In my days hanging out on the ACLU forums, we debated a lot of free speech issues. These were the days of the "Communications Decency Act," (1996) a patently unconstitutional law that was passed by the house and senate and signed by none-other-than William Jefferson Clinton. The Act was immediately struck down by federal courts for infringing on citizen's First Amendment rights. But first it passed the congress. Then the president's desk. It was blatantly unlawful in this country, and yet it passed without reservation. That was a frightening moment, a watershed moment that could have gone either way. It was clear then that unconstitutional laws could pass the congress and the president's desk (ie. PATRIOT ACT). Our rights were under attack and would continue to be, into the foreseeable future. Like today.
One of the popular articles currently circulating on this topic is by "peace activist", "radio commentator" and "columnist" Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich. She makes a quasi-legal case for quashing free speech in regard to Islam:
"There is a precedent to curbing free speech when deemed harmful. In a landmark Supreme Court hearing -- Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919) , the actions of Schenck, an anti-war individual who had printed and distributed leaflets in order to discourage enlisting servicemen, was not afforded protection under the First Amendment. The issue before the court was whether Schenck's actions (words, expression) were protected by the free speech clause of the First Amendment."
Of course this is a mind-numbingly terrible Supreme Court decision. Such an assault on freedom of expression has scarcely had such glaring cases as this to point at. How much damage resulted from prohibiting military recruits from hearing the arguments against going off to fight wars? This is a fascistic ruling, in contravention of the spirit of the First Amendment, and should clearly be struck down, not praised and regurgitated.
Notably president Wilson himself campaigned on the platform of keeping the United States out of the war in Europe. A deceit, a Big Lie. This period is a dark stain on America where propaganda was institutionalized, financed by the government; surveillance of citizens was instituted; mail was opened; people were arrested for political crimes. That a self-professed peace activist would cite this case in a positive light is a bit baffling.
The ruling itself was a so-called violation of the recently passed "Espionage Act" (1917). Mailing flyers was now considered the trumped-up act of "conspiracy to obstruct the recruiting and enlistment service." Telling the people who would go kill, die and be maimed the truth about the war could now be considered a "conspiracy." This is a clear eradication of ideas that the government decided should not be spread. This sort of mind-control could lead to good things in the world? Seriously?
Soraya continues with another monumentally terrible development that should have all of California on the phone to the capitol, screaming into their ears:
"August 2012, California passed a resolution (House Resolution 35) against criticism of Israel. What is perhaps more revealing than the Resolution itself, is the desire and the power to curb "free speech" (read Resolution)."
This corruption has not yet been tested in the courts, and could likely be struck down, like the Communications Decency Act before it. This bill creates a specially selected group and grants exceptional, extraordinary rules in relation to this group. The law attempts to regulate speech on the campuses of California, whereby criticism of Israel is equated with anti-Semitism and officially condemned.
"(2) speakers, films, and exhibits sponsored by student, faculty, and community groups that engage in anti-Semitic discourse or use anti-Semitic imagery and language to falsely describe Israel, Zionists, and Jews, including that Israel is a racist, apartheid, or Nazi state""
Granted, it doesn't seem to apply if the "racist" or "apartheid" charge isn't "falsely" applied. So, perhaps former president Jimmy Carter can still talk about his book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid at the colleges of California. But then again, that isn't particularly clear from this vague, broad wording that attempts to prohibit negative descriptions of the policies of a foreign country. This is an example of the slippery slope continual chipping away at bedrock freedoms, here in the U.S.
What Soraya has revealed is the tendency to use bad precedents to enact more bad laws based on bad reasoning.
"Perhaps for the protestors [in the Middle East], it is hard to understand that the [American] President's kill list allows the assassination of American individuals " based merely on patterns of behavior " yet he is not able to exercise power to curb speech denigrating Islam. Why has there been no will to put a stop to these insults and the ensuing violence?"
Besides using Obama's war crimes and felony murders as a legal precedent, Soraya brings up several other issues at once. A little clarification is in order here. Killing American citizens without due process is murder and an impeachable crime. We should be clear on that, and not accept excuses to the contrary. The constitution is very clear about due process, warrants, various amendments establishing the rights of the accused and the right to a fair trial. Violating this is criminal. We should not tolerate these abuses at all.
As for the "insults" and the "ensuing violence" these are obviously two different things. Someone can insult without violence becoming the response. Why is violence not the responsibility of the perpetrator of said violence? Why is the alleged culprit here only the one doing the insulting? Standard legal norms place the blame for violence on those committing it. Stretching such blame to others may work in an organized crime setting, where underlings are part of a conspiracy, a hierarchical organization that issues orders. However, this linkage does not extend to such random connections as those who watch videos that someone else posted, the two having no personal connection whatsoever to one-another. In no way is a movie trailer to be used as a causative factor in the perpetration of violence half a world away. That has no basis in any law, as far as I am aware.
Further, there is quite a lot of evidence that the violence at the Benghazi, Libya embassy, and the murder of the American diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with the film trailer at all, and was a coordinated military attack in revenge for the killing of Al Qaeda's "number two" commander in June of this year -- a Libyan. Benghazi has been a seething cauldron of radical Islamist violence since the days when Qaddafi quite rightly told us so. These were casualties in an ongoing war, and quite unrelated to this free speech debate over a "film."