Free speech and artistic and intellectual expression have been controversial Western traditions since the rise of the classical-Greek city-state. When our Founding Fathers introduced guarantees of such freedoms to our new nation, they were never intended to protect thinkers whom we all admire or traditionalists who produce beloved movies like The Sound of Music.
The First Amendment to the Constitution instead was designed to protect the obnoxious, the provocative, the uncouth, and the creepy — on the principle that if the foulmouths can say or express what they wish and the public can put up with it, then everyone else is assured of free speech.
Every time the West has forgotten that fact — from putting on trial cranky Socrates or incendiary Jesus to routinely burning books in the Third Reich — we have come to regret what followed. Censorship, of course, is never branded as extreme and dangerous, but rather as a moderate and helpful means to curb the hate speech of a bald, barefooted crank philosopher who pollutes young minds and introduces wacky and dangerous cults, or a hatemonger who whips innocent people in front of a temple in between his faked and hokey miracles, or traitorous Jews who scribble and call their first-grade art the equivalent of Rembrandt or their perverted sexual fantasies the stuff of Hegel. Banning free expression is never presented as provocative, but always the final act of an aggrieved and understandably provoked society.
Lately, the West in general and America in particular seems to have forgotten the free-speech pillar of Western constitutional government. In 2012 an obscure Egyptian-born videomaker, Nakoula Nakoula, made an amateurish Internet video criticizing Islam. Innocence of Muslims went global and viral. Violent demonstrations in the Islamic world followed. In an effort to placate Muslims, the Obama administration falsely blamed Nakoula’s video for the storming of the American consulate in Benghazi. Leading the Obama pack was the opportunistic secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, who saw in Nakoula a convenient fall guy to explain away U.S. security lapses in Libya. In reality, the killing of Americans there was the preplanned work of an al-Qaeda terrorist affiliate that took advantage of absent-minded U.S. officials.
No matter. President Obama scapegoated Nakoula at the United Nations — a majority of whose members ban free speech as a rule — with pompous promises that the prophet would not be mocked with impunity in the United States of America. Nakoula was suddenly arrested on a minor parole violation and jailed for over a year.
No one seemed to care that the unsavory firebrand Egyptian had a constitutional right while legally resident in America to freely caricature any religion that he chose.
The IRS under career bureaucrats like Lois Lerner targeted non-profit groups on the basis of their perceived political expression. The best strategy now for stifling free speech is to arbitrarily substitute the word “hate” for “free” — and then suddenly we all must unite to curb “hate speech.” The effort is insidious and growing, from silly “trigger warnings” in university classes about time-honored classics that trendy and mostly poorly educated race/class/gender activists now think contain hurtful language and ideas, to the common tactic of shouting down campus speakers or declaring them to be dangerous “extremists” who traffic in “hate speech” if their politics are deemed insufficiently progressive.
More recently, the anti–sharia law activist Pamela Geller organized a conference of cartoonists in Texas to draw caricatures of the prophet Mohammed — in the fashion of the Paris cartoonists who were killed at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
As in the French case, jihadists showed up to murder the cartoonists. This time, however, two brave and skilled local Texas policemen stopped their attempts at mass murder.
What followed the botched assassination attempt, however, was almost as scary. Commentators — both left-wing multiculturalists and right-wing traditionalists, from talk radio and Fox News to MSNBC and Salon — blasted Geller for supposedly stirring up religious hatred.
Geller, and not the jihadists who sought to kill those with whom they disagreed, was supposedly at fault. Her critics could not figure out that radical Muslims object not just to caricatures and cartoons, but to any iconographic representation of Mohammed. Had Geller offered invitations to artists to compete for the most majestic statue of the Prophet, jihadists might still have tried to use violence to stop it. Had she held a beauty pageant for gay Muslims or a public wedding for gay Muslim couples, jihadists would certainly have shown up. Had she offered a contest for the bravest Islamic apostates, jihadists would have galvanized to kill the non-believers. Had she organized a support rally for Israel, jihadists might well have tried to kill the innocent, as they did in Paris when they murderously attacked a kosher market.
Geller’s critics also do not understand that radical Islam has already cut a huge swath out of American free speech through more than a decade of death threats. Ever since 9/11, they have largely succeeded by demanding special rules for public discourse about Islam in a way accorded no other religion. Disagree, and one is branded “Islamophobic,” as that now-ubiquitous buzzphrase “hate speech” magically pops up. Of course, when other so-called artists have desecrated Christian images, they operated on the belief not just that they would not be harmed, but that, as in “Piss Christ,” they would actually be subsidized by the U.S. government.
One wonders what the current apologists would have said about Nazi book burning. Did not Freudian writers and modern artists grasp that their work would offend traditional National Socialists who sought only to bring back balance to artistic and literary expression? Why then would they continue to produce abstract paintings or publish Jungian theories about sexual repression, when they must have known that such works would only provoke blood-and-soil Nazis? And had Jews just left Germany en masse by 1935 or gone into hiding, would not Hitler have cooled his anti-Semitic rhetoric? Why did some Jews insist on staying in a clearly Aryan nation, when they must have known that their ideas — indeed, their mere presence — could only provoke Nazis to violence?
Apparently there is no longer a First Amendment as our Founders wrote it, but instead something like an Orwellian Amendment 1.5.
Apparently there is no longer a First Amendment as our Founders wrote it, but instead something like an Orwellian Amendment 1.5, which reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press — except if someone finds some speech hurtful, controversial, or not helpful.”
Cowardice abounds. When artists and writers mock Mormonism in a Broadway play like the Book of Mormon or use urine or excrement to deface Christian symbols, no Christian gang seeks to curb such distasteful expression — much less to kill anyone. Every religion but Islam knows that its iconography is fair game for caricature in the United States; none sanctions assassins. Jihadists seek to make this asymmetry quite clear to Western societies and thereby provide deterrence that gives Islam special exemption from Western satire and criticism in a way not accorded to other religions. And they are enabled by Westerners who prefer tranquility to freedom of expression.
Among those who attack free expression the most loudly are progressives who do not like politically incorrect speech that does not further their own agendas. The term “illegal alien,” an exact description of foreign nationals who entered and reside in the United States without legal sanction, is now nearly taboo. The effort to ban the phrase is not because it is hateful or inaccurate, but because it does not euphemistically advance the supposedly noble cause of amnesties and open borders. Of course, the politically correct restrictionists have no compunction about smearing their critics with slurs such as xenophobe, racist, or nativist.
If a Christian cake decorator does not wish to use his skills to celebrate gay marriage — an innovation that both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama opposed until very recently — on a wedding cake, then he is rendered a homophobe who must be punished for not using his artistic talents in the correct way.
Note that we are not talking about nondiscrimination concerning fundamental civil rights such as voting, finding housing, using public facilities, or purchasing standard merchandise. Meanwhile, are we really prepared to force gay bakers to decorate Christian wedding cakes with slogans that they find offensive or homophobic? Or to insist that an Orthodox Jewish baker must prepare a cake for a Palestinian wedding featuring a map of the Middle East without Israel? Or to require a black-owned catering company to cook ribs for a KKK group? Instead, radical gays demand the exclusive right to force an artist — and a cake decorator is an artist of sorts — to express himself in ways that they deem correct.
Without free speech, the United States becomes just another two-bit society of sycophants, opportunists, and toadies who warp expression for their own careerist and political agendas. How odd that we of the 21st century lack the vision and courage of our 18th-century Founders, who warned us of exactly what we are now becoming.
29 thoughts on “The First — and a Half — Amendment”
“And they are enabled by Westerners who prefer tranquility to freedom of expression.” This should be rephrased to more accurately describe the situation: “…enabled by Westerners who prefer tranquility to freedom.” There. Now isn’t that a more succinct description?
We must require cartoonists of Muhammed to use bullet reloading equipment to make AK-47 rounds for Jihadists to shoot the cartoonists; whereas we shall concurrently require Jihadists to sharpen the crayons and pencils of their cartoonists… and then we will finally have Progtard Social Justice!
And Obama will finally be pleased!
To fret and be intimidated by the Left is cowardice. They tremble that they aren’t universally taken seriously, and that some even laugh at them. They blew it again, not claiming the first Mt. Everest earthquake was coming because of man-made global “climate change”. It’s too late to claim it, now, even though they know it is true.
To discourage them and to give courage to the “herd” of Americans who worry about being P.C., they should be mocked for their idiocy. Humorous disdain and ridicule are much more effective than the traditional whining response to their outrageous claims.
Being laughed at is far worse than their strongest weapons, shunning and name-calling. Once America realizes that these fools are what they are, ridiculous, they are finished.
Fewer and fewer Americans are taking them seriously, and this is a dagger they must suffer, if they are to recognize how totally gullible and silly they really appear. Let’s encourage and support good-natured ridicule. After all, they really are funny.
There have been hundreds of thousands of white slaves and indentured servants in American history. The percentage of free blacks who owned slaves in the American South during slave times was about the same as the percentage of free whites who owned slaves. There have been more white Europeans held as slaves in Africa–and generally in worse conditions–in history than there have been black Africans held as slaves in America. Gay people and Asian people on average make about 20% higher incomes in America than straight people and white people respectively. Women force men into sexual acts through drugging or some sort of physical threat, otherwise known as rape, at about the same rate as men rape women. The amount of money that goes to pro-global warming people and groups is *hundreds* of times what goes to anti-global warming alarmists. Almost no one knows these facts. Why? Because there is massive money behind providing redress to historical “victims.” These facts all explain what is colloquially known as “political correctness.” There are government grants, loans, social services, scholarships, special tax treatments, not to mention the government payments for the bureaucrats who work for the bureaucracies that administer these programs, that run to the tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars per year and millions of workers’ paychekcs. Being a victim is a big-time business. This is why liberals enforce speech so intensely. If even one high-profile person said all of these facts that I said above, it would be a mortal threat to the entire “victim”-based system of redress in the West. Over a working lifetime of several decades, this is many trillions of dollars that are at risk if even one high-profile person lets slip all of these historical facts that destroy the entire statist argument for these programs and bureaucracies. Doctor Hanson, if you were to state these facts in a nationally-syndicated column, I’d go buy all of your books as thanks and as a way to encourage you in destroying this evil “political correctness” nightmare, haha!
Thank you Pamela Geller.
It may be worth pointing out that, not only does the Mormon church not protest ‘The Book of Mormon’ production, it has gone so far as to buy advertising in the playbills. The ads say something like, “If you liked the play, you’ll love the book.” If only the jihadists could learn to laugh at themselves, or at least recognize that persuasion, instead of coercion, is a better way of changing people’s attitudes.
Some folks just feel guilty if everyone doesn’t agree with them. That deficit of approval causes them to doubt their convictions. They are correct in feeling guilty as it uncomfortably affirms the real truth they may wish avoid or even to deny. That also applies to the radically religious who tend toward violence. The simple fact is that an ultimate and all powerful deity who needs the hands of a mere man to do his killing is in a common sense way no deity at all. So why worship him? Why kill to satisfy his impotence?
I suppose a god who commands men to love one another is no god at all since he could do all the loving himself. (spoiler-> That’s a non sequitur.
The right to control your own contracts as an artisan is fundamentally violated by bullies who seek to force individuals, businesses and groups to write or communicate ideas with which they have a conscientious objection. Forcing bakers (artisans) to either quit their profession or give in to pressure to conform is not freedom. Freedom to contract or not to contract is so necessary in a free society that when it is abridged by civil rights commissions, it might as well not exist. Free thinking people must draw the line and say,”No further.” Forcing artisans by legal compulsion to serve others is by definition involuntary servitude. NO HUMAN NECESSITY is being violated by refusal to communicate an idea on a wedding cake that one finds objectionable.
Question is, what is the natural order of all those freedoms. Which one is the pillar that would have the house collapse if removed. As the picture in this article suggests, that freedom number one is the right to bear arms. Without arms there is no freedom of this, freedom of that. Forgot to celebrate 70 years VE-day?
Who can one trust? Anyone who mentions freedom in any place other than first place must never be trusted.
Then there’s the Orwellian combination of words into freedom-of-expression, freedom-of-religion and on and on. Orwell warned of the propaganda character of such language in his essay “politics and english language”. He is right. The construct freedom-of-speech can be transformed into hate-speech by replacing one half of the original word. The simple word “freedom” cannot.
If the Islamists get their way, our new vocabulary will enjoy words like halal-speech, halal-this, halal-that.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press — except if someone finds some speech hurtful, controversial, or not helpful.”
Not just any someone. Only a someone in a class privileged by the Progressive Theocracy.
“” Who warned us of exactly what we are now becoming” By any means necessary, it’s a mad dash to aquire and squirrel away before winter sets in—- The winter the captured politicians and their advisors know is coming. The gun has been fired, bullet is midair— It’s going to hit, and now it’s just a question of timing and the ripple effect. Corporations are already trying to flee the USA, and if we respond with the slippery-slope of an Obama-type lawlessness and deeper socialism…….. Study Detroit and the like. Chigago just got junked from legacy pension issues. Hate to say this, O’malley is on point, we do need a Marshall Plan for the troubled cities before, yes before they blow up, one after the other. The captured, impotent politician, ( frustrated wives galore), if they act at all, it will be half-hearted or the wrong stuff.
“” yury barmin twitter””. Evade the tax man Kerry’s tuber diplomacy. May 12th tweet. “Analyst on Russia–Ex-USSR
A great article. However, I suspect things will get worse before they get better. Cowardice is easy when success in other areas of life could be threatened by being brave. I imagine most everyone is guilty of that to some degree.
Wow, that was a fantastic essay! Thank you Dr. Hanson.
I’ve experienced some anti-conservative censorship myself while a college student. For my nursing degree, I was required to take a sociology class. I had expected the class to be about the American Melting Pot and E Pluribus Unum, but instead it was just an odious diatribe against America that was often filled with distortions and lies. My instructor was a second generation Burmese American whose family had been lucky enough to escape the Marxist military dictatorship there. He liked to dress in an affected ghetto style and often tried to speak in the same vernacular. I thought it terribly strange that a man whose family had known first hand the oppressive horrors of a totalitarian regime would be trying to tear down the only country who’s ideals of liberty and justice had given him refuge. He consistently described America, from Georgetown to the Founding Fathers to the Civil War to Jim Crow to the Civil Rights movement, with the same overarching theme of genocidal European racism. As I was a little older than the average student and, apparently, the only person to have a basic knowledge of US history I found myself quietly outraged at being indoctrinated to Left wing political thought and his often fanciful assertions of US malfeasance. Yes, America has not always been perfect, but were still an essentially good and just nation. On one particular occasion he declared to the class that the reason we hadn’t dropped the Bomb on Nazi Germany was because the Germans looked like us, and the poor Japanese didn’t. I finally raised my hand and said, ‘but Dr.____, Germany surrendered on 8 May 1945. Trinity, the first test nuclear explosion, happened on 16 July 1945. We couldn’t have nuked Germany as we the bomb had not been invented.’ There was just silence for the next few moments. I then continued. ‘Did you know that the picturesque German city of Dresden was firebombed late in the war for apparently no particular strategic purpose? Do you know the that the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which were no doubt horrible acts of war, actually saved more lives by hastening Japanese surrender and avoiding a costly invasion? Do you know of the Japanese war crimes in Nanking, China, Korean comfort girls and the Bataan Death March? He then cut me off and said angrily, “why don’t you right me a 2,000 word essay on America’s war crimes in Vietnam and hand it to me tomorrow.”
I didn’t write the essay, and, thankfully, he never penalized me. But it did remind me that the truth was not welcome in his class if it got in the way of his Marxist propaganda.
“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear.”
– George Orwell –
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As usual Dr. Hanson, you speak the truth. It is most unfortunate that it appears almost impossible to have a civil conversation with a progressive since your facts are untrue regardless of the proof you have to back them up. I have given up on having such conversations and that is sad since such reluctance produces even more divisions in our country. I’m 70 years of age and have traveled throughout the world and have lived in over 60 addresses in the US, but the conversations I have had with liberals in my past, again, are almost impossible to have with those now called progressives. So sad.