The Obama Administration is currently struggling to deal with disclosure of its attack on the free press under Attorney General Eric Holder. Now, it’s U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, Bill Killian, suggesting an equally disturbing attack on free speech. Killian told a meeting with local Muslim citizens that he wants to “educate” people about how civil rights laws can be used against anti-Muslim speech. He made these comments along side of the FBI special agent in charge of the Knoxville office.
Killian was attempting to assure the community that “We need to educate people about Muslims and their civil rights, and as long as we’re here, they’re going to be protected.” That is an admirable outreach to this community. However, he then added that the appearance is an effort “to inform the public what federal laws are in effect and what the consequences are.” Killian discussed a recent controversy where a local Tennessee politician posted a photo of a man aiming a shotgun at the camera with the caption “How to wink at a Muslim.”
Killian was making the valid point of the different treatment given to such pictures: “If a Muslim had posted ‘How to Wink at a Christian,’ could you imagine what would have happened?” However, he was there to discuss the role of his office and linked the use of the civil rights laws to such inflammatory statements or publications. As the lead prosecutor, he was suggesting that his office (and the FBI) would be dealing with such matters as violations of federal law.
The comments raised obvious concerns given the Obama Administration’s support for an international blasphemy law during the first term. For many years, I have been writing about the threat of an international blasphemy standard and the continuing rollback on free speech in the West. For recent columns, click here and here and here.
Much of this writing has focused on the effort of the Obama Administration to reach an accommodation with allies like Egypt to develop a standard for criminalizing anti-religious speech. We have been following the rise of anti-blasphemy laws around the world, including the increase in prosecutions in the West and the support of the Obama Administration for the prosecution of some anti-religious speech under the controversial Brandenburg standard. Now that effort has come to a head with the new President of Egypt President Mohamed Mursi calling for enactment of an anti-blasphemy law at the United Nations.
Killian’s invocation of the civil rights law may have assured the audience but it triggered an outcry from civil libertarians. The first amendment protects speech generally, not just good or polite speech. If the government investigates speech because it is inflammatory or insulting, it would create a chilling effect on citizens even without prosecution. Moreover, the civil rights laws were never intended to be used to combat such free speech.
As the ranking federal enforcement officer in Tennessee, Killian represents a major potential threat to free speech when he publicly tries to “educate” the public on the power of his office to prosecute them in cases of inflammatory speech. He does not have that authority since such speech is protected under the first amendment. I understand the desire to assure this community, which has been subject to so much hate and prejudice. However, his comments left the false impression that he can and will police speech in Tennessee.
Killian’s example and the reference to the civil rights laws left an obvious impression that he believed his office could prosecute such matters. As such, he should make it clear that it does not have that authority to not only assure the public at large but to be clear and honest with this community as to the limits of governmental power in combating inflammatory speech like the picture.
19 thoughts on “Tennessee U.S. Attorney Under Fire For Suggestion That Offensive Speech May Violate Federal Law”
“If a Muslim had posted ‘How to Wink at a Christian,’ could you imagine what would have happened?”
I can tell you: nothing, aside from a few outraged comments on the story.
I think, in the end, only Muslims will retain free speech rights in America. The rest of us will be muzzled in one way or another.
As I understand the ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court has placed primary criminal culpability on the “listener” that commits crimes – not the “speaker” except in the most extreme circumstances. Ex: Rush Limbaugh fan who commits a crime, etc.
“I don’t like Muslims” is free speech. “Shoot Muslims” is incitement. I think such “jokes’ are a perversion of ‘free speech’ and should not be tolerated.I love our constitution and things such as this just pervert it beyond any recognition. Threats are not covered under free speech. You sic a dog on someone-thats a crime. Free speech is not carte blanc to let every thought spill out of your head out into the world.
Assuming good intentions, let’s not forget that the DOJ and FBI are both part of the Executive Branch – not the Judicial Branch! By and large, Executive Branch officials don’t subscribe to the constitutional rule of law where their actions are governed by the Bill of Rights. There is no real check & balance in this equation so this isn’t surprising at all.
The Judicial Branch (judges) checks unconstitutional violations and abuses. The Executive Branch has no incentive to uphold their oath of office to the U.S. Constitution.
The article here is a bit of a stretch. I know that the Justice Dept had to come down to Alexander County Illinois back in the ’70s when the White Citizens Council, meeting in a church had a guy up on the podium stating that “N—– don’t let the sun go down on you in this town!” and then invoked Jesus, that few libertarians thought that the feds were attacking free speech. Of course it is in the ear of the beholder.
When the Klan comes out with their Cross on Fire and burns down your shack with you in it because you are a minority or a jew down here in the country helping out the black folks then the government needs to address the free speech rights of those Klan members out there shoutin bout Jesus.
Free speech hasn’t been protected since corporate bullies began buying up every outlet through which unfiltered views should be able to freely pass.
The “Here’s how to wink at ……. ” over the barrel of a gun sounds like an incitement to me.
PC was created on college campuses, so it stands to reason a college law professor would try a codify it into law. It’s logical and consistent if nothing else. This is the change those who voted twice for Obama have gotten. So, anyone who points out inconsistency must first explain this.
This could be documentation that the Supreme Court is evolving into a Klein Bottle, and/or that the DOJ has fallen into one:
(Acme Klein Bottles). Musicians are watching the evolution into a Klein Bottle:
“I don’t think our elites believe in free speech in general
I think this may be the exact opposite. It is the mass of citizens where there is soft support for free speech–support free speech unless someone says something that offends me–and elites who protect it. Sad to say, but I’d much rather the Supreme Court making speech law than democratically elected politicians.
“Last year when the mayors of Boston and Chicago and the speaker of the New York City Council attempted to harm Chick-Fil-A, the company, because the president of the company opposed same sex marriage, where was Obama?”
There is a logical disconnect between the beginning of your comment and its ending.
“I don’t think our elites believe in free speech in general. They would just love to investigate you for internet comments. They would love to put in place laws like the ones in europe that prosecute people for speech about events of WWII. Those laws and the acceptance of them are going to be used to justify a blasphemy law”.
In the first part you seem to feel that the government should have done something to limit the free speech of the Mayors who criticized “Chik-Fil-A”,
In the second part you seem to be against blasphemy laws. How do you reconcile this?
That’s funny. His suit doesn’t look brown in that picture.
Listen up, Killian.
There is a certain percentage of the population that reacts to being told not to say something by saying it louder. I’ll continue to not only criticize Islam, Christianity and every other organized religion, but any politician, political party, person, social construct or corporation as I see fit until the day you fascists kill me. If you don’t like that? So long as I’m not threatening or defaming anyone or inciting panic or violence?
Screw you, jackboot.
I refuse to recognize any blasphemy law let alone your ultra vires assertion of powers you do not have.
I hope that was clear enough for you.
To answer Killian’s question about what would happen if a poster said how to wink at a Christian, I think that we all know that Killian would be the first on scene to file suit against any Christian who objected to it. He would protest that Muslims are have free speech rights and that prosecuting them for such a poster would violate their rights. While I am against anti-Muslim bigotry, I do have to note that too often this tolerance is a one way street for minorities. Thus we have the case of the lesbian adult girl who preyed upon a freshman minor getting lots of support, while many boys who do the same thing are in prison for the same crime and some folks have no objection to that application of the law. It is only the minority that gets a pass on bad conduct.
The same is true for illegals as well. They get an amnesty on a host of crimes for which an ordinary American is held to account, and they are at worst deported, which is legally NO punishment at all. I think it is time for justice to be applied equally to ALL.
Last year when the mayors of Boston and Chicago and the speaker of the New York City Council attempted to harm Chick-Fil-A, the company, because the president of the company opposed same sex marriage, where was Obama? I don’t remember him saying anything, nor did Romney. That was pretty poor.
I don’t think our elites believe in free speech in general. They would just love to investigate you for internet comments. They would love to put in place laws like the ones in europe that prosecute people for speech about events of WWII. Those laws and the acceptance of them are going to be used to justify a blasphemy law.
Oh what Police State we’ve become….
“For many years, I have been writing about the threat of an international blasphemy standard and the continuing rollback on free speech in the West.”
For many years it has been blasphemy to speak out against the Wartocracy, the most respected elitist warmongers money can buy.
One man’s wink may be another’s solicitation to murder. One woman’s gunsight over a congressional district may be a congresswoman’s tragedy. One Fox commentator’s “Tiller the Killer” may be another’s call to action.
We’ve become a nation that enjoys provacative speech that incites to violence yet leaves no fingerprints.
Sounds like he was originally, or perhaps just lately, educated in the propagandasphere.
“It can happen.”
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