Free Speech is Money

You know the saying that time is money. Free speech is money, too.

The surest way to restrict someone’s freedom of speech is to prohibit their ability to spend money on getting their word out. Mass communications is expensive. For example if I wanted thousands of people to read this article, I’d have to pay hundreds of dollars to promote it on Facebook or Google.

A disingenuous government official could tell me I have freedom of speech, because I’m free to write this article. At the same time that official could say I can’t spend any money promoting it, knowing full well that few will read it without such promotion. That’s not freedom of speech. That’s severe restriction of speech.

Sure, I could stand on my street corner and shout my message through a bullhorn. But only .0001 percent of the population or less would hear it. For real freedom of speech, I would need to buy airtime on radio or TV in order to disseminate my message. That costs money. A lot of it.

Those against freedom of speech in America are the ones clamoring for additional campaign finance restrictions. They want to deny people access to mass communications, and therefore are trying to limit how much one can spend thereon. That’s particularly alarming, given that when one refers to the virtue of freedom of speech, one is mainly referring to freedom of political speech.

Denying certain people access to mass communication is grossly unfair, because others enjoy such access all the time who aren’t in danger of getting their speech curtailed. They include op-ed writers of the New York Times. What makes them more special than someone who wants to spend a million dollars on mass communications in order to try to reach the same number of people that a NYT op-ed writer reaches? Op-ed writers aren’t any more special.

Just as we certainly shouldn’t be restricting op-ed writers’ freedom of speech, we shouldn’t be restricting anyone else’s freedom of speech either.

Give Thanks for Albion

mapThis Thanksgiving, appreciate the efforts of the British – namely the ancestors of today’s British. It’s largely because of them that freedom started to flourish.

We’re living in unique times. For most of world history, despotism and slavery were the norm the world over. It only has been within the last few hundred years, and only in certain countries, that those to scourges of mankind finally waned. For that, we owe much to the British.

Centuries ago it had been a given that monarchs wielded absolute power, even over their nobles. People were at the mercy of arbitrary edicts from kings.

The Magna Carta in 1215 started to change that. As Thomas Sowell explains in his book Conquests and Cultures, the Magna Carta was truly unprecedented. The document established rights for nobles that the king had to respect. It was the beginning of the concept of separation of powers. During the ensuing centuries in England, those rights were enshrined in Parliament, which limited the powers of the monarchy. Laws emerged curtailing the powers of not only kings but also of government officials.

In 1695 William and Mary, in an effort to gain support from Parliament and the populace, instituted a bill of rights. Monarchs could no longer remove judges except in cases of misconduct. An independent judiciary became firmly established. “All these things which are now so much taken for granted can be taken for granted only because the British pioneered in the development,” writes Sowell. The concept that people had rights that the monarchy could not override was revolutionary at the time.

Key among those rights were freedom of speech, separation of powers, and the right to a jury trial. These ideas spread to England’s offshoot societies such as the United States and Australia, and became a model for a great many other countries including non-Western ones.

Britain went on to become the world leader in abolishing slavery.

Understand that slavery had been the norm practically everywhere – in Europe (up until the Middle Ages), in Asia, in the Middle East. Until the rise of Great Britain, it was widely accepted. There had been no concerted effort to stamp it out by any government.

“It would be hard to find anywhere in history a record of any other country going to such efforts for so long in a cause from which it could gain so little and lose so much,” writes Sowell.

Of course, Britain had been prominent in promoting the slave trade, like governments everywhere at the time. What was different was that, backed by a moral revulsion against slavery among the British populace, Britain was the first government to work to end it.

Christian denominations, particularly Quakers and Anglicans, were a big factor in that moral revolt. It was in 1808 that Parliament, heeding widespread opposition to slavery throughout the country, voted overwhelmingly to ban the international slave trade. Thereafter Britain goaded other nations, through military (particularly naval) action and moral suasion, to stop slavery. Writes Sowell, “Eventually the antislavery crusade took root in the moral consciousness of European civilization as a whole, even in despotic countries such as czarist Russia.”

So this Thanksgiving, raise a glass to Great Britain. Without it, we may be living like people lived for most of human history – in oppression and slavery.

Obama’s Selective Speech Police

Where’s the Obama speech police?

Saturday Night Live recently featured a skit that mocked Jesus, depicting Jesus slaying with a sword Roman soldiers. “He’s risen from the dead,” said the narrator, “and he’s preaching anything but forgiveness.” Apparently it caused enough of a hoopla to prompt Sears and JC Penney to pull their advertising from the show.

Last year the Obama administration strongly supported a U.N. Human Rights resolution (# 16/18)  that  “deplores” and “condemns” advocacy of “religious hatred”.

At a U.N. “High-Level Meeting on Combating Religious Intolerance” last year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Obama administration would use “some old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming” against those who do “what we abhor.”

So did the Obama administration use old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming against Saturday Night Live? Did it bring peer pressure or shame upon artist Andres Serrano or those who exhibited his “Piss Christ” in New York City last fall?

No, but it certainly did against the filmmaker of “Innocence of Muslims” – the amateurish YouTube video that the administration erroneously claimed sparked the attack against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which three Americans including the ambassador died. The filmmaker was sentenced to a year in jail. To be sure, the charges didn’t pertain to the content of the film, but it’s doubtful  he would have been arrested if not for the film.

In other words, such shame and peer pressure is only reserved for those who criticize Islam.

This is certainly not to suggest that the Obama administration should go after those who mock or criticize Christianity. Instead, it should refrain from condemning the mocking of any religion, be it Christianity or Islam – because apart from implicit restrictions on freedom of speech, it could lead to explicit ones. Condemnation should come from those outside of government.

So here we have a situation where the U.S. government vows to speak out against the mocking of Islam, yet provided funds and sponsorship for the mocking of Christianity (when the National Endowment of the Arts sponsored the “Piss Christ” exhibition).

When it comes to matters involving religion, the Obama administration is not an equal-opportunity shamer.

Medieval Middle East Thinking Gets Applied to U.S. Law

I just read one of the most unbelievably alarming things that I’ve read in a long time. A U.S. judge let off the hook someone who assaulted an atheist for mocking Mohammed, because “in many Arabic-speaking countries something like this (mocking Mohammed) is definitely against the law there. In their society in fact it can be punishable by death and it frequently is in their society.”

When I first cursorily read it I thought it was the assaulter saying that, and I was ready to tell him, “Dude, you’re not in the Middle East anymore, where they do those things. You’re living in America now. Let me tell you a thing or two about how things work here. We have freedom of speech. People are allowed to mock religions. Being able to do that without fear of physical punishment is one of the things that make our country so great. If you don’t like it, then go somewhere else.”

But then I read it again. I had to do a double take, and catch my breath, when I saw that it was the American judge who said that!

Yes, Mechanicsburg, Penn. District Judge Mark Martin said that. I’m still reeling over it.

So Judge Martin, let me tell you a thing or two about how things work in America. This isn’t the Middle East, where they do those things and where the standard of living and quality of life are substantially lower than here, largely because they do those things. You’re living in America now. We have freedom of speech. People are allowed to mock religions. Being able to do that without fear of physical punishment is one of the things that make ours such a great country. If you don’t like it, then move to another country. Or at least resign from your judgeship.

Let us hope that there are not more people of authority out there who think along the same lines as Judge Martin. If there are more and more like him, then say goodbye to America as we know it.