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Category: Freedom of Speech

Free Press

Free Press

The nature of a free press is not that it is always right, always responsible, or required to print what any person or group wants, but that it is free. It can challenge authority and it can be challenged.

Free Speech: When the Solution is Worse than the Problem

Free Speech: When the Solution is Worse than the Problem

Those who read my postings regularly, if there are any such, should know by now that I despise the algorithm Facebook uses to arrange my feed. Even the one that claims to be in date order isn’t. There is simply no Facebook reading option that I like.

In addition, I agree with those who say that the algorithm tends to promote the more sensational and less truthful. This isn’t a problem of left or right. I see complete garbage from both sides in my feed. It’s annoying. It’s disturbing to think how many friends I must have who actually share the sort of things I see, assuming Facebook uses my friends’ likes and shares as part of their algorithm.

But today I saw yet another headline about someone wanting to fix all of this by regulation. Bad idea! Very bad idea! This “solution” is much worse than any problem we have.

I find it disturbing that so many of my friends seem to like inaccurate or, when accurate, unhelpful news. I’d really like them to try to be more thoughtful and engage in constructive dialog with their opponents.

The very last thing I want is for the government to be somehow making the determination, or even shaping the way in which the determination is made regarding what I will see and what I will not see. What possible reason would I have for thinking the government would do a good job of that?

I really love the first amendment to the U. S. Constitution, because I believe that free speech in a free market of ideas is the best way to go. I have been accused of being against religion because I also believe that the government shouldn’t be determining or shaping religious speech. Thus I vigorously oppose the legislation just passed by the house here in Florida to put “In God We Trust” in public schools. I oppose this for the same reason. As a sideline, I should note that I see “In God We Trust” as much more the national lie than the national motto. We don’t trust in God, rely on God, or even defer to God. We just use God to try to enforce our own selfish desires. This is government mandated opinions. I don’t want teachers, who act as agents of the government, speaking to a captive audience, to be enforcing prayer. (For what it’s worth, I don’t find the relationship made in the story between the motto and gun control, except for the general uselessness.)

Whoever is in power seems to want to use government authority to try to make people think their way. Sometimes it’s blatant. Sometimes it’s subtle.

However stupid people get, it’s nothing to how stupid they can be when collected into political parties and put in charge of a government.

Quick Note on Open Dialogue, Tim Keller, and the Kuyper Prize

Quick Note on Open Dialogue, Tim Keller, and the Kuyper Prize

I’m traveling, and will only comment briefly. I would link to the Princeton Seminary president’s comments and to the basic information about the Kuyper Prize.

I’m not going to get into the details of this issue. It appears that Keller will speak, but will not be awarded the Kuyper prize. I’m definitely not in the Reformed camp, so who gets honored is very much not my affair.

I’m very interested in religious dialogue, and for there to be real dialogue, there must be substantial differences of opinion. As a moderate, that means I must dialogue with people at what appear to me to be the extremes. For a conservative that means listening and responding to views of liberals or progressives. For both progressives and conservatives, I think it means more openness to dialogue with those in the charismatic movement.

While I do support the right of any private organization to determine what ideas it will support, at the same time I mourn when dialogue with substantial movements within the Christian community is diminished. I’m pleased that Rev. Keller will still speak. I am less concerned about giving prizes, and it appears he is too! Having been through the experience of having a speaker uninvited, one who responded with grace, I appreciate the grace shown here.

I would say to my more progressive friends that Tim Keller represents a very substantial movement within American Christianity. The size of the movement means those who disagree must engage it. Engaging is not agreeing. Dialogue is not support. Rather, dialogue is the best way to challenge bad ideas.

It may feel good to declare someone else’s view “outside the bounds,” but I don’t believe it’s the best way to change minds. Thus I publish views on both the conservative and the liberal side of the spectrum, not to mention occasionally charismatic, that others think I should not. No, I don’t have to provide “those people” with a platform, but I think it’s valuable to have a common platform, and to use it to encourage growth.

Yes, Your Religious Group SHOULD Be Subject to Analysis and Criticism

Yes, Your Religious Group SHOULD Be Subject to Analysis and Criticism

no accountabilityand so should mine.

There are quite a number of ideas that I believe are quite good when practiced voluntarily, and become dangerous and destructive when backed by force. For example, let’s take “political correctness.” Much of what is labelled political correctness is, in my opinion, simple courtesy. Notice the bold text. I think it is courtesy, and thus I follow it as a courtesy. I advocate courteous speech to others. When force is placed behind one person’s (or a group’s) idea of courtesy, so that others are forced to be courteous, all kinds of trouble breaks out. First, and more minor, is the simple problem that if courtesy is to be enforced, then we must have rules for just about every circumstance. The rules will multiply. But second, though more important, the rules of courtesy can prevent criticism. (This is an excellent argument against speech codes on university campuses, places where criticism should be the norm, not the exception.)

I have commented on this many times with regard to individuals. A person should not become immune to criticism because he or she is too important or revered. In churches I see this with regard to pastors. Some will say “touch not the Lord’s anointed.” I say instead, “Check out the guy who claims God’s anointing very carefully.” In fact, if persons claiming God’s anointing try to exclude examination and accountability, I consider it a very good indication that there is something ungodly and unsavory going on.

Now I would strongly advocate—advocate, not enforce—courtesy in the process of criticism, both because I think courtesy is a value in itself and because I think your critique is more likely to have an impact if it is presented in a sensible way without extra baggage. But an enforced barrier to examination, including an enforced level of courtesy, such as questions that cannot even be asked, is an opening for scoundrels.

Freedom of speech is of great value in preventing errors and correcting problems. I advocate this not merely as a constitutional principal here in the United States, but on a personal basis. I would want any organization I support to favor free speech, and in this I include annoying and antagonistic speech, speech that I would call very discourteous. Whoever you are, whatever your position, however long you’ve held that place, I believe the world is better off if people can criticize you, even if some (or most) of those people do so unfairly, unjustly, and downright rudely.

But what about religious groups? Isn’t it unfair to criticize other people’s cultures or their beliefs? Don’t they have a right to their own beliefs? If you criticize their culture, aren’t you engaging in cultural imperialism?

First, of course, based on what I have already said I don’t believe it is right to ban even rude and unseemly speech. I don’t have to publish it (I am a publisher). I don’t have to read it or listen to it, but I would never ban it, even if it is totally unjustified. On the other hand, one way one discovers whether criticism was justified or not is by listening, evaluating, investigating, and then perhaps vigorously criticizing those who produced it. One way in which groups try to protect themselves from examination is by claiming that critiquing what they say somehow denies them free speech. I think this is a dangerous point of view. Critique is the proper response to ideas which I think are flawed. If you disagree, critique my ideas.

But let me follow up with something from my own experience. You may remember the Branch Davidians. There was quite a mess back in the 90s. Now the Branch Davidians are an offshoot of an offshoot of Seventh-day Adventism. I used to be a Seventh-day Adventist, so I took note of events. People were trying to figure out whether the Davidians were actually SDAs. They were trying to figure out who SDAs were. They were looking at the doctrinal beliefs of the Branch Davidians to see why they were behaving as they did. In the storm, the few voices that said one shouldn’t criticize religious beliefs were drowned out, but they did come up.

One of the problems I see with Christians in the United States is that very few have experience being a minority. While I would regard SDAs as simply another denomination of Christians with certain beliefs held in common with the broader community and others distinctive, SDAs are different enough from the majority that they tend to stand out as a minority. So there was some criticism that washed back from the Branch Davidians all the way back to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a connection which had not really existed since the 1930s. When people who knew my background asked me, I would explain, but there was also a great deal of misinformation.

But here’s the question: Was it valid to examine and critique the beliefs of the Branch Davidians? Absolutely! They carried certain beliefs to extremes that eventually resulted in death and destruction. It was not only valid, it was critical to examine these beliefs, both to see how they led to what had happened, and also to distinguish their beliefs from others. There are few ideas that cannot be taken to extremes by someone. There is the person who believes Jesus will return in glory at some point, but that we should live responsibly in the meantime, and then there is the person who believes that Jesus will soon return and that we therefore have no call to live responsibility. A bit further down that road, if it indeed is a connected road, there is the person who believes Jesus will return in two weeks, so he ought to sell all his stuff and stand out on a hill waiting for it to happen. The beliefs result in actions and it is perfectly valid to look at them.

Look at this two ways: 1) The examination looks at the beliefs and how they connect to action; and 2) the examination illuminates the difference between various groups who might otherwise be considered the same.

Probably most of the small number of readers who have followed me this far will connect what I’m saying with criticism of Islam and the use of terms such as “Islamic terrorism.” The use of labels needs its own discussion, and I’ve written about it in an earlier post on the Energion Discussion Network. Would you, for example, like to have the protests of Westboro Baptist Church be described as “Christian protests”? Yet that is a distinction we expect people, even non-Christians to make. Despite these people calling themselves Christians, others are supposed to figure out that they really aren’t—according to us. In fact, we expect people to distinguish them not only from Christian groups such as the Episcopal Church or United Church of Christ, which have a strongly inclusive position, we expect them to distinguish Westboro Baptist from Christians who believe homosexuality is sin, yet don’t accept their methods and the extremes. And I think it is good to make such distinctions. In fact, one element of my own definition of being a moderate is that one looks at the whole spectrum of ideas and one carefully distinguishes differences.

But making these distinctions requires that I carefully examine, analyze, and even critique the positions of all of these groups. I’m criticizing their religious beliefs. And because those religious beliefs impact the world around them, it is a valid thing to do.

I’ve heard religious beliefs compared to color preferences. People won’t criticize me for preferring the color blue, so they should criticize me for being a Christian. But my Christianity is not only different in intensity than my preference for the color blue (I also kind of like red, green, purple, and occasionally orange), it is also different in type. My color preference will cause me to paint walls some preferred color. Unless we’re co-owners of a building, or it’s a public building, this is unlikely to be a problem for you. My Christianity becomes the foundation for my actions, or I certainly hope it does. Thus you should be interested in my religious beliefs because they will influence my behavior, including my behavior toward you. You have a right to that concern.

So from this perspective I look at issues regarding terrorism and Islam. I do not believe that we should treat Muslims as terrorists. I’m appalled at the suggestion that they should be registered or forbidden to build mosques in this country. But I come to this position by examining Islam, looking at information about Muslims as people, and knowing some Muslims personally. My problem with the term “Islamic terrorist” is similar to my problem with calling the Westboro Baptists Christian protestors. It is not a matter of numbers. No matter how large the group of people who are misbehaving in the name of a religion, it doesn’t make the good citizens who are members of that religion magically into bad citizens.

It also doesn’t mean that we can’t take a look and see what is going on in that religion. But we need to do so accurately. I recently received a copy of a lawsuit in which one part alleged that Islam was a religion of violence. To make his case, the attorney cited many individual verses from the Qur’an. Interesting. He’s going to the source documents. But the fact is that Christianity and Judaism would both be very vulnerable to just that same approach. One could make a list of texts from the Bible, whether or not one includes the Christian New Testament, that would make our faiths seem to be quite horrible. Yet the vast majority of us, in either faith, do not behave in that fashion. So the critique that we make of a faith needs to be of the faith as it is understand and practiced by its adherents. That’s a little harder than prooftexting a holy book, but it is also more accurate.

So here’s another example: Sweden’s Foreign Minister Has Criticized Saudi Arabia. I find it interesting that while she has criticized both Saudi Arabia and Israel, I found much more discussion of her criticism of Israel. What is the key to her criticism? The sentence of a Saudi blogger to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes for something he said. In another case, a Sri Lankan woman awaits death by stoning there for adultery. The man involved was sentenced to 100 lashes. Those who condemn this sort of thing are told that they are criticizing an ancient culture and imposing their values.

OK. I am. I believe both of those sentences are, in fact, barbaric. If your ancient cultural prejudices tell you that you can sentence someone to 1000 lashes for anything at all, or stone a woman to death for adultery, I’m quite willing to say it’s barbaric.

There are some who will think I’m feeding into anti-Muslim prejudice. Things are bad enough with various terrorist attacks. But I think the proper response and the best response is to acknowledge and where proper condemn the actions of those who commit those actions while at the same time maintaining that those who do not commit such actions are not to share the blame. Moderate and liberal Muslims, however many there are of them, are not responsible for the actions of the Islamic State or of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. There are plenty of Muslims who disapprove of the actions of both. I’m right with them.

I think the test of our sincerity—mostly of mine!—is whether I can also condemn those who look like me and claim to be like me when they also do barbaric things. And if we continue down the road of fear and anger in this country we’re going to have plenty of barbaric things to condemn.

As current barbarism might I mention our incarceration rate (we’re #2, and China, which we consider repressive, is #130, while the “barbaric” Saudis are just #91. The Seychelles are #1 on this list)? And most of that is due to the drug war. Barbarism anyone? (This site says we’re #1.)






Justice Thomas on Citizens United

Justice Thomas on Citizens United

I don’t find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with Justice Thomas very often, but Allan Bevere calls attention to remarks he made in Florida (NY Times), and I think he makes some very good points.

Allan says:

Interesting, isn’t it? In the fear over the corrupting influence of lots of money, some folk haven’t even considered the corrupting influence of regulating speech.

Just so. Head on over to Allan’s blog and comment. I’m going to close comments here.

Small Offense Provokes Much Violence

Small Offense Provokes Much Violence

Yesterday I posted an aside regarding the attempted murder of the Danish cartoonist who drew the cartoon that provoked violent responses in the Muslim world.

Today I saw this news story regarding reactions to a Malaysian court ruling that non-Muslims could use the word Allah. Behold how much violence a small matter kindles!

I am an advocate for courtesy in discourse as long as it comports with honesty. But I want to use this story to clarify that while I am in favor of courtesy, I oppose laws that demand it, and I do not believe laws should require it, nor do I believe that its lack can justify violence.

Right now, a great deal of the discussion regarding offending religious people relates to Islam, though the situation in Ireland indicates it’s much broader. So just to be clear, I also oppose laws against blasphemy as defined by Christians, nor do I think there is a justification for violent anger over insults.

If I went further, speaking as a Christian, I believe that we should handle such things graciously and honestly, rejecting any violent response, and remaining courteous even when others are not. But that courtesy should be our choice, not something imposed.

Obama Administration Opposes Fairness Doctrine

Obama Administration Opposes Fairness Doctrine

… or so a spokesman told Fox News (HT: Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire). This is good news considering the number of people who are inclined to revive it. (The Fox News report even includes the claim that Congressman Henry Waxman is interested in an internet fairness doctrine, for which idea he is being quite justifiably ridiculed. But then the story is by Fox News reporting on an American Spectator story, so …)

I belive the fairness doctrine is an obvious infringement of free speech and liberals should be embarrassed to support such an idea while claiming to be in favor of civil liberties.

(Personal note: Blame two book deadlines and a few days of flu for the low level of posting here for the last week or so.)

Free Speech and Savings Possible

Free Speech and Savings Possible

… at one blow. Eliminate these. I have never been able to understand how controls on the money people use in order to speak could be considered consistent with free speech. In fact, it’s a way to control speech.

So we could eliminate regulations, reduce the federal budget, make it easier to get into campaigning by getting rid of complicated language, and eliminate the headaches of people who have to figure out a “good” limit on contributions when there is no such thing.

Oh, and by the way, I considered Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire one of my most useful RSS feeds.

The Press is No More Intelligent

The Press is No More Intelligent

I just watched the initial White House press briefing. I was watching on MSNBC, and immediately afterwards one of the reporters commented that the briefing was quite contentious, that the press corps was “feisty” and that this should lay to rest any idea that the press, which was pretty negative on President Bush, would fail to be vigilant in challenging the Obama White House.

Now I think that a free press is very important in a democracy. I believe that one of the few things on which I can be said to take an extreme position is freedom of speech and of the press. But if the press that is free is also lazy and stupid, that freedom will do little good.

In this case, the majority of the questions were stupid. While they may have put the briefer (Robert Gibbs) on the spot because they were unexpected, they also were unlikely to elicit any valuable information or pressure any substantive change. The questions on the retaking of the oath of office and the concerns over how it was covered by the press were particularly inane and childish. (I was going to write a short post on the oath thing, but Allan Bevere wrote a better one.)

The frequent complaint about bloggers, however valid, is also often valid about the mainstream media. In Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, there’s a scene in which a young reporter, carried away by the joy of reporting an important accomplishment says that he had always wanted to be someone who reports news. Our press should consider sharing that fictional young man’s ambition.