Thursday, May 05, 2005


Freedom of Speech: Nice While it Lasted

The First Amendment is not required to protect Kate Smith's right to sing "God Bless America." Even in Stalin's Russia and Hitler's Germany, your right to say what those in power wanted to hear was unquestioned. The First Amendment's purpose, is to protect people's right to say unpopular things.

As I've noted before, the question of whether something is Incitement or Free Speech has been used throughout this country's history to criminalize unpopular speech. During World War I, anyone criticizing the war was subject to arrest because listeners might decide to evade the draft laws - hence the speaker was guilty of "incitement." The Bush Administration is already using this logic overseas:
"It's not a question of freedom of speech," (State Dept spokesman Richard Boucher) said.

"It's a question of incitement to violence. And we don't see why here or anywhere else a terrorist organisation should be allowed to spread its hatred and incitement through the television airwaves."
(Source: BBC News TV station put on US terror list, December 17, 2004.
Now, they're starting to apply it in the US by arresting "disruptive" people:
County jail releases Ann Coulter disrupter
Ajai Raj, an English sophomore, was released from Travis County Jail around 3 a.m. Wednesday after being arrested for disorderly conduct during political commentator Ann Coulter's speech at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library auditorium on Tuesday.

According to the police affidavit written by an arresting officer, Raj was arrested for using "profane and vulgar language" and performing an "obscene gesture."
When Coulter, a right-wing pundit who is also the author of four New York Times best-sellers, opened the room for a question-and-answer session on Tuesday night, Raj used profanity in asking a question about sodomy.

After the question, Raj ran about 30 yards from the microphone to the back of the aisle, making a repeated hand motion simulating masturbation, according to the police affidavit. This caused an "immediate breach of the peace within the crowd," the affidavit stated. At this time, two University of Texas Police Department officers approached him and arrested him for disorderly conduct.

"What I did was to make a joke of the whole thing," Raj said in a . "I have no regrets ... Saying profanity at a college isn't a crime, last time I checked. It seems like the whole free-speech thing is a myth."
(Source: Daily Texan Online, May 5, 2005
Jumping up with a bullhorn and interrupting the speaker is one thing - but Mr. Raj had permission to ask a question. He was then arrested because the police decided they didn't like the question's content.

Under current free speech law, one would expect Mr. Raj could sue the police for false arrest and deprivation of civil rights under color of local ordinance. However, if Bush's "nuclear judges" get on the bench, we could see a return to the pre-Warren Court definition of "free speech." Under that definition, anyone questioning whether Ann Coulter went overboard by calling liberals "traitors" risks arrest for "incitement to riot" even if the comment is made by a blogger hundreds of miles away.

Too bad we exported so much democracy - we sure could use more here.


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