Thursday, 20 September 2012

Permission To Speak

In this video, the U.S. Assistant Attorney General, Thomas Perez, repeatedly refuses to answer Congressman Trent Frank's question as to whether the Obama administration's justice department would "entertain or advance a proposal that criminalizes speech against any religion". It doesn't take a genius to realize that Perez won't answer the question because his answer would have to be "yes" - as in, the justice department would love to criminalize certain speech acts such as, for instance, criticism of the various Islamic sects that advocate burning down U.S. embassies.

The radius of this point encompasses far more than whether or not people who make youtube videos offensive to Muslims can be arrested or not.

Either "free speech" is a right or it is a permission. If it is a right, then the limitations of free speech are described by other rights (such as the right to life and the right to property). If it is a permission, then the limitations of free speech are subject to the caprice of an electoral calculation or a political vendetta, which will - in true Orwellian style - be disguised as a "responsibility" or a proscription on "hate speech". The importance of this point for journalists and other intelligent people ought to be obvious.

J.M. Cole and others have taken the view that the CCP cannot bully Taiwanese people and people of Taiwanese descent living in the U.S. due to first amendment "rights". Although in that particular case in Oregon, the U.S. government acted as if the first amendment did indeed specify a right to free speech, the apparent fact that people in the executive part of the U.S. government believe themselves empowered to prescribe statutory limits to this "right" should give pause for thought: it is only the comparative disinterest of the executive in this particular case that allows people to continue the fiction that the U.S. government is a guardian of rights rather than permissions.

Video found via CCIZ.

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