Friday, March 4, 2011

Put the Constitution on the Ground. Walk Away Slowly from the Constitution

Justin Elliott reports that Sarah Palin has tried to back down from her previous criticism of the Supreme Court ruling in favor of the First Amendment. Of course, she did so while basically repeating her criticism; it's a common tactic.
“Obviously my comment meant that when we’re told we can’t say ‘God bless you’ in graduation speeches or pray before a local football game but these wackos can invoke God’s name in their hate speech while picketing our military funerals, it shows ridiculous inconsistency,” Palin told [The Daily Caller]. “I wasn’t calling for any limit on free speech, and it’s a shame some folks tried to twist my comment in that way. I was simply pointing out the irony of an often selective interpretation of free speech rights.”
As Elliott points out, Palin still doesn't understand the difference between freedom of speech and the Establishment clause, which prohibits government involvement in religion. But as I wrote Wednesday, Palin is far from alone in her confusion. I believe that most Americans agree with her, especially when it comes to speech that offends them.

Jon Stewart weighed in on the topic, for example.

You know, I get the impression that Stewart doesn't really like "Principled Behavior." But he doesn't have much to say about it, other than that he really really really dislikes Westboro Baptist Church. So do I, but how much courage does it take for him to say so? It's like Sarah Palin getting up in front of her fans and denouncing Barack Obama. Attacking Phelps is one of the safest things you can do in America. So what's the point?

Stewart goes on to address the recent dismissal of a star Brigham Young University basketball player for violating the school's honor code by having sex with his girlfriend. Like numerous other mainstream commentators, but more grudgingly, Stewart credits BYU for sticking to its principles, but you can see that it still bothers him, because as a normal American he can't understand a school's willingness to sacrifice a winning player and lose games, maybe even the season, for any reason. To show how worldly he is, he cements his point with ... a rape joke.

By the way, I don't think that BYU deserves credit for sticking to its principles. First you have to have good principles. BYU Coach Dave Rose let it slip when he told the press, "It's not about right or wrong, it's about commitment." While there is something to be said for this -- other things being equal, people should honor the commitments they make -- it is about right or wrong.

But back to freedom of speech. The other night on Facebook, RWA1 linked to a Cato Institute post on the Supreme Court's ruling, and commented that someday Phelps would say the wrong thing to the wrong person. "And?" I asked him in a comment. I presume he had in mind something like this:
A day after the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed Westboro Baptist Church's right to protest against homosexuality at military funerals, the fallen Marine's father, who unsuccessfully sued the controversial Kansas congregation, warned that the church's protests will eventually spark violence.

"Something is going to happen," Albert Snyder told CNN Thursday. "Somebody is going to get hurt."

"You have too many soldiers and Marines coming back with post-traumatic stress syndrome, and they (the Westboro protesters) are going to go to the wrong funeral and the guns are going to go off."
"And when it does," Snyder said. "I just hope it doesn't hit the mother that's burying her child or the little girl that's burying her father or mother. It's inevitable."
Well, so much for the popular notion that our troops are fighting to defend our freedoms. I sympathize with Mr. Snyder, but he's trampling on the Bill of Rights and justifying violence against people who exercise the freedom of speech that Americans supposedly enjoy. His fake concern about "the mother that's burying her child or the little girl that's burying her father or mother" is repugnant, given the history of violence, both official and vigilante, against dissenters in this country. It may be less of a problem than it used to be, but Noam Chomsky recalls how demonstrations against the Vietnam War in the early 60s were routinely attacked by onlookers. I don't believe that opponents of American wars have ever picketed the funerals of American soldiers who fought in them, but the enduring "hippies spitting on veterans" myth is a reminder that a good many Americans regard any opposition to our wars, anywhere, as an assault on Our Troops, to be answered with violence.

Mr. Snyder, who complained that the Court lacked "the common sense that God gave a goat," also said:
"When my son died, I knew two days ahead of time that they were coming ... Because of (the protesters') presence, I had police coming out of the woodwork, I had sheriffs. I had a SWAT team. I had emergency vehicles. I had media coming in," Snyder said. "All I wanted to do was have a private dignified funeral for my son. "They turned it into a three-ring circus," Snyder said.
This doesn't make a whole lot of sense. If Mr. Snyder had won in the Supreme Court, there would still have to be police and sheriffs and SWAT teams to keep the Westboro gang away from the funerals they seek to picket. For that matter, the Phelpses "were picketing on a public street 1,000 feet from the site of the funeral; they complied with the law and with instructions from the police, and they protested quietly and without violence." If there weren't so many Americans who want to commit violence against protesters, all those police and sheriffs and SWAT teams wouldn't be necessary.
When asked what his next step will be, Snyder replied. "The thing that just hits me the hardest is all the hatred in this country."
"And I think if I wanted to look to what I'm going to do in the future, I feel like that maybe there's where I need to be," Snyder said, "to try do something with all the hatred that's in this country."
Maybe Mr. Snyder could start by looking in the mirror. Or he could concentrate on the living, and worry about Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is still being held in 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement at Quantico despite never having been convicted of any crime, with this new fillip (via):
A lawyer for Pfc. Bradley Manning, the Army intelligence analyst accused of leaking secret government files to WikiLeaks, has complained that his client was stripped and left naked in his cell for seven hours on Wednesday. ...
The soldier’s clothing was returned to him Thursday morning, after he was required to stand naked outside his cell during an inspection, Mr. Coombs said in a posting on his Web site.
“This type of degrading treatment is inexcusable and without justification,” Mr. Coombs wrote. “It is an embarrassment to our military justice system and should not be tolerated. Pfc. Manning has been told that the same thing will happen to him again tonight. No other detainee at the brig is forced to endure this type of isolation and humiliation.”
First Lt. Brian Villiard, a Marine spokesman, said a brig duty supervisor had ordered Private Manning’s clothing taken from him. He said that the step was “not punitive” and that it was in accordance with brig rules, but he said that he was not allowed to say more.
“It would be inappropriate for me to explain it,” Lieutenant Villiard said. “I can confirm that it did happen, but I can’t explain it to you without violating the detainee’s privacy.”
Even the AP reported the story, so it's not like the facts are either under dispute or hard to learn.

It's a good thing the Supreme Court ruled as it did, or protests like this (via) might be illegal too.

Notice that not one but two Republican Congresspeople attended the rally and egged the frothers on. As Greenwald wrote, "I think what was most striking about that video is that the presence of small children didn't give these anti-Muslim protesters even momentary pause; they just continued screeching their ugly invective while staring at 4-year-olds walking with their parents." It reminded me of old clips of black kids being escorted by soldiers into formerly segregated schools, while white yahoos howled at them.

Are those Orange County bigots entitled to their freedom of speech? Of course, though I don't think their rights are in any jeopardy. And I can imagine someone fretting that someday somebody will snap, given all the hatred in this country, and the guns are going to go off, and they pray that the bullets won't hit the innocent blond, blue-eyed child whose parents brought him along to protest against the Muslims, but It's Inevitable.