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Posts Tagged ‘freedom of speech’

After Canada, it is Australia.

Australian gun lobbyist Ron Owen has been told he is entitled to express his homophobic views, but that he went too far with the bumper sticker: “Gay Rights? Under God’s law the only rights gays have is the right to die.”

Queensland’s Anti-Discrimination Tribunal found Owen guilty of inciting hatred against homosexuals with the bumper sticker when he parked his car outside the Cooloola Shire Council offices in Gympie, north of Brisbane.

[…]The former president of the National Firearm Owners of Australia was taken to the tribunal by several local lesbians, who claimed they had been offended despite only one having seen the bumper sticker.

Two of the women were awarded $4,195, with a third awarded $2,000 in damages.

The problem with a hypothetical “right to not get offended”, indeed with any hate speech law is that it not only contradicts the more important right to freedom of speech but also that offence is an incredibly subjective phenomenon. For example, it is a fact that I am extremely offended at the tribunal’s decision. It insults my deepest beliefs about human rights. It makes me cynical about the state of the world and the future of liberty. Indeed the commision’s decision makes me and other libertarians feel insecure and hated.

Now, can I have my money too?

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This survey reveals everything that is wrong with the the state of freedom in the US. Some highlights:

42% believe that people should NOT be allowed to say things in public that are offensive to certain religious groups.

54% believe that people should NOT be allowed to say things in public that are offensive to certain racial groups.

38% believe that broadcasters should be required to report a certain amount of ‘positive news’ in return for using public airwaves.

66% believe that television broadcasters should be required to allot equal amount of time to liberal and conservative commentators.

62% believe that newspapers should be required to allot equal amount of time to liberal and conservative commentators.

PS: On the other hand, I am almost certain that the first two percentages would be even higher in other Western democracies.

(Hat Tip: The Volokh Conspiracy)

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No, it’s not the Taliban saying this, but the senior-most judge in Saudi Arabia.

The most senior judge in Saudi Arabia has said it is permissible to kill the owners of satellite TV channels which broadcast immoral programmes. […]

“There is no doubt that these programmes are a great evil, and the owners of these channels are as guilty as those who watch them,” said the sheikh.

“It is legitimate to kill those who call for corruption if their evil can not be stopped by other penalties.”

Have a good life.

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Hanging a noose has been a symbolic expression of hatred towards blacks since the days of the Ku Klux Klan. However, noose incidents have increased substantially over the last year, prompting some states to pass hate-crime style laws against it. According to DiversityInc,

To date, three states have passed laws to punish those who use nooses as a means to intimidate. Connecticut and New York passed laws in May, with prison sentences ranging from a year in Connecticut to four years in New York. Earlier this month, Louisiana, the state where thousands of protestors marched in support of the Jena 6, became the third state to pass such a law. So far, no one has been sentenced under these new laws….

Louisiana’s law makes hanging a noose, or an image of one, on another person’s property or on public property with “the intent to intimidate” illegal and punishable by up to $5,000 and up to a year in prison.

Lawmakers in Florida, Maryland, Missouri and North Carolina are considering similar legislation.

There is no doubt that the noose is associated with racial bigotry and intimidation and those who display it to show their lack of regard for others deserve contempt. But do they deserve legal action?

As Mike Riggs points out,

The noose’s negative cultural significance is not sufficient justification to ban it on public property. Why is a group of hicks waving images of a noose—or actual nooses—in the middle of a public park any less deserving of 1st Amendment protection than thousands of Ku Klux Klan members staging a rally on main street? Afterall, in order to allow groups like the Klan to march, cities must be able to differentiate between a protest rally and a mob hell-bent on peforming a lynching. That same rubric should be applied to displays of nooses on public property.

I have similar views on the matter. Expressions of contempt or hatred, provided they are undertaken in a non-violent manner, are consitutionally protected in the USA; there is no need to make an exception for nooses. Of course, if the noose is merely a precursor to an actual lynching or violence, the law has to step in. That would however be true for any similar act that does not involve nooses; as Riggs points out, cities ought to be able to differentiate between the two cases.

The greatness of the First Amendment lies in its absoluteness. Other countries that had incorporated weaker versions of free speech protection, — i.e. with caveats — were ultimately left with no  real  free  speech at all. As I have often pointed out, it is only speech that offends that requires government protection. Recent events in Canada and Europe have amply displayed the chilling effects of hate-crimes legislation.

Notwithstanding the offense-quotient of nooses, banning them, even on public property, does much more harm than good. Offensive or false speech is best countered by forcefully articulating the opposite point of view. It took a long time for mankind to realise the most important truth; let us not go back to the dark ages.

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Iran’s parliament is discussing a bill which would make “establishing weblogs and sites promoting corruption, prostitution or apostasy” a crime punishable by death. The bill also stipulates that once awarded, the sentence “cannot be commuted, suspended or changed”.

More here.

As a morally corrupt (certainly by Iranian standards!), prostitution-advocating libertarian and atheist who delves into all these matters in his posts , I wonder what I’d be thinking now if I were Iranian.

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Inflammatory rhetoric from doomsday-sayers isn’t anything new; nevertheless this statement by climatologist James Hansen strikes me as extreme.

Special interests have blocked transition to our renewable energy future. Instead of moving heavily into renewable energies, fossil companies choose to spread doubt about global warming, as tobacco companies discredited the smoking-cancer link. Methods are sophisticated, including disguised funding to shape school textbook discussions.

CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature. If their campaigns continue and “succeed” in confusing the public, I anticipate testifying against relevant CEOs in future public trials. 

Global warming is real; the science proves it. However, equating the actions of Oil company CEO’s (or tobacco CEO’s for that matter) with actual crimes against humanity displays an astonishing lack of understanding of the words involved and a terrible disregard for the freedoms we hold dear.

(Link via The Volokh Conspiracy)

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This is a disturbing and stark reminder of how much India lags behind the US in free speech.

The cyber cell of the Pune police on Saturday arrested one more suspect for allegedly uploading obscene and derogatory text about Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on a social networking site.

The suspect has been identified as Nithin Chakravarti Suresh Sajja (22) of Begumpeth, Hyderabad. Earlier the crime branch had arrested Rahul Krishnakumar Vaid (22), an IT professional of Gurgaon on May 17.

The Information Technology Act under which the suspect was arrested has been previously used against other people for writing derogatory things about Bal Thackeray, Ambedkar and Shivaji.

Why would this not happen in the United States?

The only law that could conceivably apply in such a scenario in the US is defamation. In order to qualify as defamation under American law, a statement must be both false and injurious to the reputation of an individual. Furthermore, when public figures are involved, the burden is on the accuser to prove malicious intent.

Perhaps the most important qualifier in the above paragraph is the word ‘false’. By definition, opinions cannot be true or false, because they are, well, opinions. Thus, an opinion, however offensive or disgusting, is not legally actionable. A statement that on literal reading is factual but is really just an opinion (e.g “She is a bitch”) is also safe from prosecution.

It seems highly likely that in this particular case, the poor guy currently behind bars was just expressing his opinions about Sonia Gandhi in colorful language. It is also likely that whatever statement he posted did not do any real harm to Ms. Gandhi’s reputation. Thus, if this were the US, the idea that he could be arrested for such an offence would be almost laughable. There is no shortage of offensive humor here against political leaders (check out the Hillary nutcracker) or celebrities in general (in a South Park episode, Paris Hilton is depicted as stuffing a pineapple into her vagina) and no one is ever arrested for such things. 

A second point, I think, is also worth mentioning. Defamation in the US and many other countries is a civil offence, meaning you can be fined for it but not jailed (a few American states still have criminal defamation statutes, but they are almost never enforced). Thus, even if the defamation law did apply to the Sonia Gandhi episode above (that is, if Nithin had made explicit false statements about her), it would not result in jail time.

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