In America, We Have Freedom of Speech, Unless It Offends People

Free speech is a gift that the framers of the constitution valued above most every other right in this country.  The backdrop of the Revolution was the stifling of expression of ideas by the Anglican (English) Church, and deists, freethinkers, Baptists, Calvinists, Methodists, and the like desired the universal ability to be free to espouse their ideas without a fear of retribution.

However, this freedom is increasingly in duress, and has been in the news recently in several different manifestations.  Furthermore, this phenomenon crosses interfaith lines; without standing as a unit, all Americans, as well as those throughout the world who enjoy free speech, could find themselves in a 1984-esque society where doublespeak is the only allowable language.

Thunderf00t’s Videos Removed

If you spend any time at all investigating atheism on YouTube, you will certainly come across the user “Thunderf00t,” an incredibly intelligent atheist who has a 37-part series called “why do people laugh at creationists,” which systematically debunks the entirety of the ID theory.

The problem with speech came about when YouTube changed its policy on hate-speech, promoting an Islamic-fundamentalist-esque standard of offense as hate speech.  Several incredibly mild videos were taken down, but thanks to the collective effort of thousands of people, the videos are back up.  Thunderf00t added this to the video, at 2:55:

Thanks to Youtube too for having the strength of character to do what was right, albeit after dropping the ball in a pretty shameful fashion.

YouTube, though dominated (as the internet often is) is a haven of free speech, in which many diverse views can be espoused without the fear of being flagged for hate speech.  Though some videos qualify, the strength of discourse provided by youtube (especially where commentary and rating are not disabled) allows for a beautiful snapshot of what discussion looks like.

It is a shame to think that YouTube even considered such a change, as though people had a right to not be offended by anyone else.  Such is the position of Sharia law, but this idea has no place in a free society.

Christians are Victims Too

I love and hate street preachers; they certainly make the job of atheists much easier.  Tom Short’s street preaching solidified my status as an anti-theist, and helped my girlfriend realize the utter moral depravity and worthlessness of the Christian position. But I will never, ever say that they need to shut up or keep peddling their filth; it’s their prerogative to spew forth their ignorant mythologies, just as much as any other human.

Street preachers usually train themselves in the art of incensing a crowd, angering and provoking them as much as possible; through years of experience, there is little that can perturb their senses.  They are basically schoolyard bullies who never grew up.  Such is the case in the video below.

A group of preachers at a Lady Gaga concert telling everyone (surprise surprise) they were headed to hell were accosted by an Islamic fundamentalist, preaching his own mythologies to them; Jesus was not born of a virgin, Allah is the one true god, and that Mohammad was his messenger.  In typical street preacher fashion they followed the bible’s advice to turn the other cheek and love your enemies began calling Mohammad a pedophile, inciting him to violence.

However pathetic these human scum are, they do not deserve to be attacked for simply espousing their views.  The unique thing in this case was that the police officer, who saw the Muslim attack the man, sided with the Muslim.  Here’s where free speech gets tricky.

As you watch this, and feel the hate boil up in you, are you on the side of free speech or do you want the man to be silenced? Do you secretly cheer for the Muslim as he headbutts a man who is exercising his rights to free (hate) speech, causing him to bleed profusely from the mouth?

Where do you draw the line between hate speech and free speech? Different people’s standards for hatred are different.

Zombie Mohammad

Ernest Perce, who I’ve commented on before, is an ex-evangelical firebrand preacher, and the president of the Pennsylvania Nonbelievers, a freethought/atheist group.  At their Halloween parade last year, Perce dressed up as a risen version of Mohammad the prophet.  *29:50* While parading, he was most likely assaulted (in some way), and claimed he was being choked, by a Muslim who was offended by his costume (and thought it was illegal to make fun of Mohammad in such a way).

Perce found the nearest Police officer and explained the situation to him, then awaited sentencing.  In the Court Recording, it is clear that the Judge is offended over Perce’s actions, pointing out that such an offense would have had him killed in an Islamic theocracy (how this is related is beyond me), and goes on to state that the first amendment doesn’t protect people’s right to offend people.

The judge attempted to justify his ruling.  The comments made in the video are clear: the judge was offended by what the atheist did, and that the first amendment right does not extend to “piss off  other cultures.”  This clearly influenced the judge’s evaluation of the defendant’s claims of harrassment, and overruled the testimony of the police officer on the scene, who caught the Muslim in a lie.  Perhaps he should become more familiar with the forefathers’ opinions on his own beliefs (as a Lutheran):

Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.”

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Francis Adrian Van der Kemp, 30 July, 1816

What are your thoughts? Has Islam gone too far? Does hate-speech get the OK or do we have the right to not be offended?  Do we get the right to assault people whenever we’re offended, or should we say, you’re offended, so what?

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  • Tabitha Eddington

    I think everything should be protected under the first amendment, except threats of violence.

  • Reason_Being

    Good post. I agree with Tabitha. The First Amendment give us a ton of freedom. It does not give us the right to incite violence or mayhem though—ex: yelling ‘Fire’ in a crowded theater. I am really having a hard time with the Zombie Mohammad story though. That is just plain wrong. No judge should ever allow someone to be physically assaulted–for any reason. I really hope that there is an appeal in that case.

  • Caleb

    I’m curious to hear why you categorize Christianity as morally deprived and worthless. What is your definition of morality? Is your standard of morality true for everyone, or is morality defined on an individual basis? Although I am sure there has been a Christian (or many) who has offended you and your girlfriend at some time in your life, to lump all Christians into a pile you brand as being morally deprived is stereotypical, I believe, even by your own standard. While I would agree that there are many people who would identify themselves as Christians who do not live a life characterized by morality, there are also a large number of Christians doing a lot of good in the world. I’m interested to know how caring for orphans, feeding the hungry, and helping the poor could be labeled as morally deprived filth.

    • Al

      I won’t attempt to answer for the author, but here’s my take: To say that Christianity or the Christian position is morally depraved is not to say that all individual Christians (or even most) are morally depraved… one is an institution, the other is a person who chooses to label themselves as being a member of that institution and those people– their beliefs, ideas, values– span a wide spectrum within Christianity. While both the institution (let’s make that institutions, plural, since there are many denominations) and individuals can take those moral stances and actions you mention, the institution also has a bunch of baggage which even their own members would question on terms of modern standards of morality and human decency… that added baggage is not necessitated in the individual Christian however. Of course, this can spur discussion about whether moderated Christianity aides the morally hazardous aspects of Christianity itself, but that’s not particularly here nor there and certainly extends beyond Christianity to all ideologies– religious or otherwise.

  • Al

    I’m going to have to agree with the premise here… the freedom of speech cannot be abridged individuals or groups; it can only be abridged by the government. Not only does the government provide the freedom from their suppression and punishment of most types of speech (political, religious, etc.) it also provides you with protection of its laws and the right to seek justice if someone breaches that protection. So, while we do have freedom of speech, we don’t necessarily have freedom from consequences after that speech. If the consequences are something of an illegal nature, the government will come to our aide and prosecute the wrong-doer. Obviously I’m not saying that violence is a valid response to someone’s free speech, all I’m saying is that the government doesn’t prevent you from saying things that might make someone react violent and that they’ll then back you up. In the case you mention above, it is clear that the judge’s ruling will be overturned… this/he is a momentary glitch in the system. National Socialist Party v. Village of Skokie, IL is pretty clear about all of this. I believe a more applicable discussion would not be framed as a free speech issue, but an issue of willful adherence to our cultural norms concerning religious speech (and for good measure, I’d throw in political speech too– remember the guy getting his head stomped by some Tea Party folks?)… I’m not at all convinced that examples you cite can be extrapolated to all Muslim Americans (I don’t know that that’s what you were trying to do, but it kind of sounded that way) or it can’t be extrapolated to members of other sensitive groups (whether majority or minority, everyone gets a little sensitive at times).

    • Al

      Strike that… it should have said “I’m going to have to DISagree with the premise”…