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. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Town_square_test