"If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — for ever."

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Town Square Test

This is interesting:

" If a person cannot walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm, then that person is living in a fear society, not a free society. We cannot rest until every person living in a "fear society" has finally won their freedom." (1)

I really like this idea. It is one of the best literal, empirical tests of whether or not you live in a free society and may actually speak your mind, and yet it's beautifully simple. It also tests not just government restriction on free speech, but social attitudes as well.

What brought this up? Recently a young English lass put it to a practical test, although that was not her original intent. She bought an Israeli flag and wore it around Oxford as a cape for several days. You can read about her experience here:
Initially, things went well, and she recieved a lot of support. Until late the second day, when one man decided to take offense, and eventually threatened her with violence. He continued to stalk her the next day, and she was finally forced to call the police.

Of course, that was in Britain where liberal doctrines and political correctness dictate public discourse, even more than they do here. For example, only six months after the London Tube Bombings last July, Muslims were permitted to demonstrate while wearing simulated suicide vests and hold signs that read, "Behead those who insult Islam" in response to Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet as a bomb-wielding terrorist (2). So far as I have been able to determine, not one British subject counter-protested. But a seventeen-year-old girl was threatened with violence for openly displaying support for Israel.

Of course, it is not as though the United States is immune here. This past spring hundreds of thousands of Hispanic immigrants, legal and illegal, demonstrated across the American west for "immigrant rights." Those protests included displays of Mexican flags, and some of them included threats of violence and civil war to retake "Azatlan," those parts of the U.S. (Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico mostly) which once belonged to Mexico. But when students at Skyline High School in Colorado mounted counter-protests using the American flag, the principal banned the United States Flag because it was offensive (3). Excuse me? Demonstrating with the Mexican flag on U.S. soil is okay, but demonstrating with the American flag in a public building is not?

Then there's the case of Tyler Chase Harper, a public high school student in California who made the mistake of wearing a t-shirt stating "Homosexuality is Shameful" to school (4). On a "Day of Silence," an explicitly pro-gay event. He was suspended for violating the school's dress code, and the court case went all the way to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Let me see if I understand - explicity pro-gay free speech is okay, but anti-gay speech is not? Just to be clear, Mr. Harper's shirt was in no way violent, nor did it promote nor condone violence against gays. I'm sorry, but if the LGBT students at Mr. Chase's high school were made so uncomfortable they couldn't study or felt threatened by his shirt, the problem is with their perception. I wonder if the LGBT community has ever considered just how uncomfortable their 'activism' has made much of the rest of America? And yet, when's the last time you heard conservative Christians whining to the media about how their rights were violated by LGBT demonstrations? When did you last hear Ann Coulter or Pat Robertson claiming that the LGBT community should be denied the right to protest, or exercise their free speech rights? Sure, they'll speak out against what they percieve to be a perversion, but I've never heard them claim gays should be denied First Amendment rights.

So what am I driving at? Simply this: You do NOT have the right to NOT be offended. If someone else's speech makes you feel threatened for your safety, then that is a problem, and may justly be regarded as hate speech. But if it merely offends, insults or makes you uncomfortable, that is NOT grounds to deny them their First Amendment rights. God grant that someday we might return to Voltaire's rule which guided the Founding Fathers:

"Sir, I may disagree with what you have said, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

Shout it from the rooftops.

1. Natan Sharansky, The Case for Democracy.





Blogger The Sermoneer said...

I mostly get and agree with what you're saying: anyone should have a right to speak their mind, pro-liberal or pro-conservative. Yet. . . I'd like to know where that comes into play regarding the Nazi paraphenelia and the comments you told me you received as a high schooler. . . Furthermore, it's pretty assonine and arrogant to have said "I wonder if the LGBT community has ever considered just how uncomfortable their 'activism' has made much of the rest of America? And yet, when's the last time you heard conservative Christians whining to the media about how their rights were violated by LGBT demonstrations?"
That's ridiculous. Gays and lesbians have been physically, verbally, and emotionally harmed for decades by you conservatives. When's the last time I heard Christians complaining about LGBT ANYTHING? All the fuckin' time. The LGBT isn't campaigning against anyone; they aren't trying to exclude anyone from society in any way. THEY're trying to get IN. Whereas our dear friend Tyler, the very reason I've given up Christianity. . . heh, well he IS trying to exclude people from society. That's where he gets slapped on the wrist. And he fuckin' well deserves it, though I'm not sure it helped the LGBT case at all.

8:43 PM  
Blogger PubliusCicero said...

"you conservatives...?" Nice to see I've finally been "othered." Not to mention stereotyped out of ignorance. Note that not all conservatives are Christian.

I find it interesting that you just assumed I am opposed to gay marriage. If I were, I would probably be more justified than anyone else I've ever heard of, since the woman I loved and planned to spend the rest of my life with, the first and only woman to have the sense and good taste to actually go on a date with me, the only person I'd have given my life for in an instant, without question, thought or hesitation simply because I couldn't live without her, decided while I was in Scotland that she was a lesbian. Her homosexuality ruined my life, permanently and irreparably. And yet at the present time, I continue to support the rights of homosexuals to obtain marriage licenses, because it's the right thing to do. Hell, I still get newsletters from HRC.

Nothing in the Constitution gives the federal government any grounds whatsoever to deny same-sex couples marriage licenses - the law is blind as far as such things are concerned. Further, I have yet to hear a truly persuasive natural-law argument against gay marriage, and Christian doctrine alone is not grounds for legislation in this country. You don't get to impose your own belief system on others here, unless you have damn good non-religious reasons as well (or a majority vote in a popular referendum).

Also, I never said Christian conservatives don't complain about LGBT issues. I said they've never complained that THEIR rights were somehow violated by gays promoting their cause. And I am fully and painfully aware that violence against gays has occurred in this country, perhaps the most sickening case being a gay black man who was chained to a pickup truck and dragged to death by a couple of vicious hicks in Texas. On the other hand, it was Texas, so maybe they got the death penalty as they deserved. I was sickened and infuriated by that, in case you couldn't tell.

And how was Mr. Tyler trying to exclude gays from society? His shirt does not state that they shouldn't have rights, it states that their behavior is sinful according to a commonly accepted interpretation of the Bible. If he "fuckin' well" deserves a slap on the wrist, then so do the LGBT students at his school for their 'day of silence.' I personally think this sort of thing has no place in a public high school period, but if the school's administration are going to allow a LGBT "day of silence," then Mr. Tyler gets to wear his shirt. The point was not whether gay rights are good or bad. The point was that you do not get to censor one side of a debate, to shut down all viewpoints but your own.

I chose that example not because of my own opinion on gay marriage, but because I knew it would be extremely controversial, whilst also being a perfect illustration. I was not just writing about the Town Square test, I was putting it to the test at the same time, which I thought was rather clever, but you seem to have missed the point. And I am amazed at how you let your vitriolic hatred of Christians influence your reaction.

As far as Nazis, I realized as I was writing this piece that I could not justify my long-held opinion that Nazis have no rights whatsoever, including to march. I realize now that even Nazis must be allowed to spew their filth. On the other hand, whilst I cannot condone government oppression of their speech or beliefs, I also see no arguement why government must protect them either, so my solution is for the government to declare open season on Nazis for private citizens, in which case Nazi rallies become "target-rich environments" :-P. Please don't hit the bystanders.
Actually, as I stated above in the post, the right to free speech ends ends when one begins making threats or advocating violence. People do not have a right to not be offended, but they do have a right to not live in fear for their lives or personal safety. I believe it was also Voltaire who said,
"My right to swing my arm ends at the tip of your nose."
One could make the argument then that because of Nazism's history, and because the killing and subjugation of other "inferior" or "flawed" people are inherent to that belief system, any speech which promotes Nazi ideology qualifies as advocating violence, regardless of whether the specific speech in question does or not. I am not wholly persuaded of that, however.

12:43 PM  
Blogger Leo said...

Would "Homossexuals must die" or "Jews must die" shirts be considered initiations of violence? Or only direct speech towards an individual?

8:46 AM  
Blogger PubliusCicero said...


Well, that explicitly advocates murder and violence, so yes, under the rules I have laid out, those shirts would definitely be unacceptable. A Jew or homosexual reading either of those could quite legitimately be in fear for his/her life or safety.

And as a point of reference, where I went to high school, it was not unusual for other students to state, in so many words, "All gay people should be shot."

10:00 AM  

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