to produce unwanted babies, that kind of thing can happen. Presumably he has legal recourse for assault, since he doesn’t have to be injured to show he was assaulted, merely brushing by him in the street will do it. Unless you intend to create a protected class of people or ideas against whom assault should carry a higher penalty, that assault should be penalized in a manner consistent with the seriousness of harm done.

    Neither is an issue of the government fining or jailing someone over something they said, which is what Free Speech originally applied to.

    • Gary McGath Says:

      Schumacher-Matos has a right to advocate against free speech. That’s a given, and nobody’s disputing it. What he advocates is definitely a matter of the government fining or jailing people for what they say. That’s the whole point of his statement, that laws to fine or jail blasphemers aren’t prohibited by the Constitution.

      I’m surprised you’re making excuses for Rutledge. If she had lost her temper and then apologized, that would have been one thing; but she bragged to the reporter about destroying something because she didn’t want to see it. Equating a mob attack on a person and stealing his sign with “brushing by him” is ludicrous.

      No, I would not want to create a special class of people who can get legal recourse, such as just people who can afford expensive signs.

      The Oregon mob resorted to extralegal means rather than persuading the government to suppress the speakers for it. That doesn’t make it any better.

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