Tag: Free Speech

Does Lighting Fireworks Constitute Free Speech?

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

180px-San_Diego_FireworksWith the coming this week of this year’s Independence Day, I thought we would revisit an article from 2016 and pose a question to you. Does the use of fireworks constitute protected free speech?

A tradition spanning multiple generations in the United States is that a large portion of our society celebrates and shows tribute to the United States through the lighting and observance of fireworks. Yet numerous municipalities and counties impose sweeping and total bans of fireworks. Some statutes regulate the type of firework allowable, such as those having a ferocity that safety requires certified technicians. Others ban benign devices such as snakes and small fountains.

But does a complete ban on fireworks regardless of size constitute an infringement on the first amendment rights of citizens?

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Honorable Civil Disobedience

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

Having seen over the years protesters engaged in voicing their grievances in fashions ranging from the peaceful to the violent, I believe it is incumbent to provide a guidelines in the hope of furthering a cause without the distractions that spill over into not only silencing important messages but preventing consequences that hurt others.

I propose the idea of Honorable Civil Disobedience.

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SpongeBob SquarePants Posed Existential Threat To Turkey

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor.

A nefarious, existential threat was recently vanquished by the post-coup censorship offices of Turkish President Erdoğan. No, it was not the PKK, nor ISIS, nor Fethullah Gülen. It was SpongeBob SquarePants and Smurfette, broadcast on a Kurdish Language children’s television network.

The media crackdown in the aftermath of the failed coup in Turkey has led to closures of dozens of news services and thousands of firings among journalists. Cartoon networks can now become labeled as seditious.

Apparently, SpongeBob’s cohort Squidward Tentacles nefariously slithered into the fabric of the state’s security apparatus and cunningly attempted to dismantle it from within. His ink: it sows discord by fueling the printing presses of subversives.
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Jordanian Writer, On Trial For Insulting Islam, Murdered At Courthouse

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor.

nahed-hattarFree-speech claimed another victim in the Middle-East after Jordanian Journalist Nahed Hattar, who is accused of sharing online an “anti-Islamic” cartoon, was assassinated outside a courthouse where he was facing trial for insulting Islam.

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Does Lighting Fireworks Constitute Free Speech?

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

180px-San_Diego_FireworksWe wish you a festive and joyful Independence Day and pose a question to you. Does the use of fireworks constitute protected free speech? We revisit this issue from a previous article of last year.

A tradition spanning multiple generations in the United States is that a large portion of our society celebrates and shows tribute to the United States through the lighting and observance of fireworks. Yet numerous municipalities and counties impose sweeping and total bans of fireworks. Some statutes regulate the type of firework allowable, such as those having a ferocity that safety requires certified technicians. Others ban benign devices such as snakes and small fountains.

But does a complete ban on fireworks regardless of size constitute an infringement on the first amendment rights of citizens?

Continue reading “Does Lighting Fireworks Constitute Free Speech?”

WA Supreme Court Rules Superior Court Order For Defendant To Write Apology Letter To Victim Does Not Violate First Amendment

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

Washington Chief Justice Barbara Madsen
Washington Chief Justice Barbara Madsen

We have seen many incidents of lower courts ordering those convicted of crimes to endure unusual punishments: some as novel as holding signs advertising that they are criminals; requiring the cutting hair of their children; or forced attendance in Church. While these are fundamentally unusual, a case before us here fortunately never rose to these levels of miscarried justice.

An appellant argued before the Washington Supreme Court that a letter compelled by a juvenile court,  mandating an apology to the victim of a sexual assault, violated his free speech rights by imposing a government mandated speech of which he objected.

Many might see the matter as a minor requirement to apologize to a victim and not “worth the trouble” on behalf of the defendant, or, perhaps representing a rather cold hearted approach by the defendant to contest such a matter out of spite. Yet, the Court likely granted review due to the compelled speech question not having been previously addressed in Washington.

Previous case law in the state tends to much favor free speech which is interpreted to be afforded greater protection within purview of the state constitution, and in most cases provides greater rights than the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

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German Chancellor Merkel Continues To Lose Credibility On Free Speech Issues

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

Angela MerkelGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel keeps digging herself deeper with her latest statement regarding her government’s prosecution of satirist Jan Böhmermann at the behest of Turkish President. Now, the chancellor expresses her regrets for offering support to President Erdoğan at the expense of her countryman, claiming it was a “mistake”.
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Scapegoats Of The Ottoman Empire: Merkel Sacrifices German Satirist To Placate Turkey’s Erdoğan

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

220px-Angela_Merkel_(2008)Free speech rights in Germany took another worrying turn for the worse when German Chancellor Angela Merkel personally approved an investigation of a German citizen accused of insulting Turkey’s President Recep Erdoğan, a world leader personally responsible for the erosion of free speech in this NATO member state.

The timing and enthusiasm, despite proffers to the contrary, of the German government’s persecution of satirist Jan Böhmermann for his broadcast of a poem critical of President Erdoğan coincides directly with the German Government trying to reach a re-settlement agreement with Turkey to address the refugee crisis besieging many European nations–a situation politically damaging to Merkel’s image.

We featured numerous articles relating to President Erdoğan’s attacks on newspapers, individuals, internationals, and any critics of him who are within reach of this grasp, citing a bizarre form of Lèse majesté laws as justification. Now, Merkel is demonstrating a willingness to use a rather dusty remnant of such a statute in Germany as a tool to preserve the ego of a foreign head of state, to accomplish a domestic political goal.

For his part, Mr Böhmermann risks five years incarceration for the act of reciting poetry. In several day’s time, he became a convenient scapegoat to placate a foreign leader bent on resurrecting a Neo-Ottoman-Empire, with Erdoğan as its sultan.
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A Dissenting View On Our Host’s Article “England Moves To Bar Support For Israeli Boycott Movement”

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

UKFlagWhile I am usually in agreement with Professor Turley’s views on free speech, I must disagree in large part with his opinion as he states in his article concerning England moving to bar support of local governments to boycott Israel and by extension other governments.

I do agree with his concern and objection of governments jailing individual citizens for engaging in boycotts of various entities. Allowing local governments to enact legislation calling for boycotts themselves is however problematic.
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FCC Commissioner: Restrictions On College Campuses And Twitter Show Free Speech Slipping Away

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

Ajit Pai
Ajit Pai

In an interview with the Washington Examiner, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai expressed his worry of the waning of free speech rights in American. The suppression of dissenting speech on college campuses and Twitter he believes are prime examples.

“I think th[is] poses a special danger to a country that cherishes First Amendment speech, freedom of expression, even freedom of association. I think it’s dangerous, frankly, that we don’t see more often people espousing the First Amendment view that we should have a robust marketplace of ideas where everybody should be willing and able to participate.

Largely what we’re seeing, especially on college campuses, is that if my view is in the majority and I don’t agree with your view, then I have the right to shout you down, disrupt your events, or otherwise suppress your ability to get your voice heard.”

The text of the First Amendment is enshrined in our Constitution, but there are certain cultural values that undergird the amendment that are critical for its protections to have actual meaning.”

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Another Academic Faces Prison In Turkey, This Time For A Test Question About Öcalan

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

Resat Baris Unlu
Resat Baris Unlu

Three weeks ago, we featured an article describing the plight of dozens of academics who faced arrest after signing a peace petition. These advocates were declared enemies of the Republic of Turkey. Now President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government will put on trial a Turkish professor who placed onto an exam questions referencing PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan.

Ankara University professor Resat Baris Unlu faces charges for spreading “terrorist propaganda” after presenting his students a question comparing two documents written by the founder of the proscribed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who is currently serving a life sentence.

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Citizen Cited For Displaying “Cops Ahead” Sign Has His Day In Court

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

From screen shot: KOMO News
From screen shot: KOMO News

Last June we reported a rather upsetting incident involving the Seattle Police Department Motor Traffic Unit. Citizen Daniel Gehlke saw motorcycle officers set up near the intersection of 14th Avenue South and South Washington and begin enforcing stop sign and speed laws. Mr. Gehlke then obtained a Rubbermaid container lid and wrote thereon the words “COPS AHEAD! Stop at sign and light!” He stood nearby the intersection displaying the lid to warn drivers of the traffic unit’s presence and recommend compliance with the law.

Unfortunately for Mr. Gehlke the traffic unit took exception to this and cited him under a Seattle Municipal Ordinance making the display of a sign “bearing any such words as ‘danger,’ ‘stop,’ ‘slow,’” and more… [with] Directions likely to be construed as giving warning to or regulating traffic.” In the view of your author this was a highly suspect and chippy charge, and is only a minimally veiled pretext to retaliate against the citizen holding up the sign and thereby thwarting the number of tickets to be issued.

The Motor Unit officer issued Mr. Gehlke a notice of infraction having a $138.00 penalty. He then altered the sign to remove some of the words and continued his speech.  Now, Gehlke had his day in court.
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Australian Woman Posts Picture Of Car Parked Across Two Handicapped Spots . . . Abu Dhabi Court Convicts Her Of “Writing Bad Words”

1436817150041We have been discussing the intolerance shown by countries in the Middle East for free speech, particularly those Muslim countries applying the medieval Sharia law system. Abu Dhabi has again stepped forward to reaffirm its rejection of fundamental principles of free speech. Our Middle Eastern ally has jailed an Australian woman, Jodi Magi, 39, for merely posting a photo on Facebook of a car parked across two disabled parking spaces. She even blurred out the license plate (which most people would not do) in showing the rude conduct of some driver. The driver called police and Magi was arrested for on the truly moronic charge of “writing bad words on social media.” In bringing the charge, the prosecutors in Abu Dhabi confirmed that they are maintaining a faux legal system that recognizes neither basic rights nor basic logic.

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Dutch Cabinet Backs Partial Burqa Ban

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

170px-Burqa_Afghanistan_01The Dutch Cabinet voted to draft a bill to enforce a ban on wearing the Islamic burqa in various government buildings and institution. Citing what were described as security concerns, the government in a statement declared “Face-covering clothing will in [the] future not be accepted in education and healthcare institutions, government buildings and on public transport.”

Prime Minister Mark Rutte stated to journalists: “The bill does not have any religious background.”

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Critics of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Law Are Trying To Have Their Cake and Eat it, Too

Wedding_cake_with_pillar_supports,_2009Below is my Sunday column in the Washington Post on Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Within minutes of the signing of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a chorus of condemnation arose across the country that threw Indiana Governor Mike Pence and his colleagues back on their heels. The response was understandable, though somewhat belated. After all, both Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama supported similar language that is found not only in federal law but the laws of 19 other states. While broader than most of these laws, the premise of the Indiana law was the same: citizens could raise religious beliefs as a defense to governmental obligations or prohibitions.

For those of us who have been warning for years about the collision of anti-discrimination laws and religious beliefs, the current controversy was a welcomed opportunity to have this long-avoided debate. Yet, we are still not having that debate. Instead, there is a collective agreement that discrimination is wrong without addressing the difficult questions of where to draw the line between the ban on discrimination and the right to free speech and free exercise. That includes the question of why only religious speech should be protected in such conflicts, as noted in the column. Yet, there is a reluctance of acknowledge good faith concerns among religious people in fear of being viewed as bigoted.

There has been a great deal of heated rhetoric in this discussion that avoids many of the more difficult questions. For example there is the common criticism that these bakers cannot assert their religious beliefs when it is really their business that is being required to take certain actions. However, last year, the Supreme Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. expressly found that such businesses do have religious rights (as they do speech rights, as recognized in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission). In 2014, the Court ruled that “no conceivable definition of the term includes natural persons and nonprofit corporations, but not for-profit corporations.” Likewise, despite arguments that the federal RFRA is narrower because it references only conflicts with the government (and not other private parties in the Indiana law), some courts have ruled that it can be used in civil litigation.

As expected, the response of some commentators was to condemn even raising these question of free speech by saying that it saying that it equates gay couples to the KKK or Nazi sympathizers. Even when admitting that they do not have an answer for the free speech question, the attack is on the raising of such questions. There are legitimate concerns over allowing businesses to refuse to prepare products deemed offensive due to symbols or language, but we cannot really address these issues if people are denounced for just raising the conflicts and discussing conflicts. It results in a circular position that we can discuss the question of the protection of offensive speech but not if the question is offensive to discuss. This is an unfortunate trend where difficult questions are avoided by attacking those raising them as presumptive racists or homophobes etc for even raising different types of speech or views. It is a rather odd position to be placed in given my writings for decades supporting gay rights and same sex marriage. More importantly, when discussing the limits of free speech, one necessarily discusses the broad spectrum of free speech examples, including offensive speech. There is not an effort to equate gay marriage symbols or language with anti-Semitimic symbols or language. Obviously, as a supporter of same-sex marriage, I reject that notion. However, the point is that some people hold opposing views from my own. Some of those views I find deeply offensive. If we want to discuss the growing limitations on speech, we need to explore the spectrum of different forms of speech. That is what CNN did in the interview when raising the “KKK cake.” CNN was not saying that such a view is equally valid on the merits. It is ridiculous to say that, by discussing what different people consider offensive, we are saying that all of those views are valid or correct. It is not enough to say that such people are simply wrong or there is clearly a difference in the “real” offensiveness of the messages. Indeed, in some ways, such critics are answering the question by saying that some views are simply not viable because they are wrong. That is saying that society will draw the line on what speech can be the basis for refusing services and what cannot be such a basis.

The column below raises the question of line drawing and states that I would prefer an absolute rule requiring all services. However, I could not support such a rule if we are going to strip protection from “wrong” views while allowing others to refuse on the ground that other symbols or language are clearly offensive. One variation on the “No Cake For You” approach below was suggested by a colleague who said that we could allow bakers and others to refuse any offensive language — religious or non-religious — unless the government could show that the baker would have sold the cake but for the status of the prospective buyer (e.g., gay or straight, Jewish or not, etc.). Thus, as long as the basis of the refusal was the actual language or symbols, it would be protected as an expressive act.

As I say in the column, I continue to struggle with drawing this line. None of the options are particularly satisfying. However, I do think that we have to have a real dialogue on this issue free of low-grade efforts to those on the other side as bigoted for wanting to discuss the range of free speech conflicts. The point is that, when dealing with the question of the right to refuse to create offensive symbols or language, one must address the fact that there are a wide array of such conflicts that can arise among different religious, cultural, or political groups. One does not have to agree with their speech to raise the question of their right to engage in such speech. Indeed, the first amendment is designed to protect unpopular speech. We do not need it to protect popular speech. Some may ultimately decided that no business can refuse any message under the “Let Them Eat Cake” approach despite rulings like Hobby Lobby and Citizens United. However, the first step is to have the debate, preferably free of personal attacks or attempts to silence those who would raise the speech of other unpopular or offensive groups.

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