Archive for the ‘Free Speech’ Category

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Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty (rafflaw)-Weekend Contributor

On February 7th, 2014, the sad reports were compiled from the deadly day before.  On Thursday, February 6th, at least 24 people were shot and 14 of them were killed.  Two of the dead were small children.  The shootings and killings were from cities and towns all across the country.  A 17 month old girl was accidentally shot by her 3 year old brother in North Carolina.

A 13-year-old was accidentally shot and killed while playing with a shotgun in the state of Washington.  In Seattle, Washington, a man was shot and killed by a fellow tenant.  A man in his 30′s was shot several times and critically wounded in Owasso, Oklahoma.  A 18 year man was shot and killed at his uncle’s home in South Carolina.  These and others were all wounded or killed by gunfire on February 6th, 2014.  Just one sad day out of many. (more…)

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Submitted by Elaine Magliaro, Weekend Contributor

The following video was made by Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist Mark Fiore:

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220px-DieudoWe have been following the prosecution of French comedian Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala, 46, for hateful speech in France, particularly his alleged anti-Semitism. While I do not consider Dieudonne funny in the slightest and rather offensive, the prosecution reaffirms the growing divide between the United States and its closest allies over free speech. Now, England has magnified those concerns by barring Dieudonne from entering the country. This sounds strikingly like the equally controversial move against Michael Savage.

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200px-Coat_of_arms_of_Saudi_Arabia.svgSaudi Arabia has long been criticized as a feeder nation for terrorists, including some of those who attacked this country on September 11th. Well, the country is finally cracking down with its own counterterrorism law but it turns out that the law may have more to do with political dissidents than religious fanatics. Civil libertarians are denouncing the law that would allow the arrest of any reformer or government critic as a terrorist.

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220px-Mumia03debo-adegbileThe confirmation hearing for Debo Adegbile to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has many of the standard elements and witnesses on Adegbile’s career as a lawyer and an advocate. One witness however is not like the other: Maureen Faulkner, the widow of a Philadelphia police officer gunned down in 1981. Now, Adegbile is not accused of gunning down Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner or even being an accomplice before or after the act. No, the witness is being called to suggest that Abegbile should not be confirmed because he represented the man convicted of the murder. Faulkner is being joined by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and the Fraternal Order of Police in saying that such representation is relevant in determining if he should be confirmed. It is move that strikes at the heart of the notion of the right to counsel and due process. Many law students become prosecutors because they fear that representing criminal defendants or controversial clients will bar or hinder their professional advancement while the presidents and members of Congress continue to favor prosecutors for judicial appointments (making the federal bench a sometime hostile place for criminal defense counsel).

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250px-Kink.com_logo.svgThere is an interesting dispute in San Francisco after state safety officials fined a pornography company $78,000 for maintaining a dangerous workplace. The citation includes allowing performers to have sex on camera without using condoms. That led to objections that the officials were singling out this controversial but legal industry and they may have a point. Wearing condoms is not legally required, even though it is clearly a best practice for “performers” and non-performers alike. However, the actual complaint against Cybernet Entertainment, the parent company of Internet porn producer Kink.com, was not brought by conservative or religious groups but the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a Los Angeles-headquartered advocacy group.

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Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty (rafflaw)–Weekend Contributor

In the years since the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War began, there have been some sizeable protests and demonstrations, but not quite to the level seen during the Vietnam War.  We have seen several significant protests during various economic and political summits and conventions in the United States and around the world, but they have been met with severe police crackdowns.  The Occupy Movement is one example of a long-term protest that on more than one occasion suffered through severe police restrictions and in some cases, brutal police tactics.

In response to the 9/11 attacks, the United States passed so-called anti-terror legislation that many claim have usurped and restricted personal liberties.  However, several  states also jumped on that bandwagon and passed their own anti-terror legislation. The State of Illinois is one of the states that passed its own anti-terror legislation and the use of that legislation prior to the NATO Summit meetings held in Chicago on May 20 and 21st, in 2012 is currently being litigated right now in Chicago in a criminal case brought against 3 protestors known as the NATO 3 under the Illinois anti-terror statute. (more…)

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By Charlton Stanley, Weekend Contributor

NSA logo smallLast Sunday, former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden was interviewed for the German television network ARD.  The interview was big news in Germany and much of the world in both print and broadcast media. However, the interview appears to have been blocked intentionally by US government authorities. In fact, the media in the US appears to have gone to ‘radio silence’ about it. It has been posted on YouTube several times, but is taken down almost immediately.  The video site Vimeo has it embedded, but as I write this, Vimeo is under a DDoS attack.  LiveLeak also has it, and that video is embedded in this report by Jay Syrmopoulos for  Ben Swann’s news page.

Mr. Snowden spoke candidly in a thirty-minute English language interview with the reporter from ARD.

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By Mark Esposito, Weekend Contributor

Mary-Willingham-UNCUniversity of North Carolina  clinical instructor and academic advisor Mary Willingham got a reprieve of sorts last week. UNC Chancellor Carol Folt admitted for the first time to the school’s board of trustees that the university had “failed students for years” by offering bogus classes, forging professors’ names and changing grades to keep athletes eligible. Jettisoning the party line that 2012′s scandal in the African and Afro-American Studies Department which resulted in an indictment against a UNC professor for fraud was merely an isolated instance, Folt said “We also accept the fact that there was a failure in academic oversight for years that permitted this to continue.This, too, was wrong. And it has undermined our integrity and our reputation.”

Ya think?

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220px-Euromaidan_Kyiv_1-12-13_by_Gnatoush_005Ukrainian riot police appear to be having trouble deciding who to beat up. BBC is reporting that police stopped a bus heading to Kiev and assumed that they were more protesters. So, they did what has become standard operating procedure for Ukrainian police: they proceeded to savagely beat the occupants. It turns out that they were government supporters being bused to support the government in its effort to break away from the West and sign a trade deal that will place the country under the domination of Russia. What is amazing is that, after being beaten by the government, they reportedly proceeded to the rally in favor of the government and all the good things it brings to the people of the Ukraine. Now those are the types of supporters that would have made Stalin proud. In the meantime, the police succeeded in capturing a real protester and reportedly tortured him and left him to die in the cold. He has survived to tell the tale.

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220px-Blame_Mosley_bannerWe previously discussed the case of Max Mosley, the ex-Formula One boss, who became infamous on the Internet after the posting of a video showing him in a sadomasochistic orgy. The story broke in the now defunct News of the World tabloid and reported the scene as a five-hour orgy with five prostitutes dressed as Nazi guards — a particularly embarrassing performance given the fact that Mosley’s father, Oswald, was the pre-war leader of Britain’s fascist “blackshirts” and even invited Adolf Hitler to his wedding. Mosley, 73, prevailed in a court action in showing that the party did not have a Nazi theme and that his privacy was violated. Now he is continuing what can only be described as a scorched Earth campaign against everyone who has carried the photos and announced a new lawsuit against Google. In a move that raises concerns over the censorship of the Internet, German court ordered the Internet giant to block photos of him at his sadomasochistic orgy.

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We have an interesting defamation case out of California where Courtney Love was found not guilty of an allegedly defamatory tweet directed against her former attorney Rhonda Holmes. The increase in social media and Twitter has led to new challenges under defamation law that we have been following. Such “twibel” cases are still evolving in terms of the standards and potential liability. In this case, Love had sent a tweet reading “I was f***ing devestated [sic] when Rhonda J. Holmes esq. of san diego was bought off.”

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Submitted by Darren Smith, Guest Contributor

Washington Legislative BuildingThe Washington State House of Representatives have crafted House Bill 2272 titled “The Fourth Amendment protection act” with the purported purpose of protecting state citizens from unwarranted collection of data that is provided to various agencies of the United States government without a search warrant. The act includes provisions that allow for a citizen to be arrested for complying with the U.S. government and sanctions local agencies and employees with even harsher penalties. One has to wonder which is a greater threat to individual liberty, the actions of the federal agencies targeted or this potential state law.
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156482_223545827783750_183494050_nPresident_Barack_ObamaThe United States Secret Service has interviewed a Republican candidate for the Florida House of Representatives after he made a comment on Twitter about the need for President Obama to be tried and hanged for his crimes. It was a uniquely stupid tweet but the controversy again raises the question of the federal law making threatening language against the President a crime. For years, elementary students, journalists, and even cartoonists have found themselves being confronted by Secret Service over comments or pictures deemed threatening. The effort is chilling for the first amendment and inimical to political speech.

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Robert-Marucci-TFNJ_0We have previously discussed the increasing discipline of both students and teachers for conduct outside of the schools. Now a case in Central Florida raises a significant free speech issue after a student was kicked out of his high school, Cocoa High School, for working in the porn industry. At first glance, this might appear reasonable but the problem is that Robert Marucci is 18 and therefore allowed to work in the industry. The industry itself is legal. Thus, the school has expelled a student for engaging in lawful conduct that many feel is morally repulsive.

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Richard-sherman-618x400I enjoyed the game with the kids last night between the San Francisco 49ers that sent the Seattle Seahawks. That amazing game however was marred by a bizarre rave from cornerback Richard Sherman. Sherman immediately followed the win with a screaming and unhinged rant. The question is whether the Seahawks should be able to discipline Sherman for such a disgraceful performance — just after an equally disgraceful taunting of the 49ers. I would be the first to defend the free speech rights of Sherman to act like a street thug and even diss opposing players like San Francisco receiver Michael Crabtree. However, the Seahawks drew well-deserved praise on this blog for moving against thugs in the stadium in the prior game with the 49ers. How about the thugs on the field? This is not an attack on free speech by the government. The question is whether a company can discipline an employee at work for behaving like a thug. UPDATE: Sherman has been fined by the NFL for his taunting shortly before his outburst on television.

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200px-US-CourtOfAppeals-9thCircuit-Seal.svg-Crystal Cox Blogger -There was an important decision last week in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in which a panel ruled that bloggers are entitled to the same protections as journalists. The decision is in sharp contrast to the view of Senator Dianne Feinstein and Obama Administration officials who have fought against such protections for bloggers in a new federal shield law. The opinion was handed down on January 17, 2014 in Obsidian Finance Group v. Cox.

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By Darren Smith, Weekend Blogger

Congressional SealRecently, several high ranking members of the U.S. Congress have made public statements voicing proffering NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden might have had assistance from a foreign power, namely Russia. The announcements have been contemporaneous with President Obama’s speech about the NSA and reforms he proposes. While it has not been proven decisively if Edward has or has not one has to wonder what the intentions of such announcements by Congress are and if these announcements are consistent with others who have been alleged to be acting at the behest of foreign powers and if this is more propaganda than standard counter-intelligence practices.
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By Lawrence E. Rafferty, (rafflaw) Weekend Blogger

We have all heard of the so-called War on Drugs and the recently maligned War on Poverty, but I submit that the real war we should be worried about is the War on the Poor of this country.  The War on Drugs has not done much to stop the use of illegal drugs and the recent legalization of the sale of marijuana in Colorado may be a small step in the direction of ending the War on Drugs which has only succeeded in jailing thousands on minor drug offenses.  The African-American community has been especially hard hit by this failed attempt to end the use of illegal substances.

However, the War on the Poor is in full swing and seems to be succeeding.  One only has to look at the Farm Bill which is set to cut the SNAP program by anywhere between the $4 Billion in the Senate version and the $40 Billion in the House version.  At a time when this same Congress is refusing to extend unemployment compensation, they are attempting a monumental double whammy by cutting the ability of the needy to survive by cutting Food Stamps.  (more…)

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Last available picture of David from 2012

Last available picture of David from 2012

It is with the greatest personal sadness that I have to report the death of a cherished member of our blog family. David Blair Drumm passed away on December 18, 2013 in Austin, Texas. David was there at the very beginning of this blog and remained one of its staunchest supporters. Through the years, David was a rock who not only brought reasoned and calm analysis to posts but also to the management of the blog. He started as a regular commentator under the name “Nal” and I then invited him to write on the weekends. He played the role of editor as well as writer. (Indeed, I am worried about this memorial since David often caught the many typos that I would leave in early morning postings). I came to trust him absolutely in his judgment and analysis. I considered him a good friend and one of the most important influences on this blog. David wrote as a Weekend Blogger for years, sharing his insights into religion, politics, and his always popular “Find the Kitteh” contest. Our success is due in no small part to David Drumm and this blog, I hope, will remain a testament to his work and his memory. To that end, we are dedicating the entire blog today to David and his work. He was a brilliant electrical engineer, a profound writer, a passionate civil libertarian, and most importantly a fierce and loyal friend to our blogging community. (more…)

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article-2538259-1A9A61D000000578-15_306x423We recently discussed a weight-loss advocate who was taken off Facebook for potential hate speech in criticizing a plus-sized clothing ad campaign. Now, Marilyn McKenna of Washington State says that a similar thing happened to her. McKenna posted an image to show how much weight she lost (over 100 pounds) only to have Facebook reportedly inform her that the picture was inappropriate for promoting “idealized physical appearances.”

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125px-Flag_of_Nigeria.svgRainbowFlagThe situation is getting worse for homosexuals in Nigeria by the day. The country has been taken over by a violent homophobia that led a few years ago to the enactment of a draconian law criminalizing homosexuality. Police recently have been arresting homosexuals and torturing them to name others for prosecution under the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which allows for ten years in jail. The law is not just about marriage. Called the “Jail the Gays” bill, it criminalizes homosexuality and threatens AIDS programs in the country. The question is that, as the recipient of a great deal of U.S. aid, why is it appropriate for us to indirectly support a nation that is abusing, and in some cases killing, gays and lesbians?

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Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty (rafflaw)-Guest Blogger

In recent weeks and months, we have all heard and read the many articles and stories about the whistleblower Edward Snowden and his disclosure of enormous amounts of NSA “secrets”.  His disclosures have exposed what the NSA was really doing, which is spying on practically every American’s metadata online and on the phone.  His disclosures have also put on display what happens to a “whistleblower” in this day and age.  He has been forced to flee his home country and is currently living in exile in Russia.

Just what were his crimes that made him fear for his safety and raised doubts as to whether he would ever be given a fair trial for his alleged disclosures of secret material and programs?  He did what any good American should do and that is expose illegal or immoral governmental activities and allow the American public to decide whether its government is acting legally and fairly. Didn’t he?

You may think his disclosures were an unprecedented example of a citizen uncovering and disclosing government programs designed to, at best, skirt the line of legality by spying on Americans, but you would be wrong. (more…)

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By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

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Wonderful Gene Wilder With A Grammatically Correct Meme

When I was a young lawyer twenty-five years ago or so, I remember a particularly enlightening client meeting. A 30ish woman had scheduled an appointment to discuss a sexual harassment case against a prominent lawyer in town. Being the new guy at the firm but with some considerable jury trial experience even then, I was asked to sit in while our senior partner met with the client. The client arrived and began a convincing narrative about a sexually charged work place replete with provocative innuendo, being subjected to daily dirty jokes, some pass-by groping in the hallway and even arriving at the office in the morning with an open Penthouse magazine on her desk. Despite complaints to the other partners with nothing of substance being done, she claimed, the client had taken all she could and resigned citing this treatment as the reason. Since the claimed harassment involved a superior and a text-book hostile work environment seemed evident, we were seriously considering taking the case despite what we knew would be a no-holds barred defense.

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By Darren Smith, Guest Blogger

Emblem of UAEShezanne Cassim of Woodbury, MN returned home from the United Arab Emirates after spending nine months in prison in Dubai for posting a documentary-style video, titled “Ultimate Combat System: The Deadly Satwa Gs,” which is set in the Satwa district of Dubai. It opens with text saying the video is fictional and is not intended to offend. The video pokes fun at Dubai youth who style themselves like “gangstas” and shows fictional “combat” training that includes throwing a sandal and using a mobile phone to call for help. Authorities evidently took great exception to this expression, arrested Cassim and later placed him into a maximum security prison. The arrest took place in April of 2013 and it was months before he and several co-defendants were informed of the charges. A state controlled newspaper stated he was accused of defaming the country’s image abroad. Cassim’s supporters stated he was eventually convicted of violating a 2012 Cybercrimes law prohibiting challenging of authorities.
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By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

This is the third of a multi-part article on the Public Interest Defense and its application to the the Edward Snowden situation. The defense is not recognized in America but other nations have considered this legal mechanism to provide an appropriate way to deflect criminal charges from whistleblowers like Snowden. Part 1 can be found here and  Part 2 can be found here.

snowdenWe found in parts 1 & 2 that the absolute right to a public plebiscite on punishment for political crimes goes back centuries to at least the time of Publius Horatius. We also saw that rulers have used this right to manipulate outcomes to further their own interests in deflecting blame or attacking political opponents. In modern times, the jury has replaced the assembled citizenry but the motivation of rulers to limit or channel the ancient right to their own ends remains. Even in America where the defense doesn’t technically exist but where its cousin, whistleblower protections, do, the urge to rein in messengers of truth remains.

The Public Interest Defense Abroad

Imagine the most influential prosecutor in modern America uttering the following words about the public’s right to understand the secret inner workings of  its government:

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image011326px-University_of_North_Carolina_Tarheels_Interlocking_NC_logo.svgWe have repeatedly discussed the corrosive effect on schools with large sports programs. This influence can be seen in lower academic standards to ethical violations to actual shielding of criminal conduct. Despite such scandals, the blind support for popular football and basketball programs continues with excessive salaries for coaches and the continued use of students for this profitable and popular non-curricular function. Professor Mary Willingham is feeling the full brunt of that distortive and often unhinged support for sport programs. She committed the sin of publishing a study showing lower standards for athletes in money-making teams for the university. The reaction was an array of threats against her life and a university that has disavowed her research after first denying knowing of research that it once supported. The university has now gone into radio silence — adding to the appearance of yet another institution unwilling to address such problems.

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A man who admitted posting online footage of himself dressed in a Ku Klux Klan costume to stir article-2535947-1A7D7C8800000578-641_634x428article-2535947-1A7EF30C00000578-119_306x423The widening divide between the United States and England over free speech was captured vividly in the case this case of Christopher Philips who was sent to jail for conduct that would have been viewed as hateful but protected in the United States. Philips was charged with appearing in three YouTube videos dressed as a klansman and posing with a life-sized golliwog doll (a type of rag doll depicting a black person). He is the latest person convicted for “giving offense” in England. Indeed, he pleaded guilty because, as Judge John Warner noted, “It does not require advanced education or knowledge of history to know what you were seeking to convey might cause offense.”

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camposAs many of you have followed, there is a controversy that appears to building by the hour. Let’s start with a quick recap. There is a free speech controversy swirling around an ethics complaint in Illinois brought by University of Denver law professor Nancy Leong (below left). Leong runs a blog site called Feminist Law Professors and recently discovered the identity of an anonymous commenter who has, according to Leong, left racist and sexist comments. She says that he is a a public defender in his late 40s and she wants him punished for his comments. He posted under the name Dybbuk. Some of us criticized that complaint as ill-advised and a threat to free speech principles. Then University of Chicago Professor Brian Leiter (left) who held a poll of sorts to determine if he should reveal the name of Dybbuk. Leiter says that Professor Paul F. Campos (right) has threatened him not to reveal the identity of the poster targeting Nancy Leong with the disclosure of unspecified embarrassing information on Leiter. That is where we last left this controversy. We have now received a response from Professor Campos.

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camposLeiterBrianWe have been discussing the effort of University of Denver law professor Nancy Leong to have the Illinois bar punish an anonymous poster called “Dybbuk” who criticized her on a blog as well as other female law professors. Now, University of Chicago Professor Brian Leiter (right) has added a rather bizarre twist to this story on his blog. Professor Leiter says that Professor Paul F. Campos (left) has threatened him not to reveal the identity of the poster targeting Nancy Leong with the disclosure of unspecified embarrassing information on Leiter. [Update: Professor Campos has responded]

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nancy-leong-fullbody2There is a free speech controversy swirling around an ethics complaint in Illinois brought by University of Denver law professor Nancy Leong. Leong runs a blog site called Feminist Law Professors and recently discovered the identity of an anonymous commenter who has, according to Leong, left racist and sexist comments. She says that he is a a public defender in his late 40s and she wants him punished for his comments. We have discussed the free speech rights of public employees in an earlier column and blog postings, including the right to speak on blogs and Internet sites. The actions of Leong are troubling for those of us who believe strongly in free speech values, including the right to anonymity.

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150px-muslim_woman_in_yementhumb_at_computer_silloetteThere are times when Iran and other sharia-based countries look like characters out of a Fellini film. This week, Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued another fatwa to Muslims that left the rest of the world chuckling. Khamenei has outlawed participation in social networks that include both men and women. He wants something akin to a Cyber Burka for women to avoid even getting as little as a tweet from a man who is not a family member. Adding to the absurdity, he used his website (which presumably has both men and women) to make the announcement.. He also has a Facebook but presumably any future “friends” will be male.

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satan_statueIt is a scene that would warm the cockles of every Satanic heart. In Oklahoma, the Satanic Temple has unveiled the design for a 7-foot-tall statue of Satan that it believes would go nicely at the Oklahoma state Capitol. After all, the legislature put a Ten Commandments monument on the site in 2012. So why not the comforting image of Baphomet, a goat-headed figure with horns, wings and a long beard for children to gather around and take strength from on school visits? While it seems a tad unlikely that the Oklahoma legislature (which has a history of intermingling Christian faith with legislation) will add a Satanic element to the Capitol grounds, it forces the question of why it is permissible to depict one religion in exclusion of others.

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220px-DieudoWe have previously discussed the alarming rollback on free speech rights in the West, particularly in France (here and here and here and here and here and here) and England ( here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). Much of this trend is tied to the expansion of hate speech and non-discrimination laws. Often these cases involve vile or obnoxious speech, but such speech is the test of our values. We do not need laws to protect popular speech. One case in point is French comedian Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala, who likes to target Jews in his popular shows. He has already been hit with fines approaching $100,000 for his jokes and there is no a move to have been prosecuted criminally. For jokes. Bad even sick jokes to be sure. But jokes.

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By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

This is the second of a multi-part article on the Public Interest Defense and its application to the the Edward Snowden situation. The defense is not recognized in America but other nations have considered this legal mechanism to provide an appropriate way to deflect criminal charges from whistleblowers like Snowden. You can read the first installment of the series here.

The Trial of Publius Horatius

Publius Horatius (The Younger)

Publius Horatius (The Younger)

When last we met Publius Horatius, soldier of Rome, he had saved the Eternal City from disaster in an epic battle of champions and then was quite ceremoniously convicted of  treason against the state for the murder of his sister thus preventing the Senate from dealing with her traitorous grief over one of the fallen foe of Rome. In a clever legal maneuver made at the secret behest of the Roman king, Tullus Hostilius, who distrusted the designs of the Senate in passing him this hot potato of a case,  Publius invoked the ancient right of every Roman citizen to a provocatio ad populum – a direct appeal to the people of Rome. Readers of the Christian Bible will likely recall that Paul of Tarsus was likewise accorded this right by virtue of his Roman citizenship, though by this time Rome had moved from a republic to an empire and the appeal was made to Cæsar himself.#

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Submitted by Darren Smith, Guest Blogger

Church and State StreetsDuring a city council meeting of Flower Mound, Texas, Mayor Tom Hayden proclaimed 2014 the “Year of the Bible”. He stated during the meeting “I ask that you join with me and encourage all residents in their own way to examine the principles and teachings found in the Bible.” He then promoted a Christian website administered by a local church “Calvary Chapel Church” promoting Christian theology and a program to learn the bible using a daily list of passages each day. The website is http://thebible2014.com and has a video link to the proclamation by the mayor here.

Aside from what many would consider glaring unconstitutionality of this type of proclamation under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and its applicability to state and local governments as interpreted in the Fourteenth Amendment, various other religious institutions within the city have voiced serious concern.
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By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

This is the first of a multi-part article on the Public Interest Defense and its application to the the Edward Snowden situation. The defense is not recognized in America but other nations have considered this legal mechanism to provide an appropriate way to deflect criminal charges from whistleblowers like Snowden. Part 2 can be found here.

The Legend of Publius Horatius

The Oath of the Horatii

The Oath of the Horatii

For centuries, children in ancient Rome would recount the legend of Publius Horatius, one of three Horatius brothers (known as the Horatii), who fought to defend Rome from attack by the militaristic and close-by Italian city-state of Alba Longa. Rather than engage in a pitched battle of armies for supremacy of the peninsula and subject all of Latinium (as Italy was then known) to the vulnerability of foreign attack, Rome and her rival opted to name a triumvirate of champions to fight to the death to decide the fates of two ancient megalopolises. One would emerge as the dominating power and the other would be relegated to a vassal state. The Horatii seemed the obvious choice among the Roman legionnaires as the triplet brothers  were unequaled among their peers in strength and martial prowess. Swearing an oath to fight to the death, the brothers strode to the Field of Mars to battle for both the glory and survival of Rome. For her part, Alba Longa chose her own incredibly coincident set of warrior  triplets known as the Curiatius brothers (or the Curiatii) who swore an equally obligating oath to “return either with their shields or on them” as a Spartan might say.

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eurocuptrophy80mm2008Well, the results are in and we have another distinction to crow about at the blog. We have been selected as the 2013 top News/Analysis site among the competing world blogs in the annual ABA Journal survey. The success of this blog is due entirely to our unique community around the world, which have maintained a site where the issues of our day can be discussed with passion but civility. Thanks to all of our regulars and particularly our our talented and popular weekend team of guest bloggers: Mike Appleton, David Drumm, Mark Esposito, Gene Howington, Elaine Magliaro, Larry Rafferty, Darren Smith, Mike Spindell, and Charlton Stanley. While we created and maintain this site to allow us to share our thoughts, it is always gratifying to receive such recognitions. It is always my hope that the selection will bring new people to our site to further expand the voices and views on legal, political, and sometimes just plain bizarre stories.

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Unknown-2Unknown-1We previously discussed how the American Studies Association joined a growing boycott of Israeli institutions, which is part of an even broader boycott of Israeli goods in many stores. There are good points to be made on both sides, including the absence of such boycotts for Chinese institutions and those of other abusive nations. However, we should all be able to agree that the response of New York legislator Dov Hikind is excessive and absurd. Hikind is showing his support for Israel by pushing legislation to cut off money to colleges involved in American Studies Association. He ignores the fact that the ASA resolution is non-binding and an expression of opposition to Israel’s policies as opposed to an enforceable ban. However, he wants to cut off whole institutions for even a loose association with a group that has condemned Israel. It is precisely the type of unhinged reaction that has distorted the debate over Middle East policies. He is being joined by Jeffrey Klein (right), another Democrat.

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India flagRainbowFlagWe recently discussed the Indian courts reinstating the criminalization of homosexuality in that country.  Now, the Indian National League, a Muslim political party, has reportedly launched a public campaign calling for all homosexuals to be killed under the nation’s death penalty. The posters appearing around the country also claims that freedom of expression is being abused by gays and lesbians in advocating their cause. This story has appeared on a couple of gay rights sites covering India but has not appeared in the mainstream press.

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Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty(rafflaw)-Guest Blogger

With the end of 2013 fast approaching, I have begun to wonder what the New Year holds for the country.  It looks like the Affordable Care Act is finally getting its website to function properly and the sign ups are now being counted in the millions.  Wall Street is still booming with the Dow Jones over 16,000, but yet unemployment is still too high and Congress is still trying to push austerity for the middle class and the poor, while doing everything in its power to prevent corporations and the wealthy from paying their fair share of taxes.  The Citizen’s United decision opened the money floodgates and needs to be curbed.  The military budget was spared in the recent Budget Deal, but yet unemployment benefits for millions have not been extended.

The gun lobby continues to prevent reasonable gun control legislation and needless scores of innocents continue to be slaughtered.  Instead of closing the gun show loophole or mandating reasonable and effective universal background checks, Congress did nothing.   Although there has been some recent movement from the Obama Administration to push Congress to allow the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, the facility remains open after 12 years.  With all of the bad news or non-action on many fronts, is it possible to have hope that 2014 will bring better news for all Americans?  (more…)

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Submitted by Darren Smith, Guest Blogger

Flag of the Peoples Republic of ChinaThe Chinese Government banned the video game Battlefield 4, developed by Electronic Arts, claiming the video game casts China in a bad light and advocates political issues which make China appear to be a warlike society.

The game play plot takes place in the year 2020 where a military coup occurs in China resulting in a geo-political intrigue that could bring the US into a protracted war.  The US sends troops to Hong Kong to fight against the coup and the PLA. 

The Chinese Ministry of Culture went as far as to ban all things related to the game including software, patches, and news reports.  It censored the topic of the game on China’s main social media website weibo.com.  On a link derived, according to ZDNet, from an official Chinese news publication, there was much worry over the video games:

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Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger

JFKRiceUniversityI’ve written before about the fact that the murder of JFK in Dallas was to me the most traumatic national experience in my life and the fact that I think it changed the destiny of our country in a negative fashion. I think that for many around my age this is also true, but it is now fifty years past and the majority of Americans have no real knowledge of it. The trauma of that day and the ensuing events of history have left me with an admittedly irrational repugnance towards the city of Dallas and I feel almost a shudder when I hear of Dealey Plaza, where the murder took place. These feelings are so intense that I doubt that I will ever visit Dallas in my lifetime, much less go to Dealey Plaza. When I got my weekly E Mail from my favorite investigative journalism website WhoWhatWhy.com I took note of an article about the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. The article was a humorous look at the potential for Christmas gifts that might be available at the museum’s gift shop and of course provided a link to the museum’s website, which I then followed. Going to the website and perusing it caused me to muse about the ability in our country to turn even our most solemn national events into commercial enterprises, while we pretend that they provide an educational service. (more…)

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ad611-sister-wives-season-4Incoming Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes has announced that his office intends to appeal the ruling striking down the criminalization of cohabitation in the Sister Wives case. The decision will ultimately send the case to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Denver, Colorado. However, the trial court has not yet issued a final order due to a couple outstanding issues. Once that order is issued, the Attorney General’s office will have 30 days to file a notice of appeal. In a surprising decision, the Attorney General also indicated that he will no longer have his office defend the Utah ban on same-sex marriage (struck down by Judge Robert Shelby) and possibly the cohabitation law (struck down by Judge Clark Waddoups). That will require the hiring of outside counsel and an outside firm to defend these laws as opposed to the Office of the Attorney General itself.

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badawiIn July, we discussed the horrific cases of Saudi blogger and activist, Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 7 years in prison and 600 lashes for “insulting Islam”. Badawi created a popular site called Free Saudi Liberals in 2008 to discuss the role of religion in Saudi Arabia. That was enough to declare him a criminal in the Saudi Kingdom, which denies freedom of religion and freedom of speech as well as the rights of women and political dissidents. Now, there are new concerns over a report that a Saudi judge has ordered Badawi to return to court to face a new charge of apostasy for which he could be executed.

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Submitted by Charlton Stanley, Guest Blogger

When the public’s right to know is threatened, and when the rights of free speech and free press are at risk, all of the other liberties we hold dear are endangered.
- Senator Christopher Dodd

Utah Federal CourtBack in 2008, John Palmer ordered gifts for his wife, Jen. John ordered from KlearGear, an online retailer located in Michigan. When the merchandise did not arrive, Jen began calling, but got the runaround from KlearGear and the order was canceled. At that point,the frustrated Jen Palmer wrote an account of her negative experiences with KlearGear on the complaint site, Ripoff Report. In describing her frustration with trying to reach somebody at the company to talk to, Jen wrote, “There is absolutely no way to get in touch with a physical human being. No extensions work.”

In 2012, more than four years later, KlearGear notified the Palmers they were being “fined” $3,500 for their negative review. KlearGear warned that unless the bad review was removed from Ripoff Report, they would turn the “fine” over to a collection agency. Ripoff Report makes it clear on their web site that they do not remove negative reviews, but merchants have the opportunity to respond, with their response posted next to the original complaint.

When the unpaid $3.500 was reported as a bad debt to all the credit reporting agencies, the Palmer’s credit rating took a nose dive. They were unable to buy a furnace they needed, they could not finance a car, and were denied other credit, including buying a new home.

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ad611-sister-wives-season-4Below is my column in the Washington Post (Sunday) on our recent victory in the Sister Wives case. The column looks at the most significant aspect of the case — the rejection of morality codes that once controlled across the country in prohibiting everything from homosexuality to adultery to fornication. These morality laws were upheld in the decision in Reynolds in 1876 in a polygamy case out of Utah. The Brown decision returned us to the same question involving the same issue in the same state. Some 136 years later however the answer from this federal court was very different. We are a different country today and, despite what one hears from politicians like Rick Santorum, I believe that we are a better country today.

There does seem to be confusion about the ruling with some saying that polygamy is still not legal after the opinion. That is simply wrong. Polygamy is not the same a bigamy. One is the crime defined under cohabitation statutes of living as a plural family or with a person married to another person. The other is the crime of having two or more marriage licenses. The latter has nothing to do with the structure of your family and has almost exclusively involved people who hold themselves out (falsely) as monogamous. We always argued that the state could prosecute people who obtained more than one marriage license. Bigamy has not been an offense committed by polygamists who traditionally have one official marriage license and multiple spiritual licenses. Indeed, the law targeted polygamy with the cohabitation provision precisely because there is a difference between the two. The state fought for years to preserve this law because it reached beyond simple bigamy. Before this opinion, it was a crime for polygamists to live, as do the Browns, in a plural family. After the opinion, it is legal. This is precisely what occurred in Lawrence v. Texas where homosexual unions were a crime but then became legal when the Texas law was struck down. This decision legalizes tens of thousands of polygamous families who will no longer been viewed as criminal enterprises. They will be allowed to be open plural families. They are now legal relationships. Legality of polygamy is entirely different from recognition of plural marriages just as the legality of homosexual relations is different from the recognition of same-sex marriage.

There is also a lack of knowledge about the existence of such laws outside of Utah. This law does exist outside of Utah. Indeed, the very same language is found in the Canadian cohabitation law. I was called as a legal expert in the recent challenge to that law. However, the Canadian Supreme Court in British Columbia upheld the law. Putting these distinctions aside, the thrust of this article is how this decision is part of a larger trend toward the repeal or the striking down of morality codes, including the rejection of a cohabitation law in Virginia this year.

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Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger

Hunger_games“The Hunger Games” represents a wildly popular trilogy of science fictions books aimed at first toward the Teen and young adult market, but then becoming popular with the “adult” market as well. It has become a very popular movie trilogy; the second installment was released in November, with the final film next year.  A synopsis is a dystopian North America of the future and a country named “Panem”.  The narrator is a 16 year old girl named Katniss Everdeen, living in District 12. Panem consists of twelve districts, rigidly controlled by a central government located “The Capital”, a city of wealth and great technological advancement. Each of the other districts are dedicated to particular industry’s and the people of each are kept at a subsistence level of life. There is little hope for the future and brutal retribution for disobeying the “The Capital’s” edicts. We are told that there had been a revolution some 70 years before that was brutally repressed and ultimately failed. As a reminder of the futility of revolution, each year there is a lavish production made for TV of a gladiatorial conflict and called “The Hunger Games.” From each of the 12 districts two young people are chosen randomly to fight to the death. Each district sends a male and a female. The ultimate winner (survivor) is gives a life of wealth, luxury and status. The “Game” is set up in such a way that each of the contestants tries to compete for the affections of those privileged to be citizens of “The Capital”. These elite citizens can spend exorbitant sums of money to send aid to the contestants of their choice to try to ensure their survival. The “Game” is further rigged by the “Gamekeeper” in ways that tend to favor some contestants, so ultimately the contests are deadly shams. Their purpose is to show the 12 districts the punishment that will be meted out should they ever again disobey “The Capital”, the futility of resistance and also to supply hope that one could survive the games to attain the benefits of a privileged citizen. (more…)

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220px-John_William_Waterhouse_-_The_Crystal_BallHouston bankruptcy and family law attorney Michael Busby Jr. has filed a rather curious lawsuit on his own behalf (and those of more than 100 people) for alleged fraud by a fortune teller. Busby claims that he gave fortune teller Melena Thorn $2,700 in a box for “cleansing” that she never returned to be part of a husband-wife reunification ritual. (The money was to be placed under the “marital bed” to bring about happier relations). Busby claims also to have paid Thorn $30 for a tarot card reading and $500 for the ritual. Many would be rather embarrassed to participate in such supernatural services, but Busby is taking Thorn to court under a claim of fraud.

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Freedom_of_SpeechZachary-Golob-Drake-WFLAZachary Golob-Drake, a 5th grader at the Patel Partnership School in Tampa Florida was elated recently when he won first place with a speech and an invitation to compete in the 4-H Tropicana Public Speech Contest. However, his assistant principal then told him that he would be stripped of his honor because she did not like the topic of the speech, the history of people using religion to justify murder. It is the latest example of how free speech principles are routinely denied to students in public school. Here is a boy who takes on a difficult and highly advanced subject, but is told that he must either give up the first amendment or his first place prize.

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