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Posts Tagged ‘freedom of speech’

Bah, I completely missed that it’s Everybody Draw Mohammed Day until Crispian’s reminder. It’s too late to do anything new about it now. Time for a repost:

You can go back and read what I thought about this three years ago, if you’re desperate for an opinion. It hasn’t shifted much since then.

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Okay, forget everything in my last few posts. Turns out I was completely wrong, and some people are just shits who need a fucking slap.

Fuck. Off. You fucking. Fucks.

Yeah, I don’t care if you are nine. Eat shit.

See, I hope it’s obvious that I’m deliberately overplaying my actual fury, and that the brunt of the joke is meant to be my ridiculous rage, not anyone else’s ridiculous persecution complex. But I’m still not feeling good about this, because it really does piss me off. I haven’t been prompted to anger by anything truly appalling, like those girls who were kidnapped for years, or Sylvia Browne who lied about it, or the global arms trade, or Syria, or any of that. I’m just impotently frothing about other people pitifully whining. I’m pathetic. Please still pay attention to me.

Okay, reeling it in. It does take a certain level of dickitude to get especially angry at kids acting entitled and overly aggrieved at a world that’s so unfairly picking on them. I’m sure they’re not that much worse than I was, when I was that young and definitely had my bratty moments.

Although, they are quite a lot worse than I ever was. Definitely a lot worse.

JT Eberhard has explained just what’s wrong with this inanity, and managed to keep his “good person” hat on much more firmly than I did, without throwing it to the ground and jumping up and down on it while imagining it was some smugly privileged moaning wanker’s head. A quick sample:

“Why can’t I pray in school?”

You can. Test it. The next test you have, bow your head and say a prayer before the test (don’t do it during the time when everybody is supposed to be quiet, because that’s when all noise is prohibited, not just prayer). I guess you’ve won and don’t need to go on with the rest of the documentary. Congratulations! I know exactly how a victory like that can feel. This very morning I fought for my right to eat corn flakes for breakfast. The government trembled before my determination and relented.

It definitely wasn’t because I already had the right for which I was fighting.

“Why do I have to tolerate people cursing my god, but I’m not allowed to talk about god and my faith?”

You are allowed to talk about god and your faith. Go ahead and test it.

“In public school people are rude and disrespectful toward Christians.”

Really? What people? Perhaps you could email Jessica Ahlquist for sympathy. She got death threats from her classmates for asking her school to obey the law (a judge ruled that her school was, in fact, breaking the law). She was so bullied (by Christians) she had to have a police escort at her school. What slings and arrows must Christians endure?

And on, and on, making the same boring but apparently tiresomely necessary point over and over, because the dictatorial majority are utterly determined to insist that they’re the ones being bullied and oppressed by us for demanding our own fucking space.

I’m regressing here. I’d hoped I was getting better than this. I’m just being as honest as I can about my deep, instinctive feelings for this kind of bullshit. But even that’s a rationalisation for just blathering it out into a post that only covers the superficially obvious, rather than doing the difficult thing that I’ve been espousing, and finding a way to come at this which people on the other stupid fucking side might be able to engage with.

Instead of just being angry and attributing my emotions entirely to negative attributes in the outside world.

I’m not thrilled about any of this.

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The newest “atheist gender clusterfuffle” (a phrase I’m finding myself using with saddening regularity) has at least turned up one point of fun: Jen McCreight’s “Cunto” game.

If you were lucky enough to miss this one, it involved people using the word “cunt” to describe other people in an unfriendly manner, and other people being offended by this, and a slew of excuses being proffered as to why it’s not something anyone should get offended over. Jen’s Bingo-style game brings a bunch of those responses together onto one handy scorecard.

And I’m feeling obliged to attempt another opinion. Because, while part of me wants to defend any enjoyable use of creative profanity, many of the people doing the swearing are just terrible.

The thing about most of these discussions is that they don’t even really need to be about gender. They certainly don’t need to be about feminism facing off against the patriarchy. It’s not like there are really any different rules here than in any other form of human interaction. Context is key, and always err on the side of compassion.

A number of words in our language come with a great deal of historical baggage for a lot of people. That baggage varies from person to person, but when it’s shared by a significantly large number of folk, you have no excuse for not being aware of it ahead of time, considering how it might affect your audience, and choosing your words carefully as a result.

There are some instances in which I will use the word “cunt”. A discussion of the word and its impact on my own blog is one such instance. A public speech in which, for whatever reason, I don’t care if people take offensive to that particular word use, might be another. A casual conversation with any of my neighbours, whom I don’t know particularly well, is not.

My use of the n-word is even more limited. I’ve used it when discussing the word itself, or quoting somebody else who I’m deliberately portraying unsympathetically, to people who I know how they’ll react. But that’s about it. I know how it can affect some people, and I don’t want to do that to anyone.

(I really don’t think any of this is that difficult so far, is it?)

I use more minor curse words and blasphemy a lot, because it’s a natural way for me to talk, and few people seemed particularly bothered by it. If I was having a nice chat with someone new, and they asked me politely not to take the Lord’s name in vain, I’d be surprised, but I’d most likely comply. (I’d then either steer the conversation away from religion or directly into it, depending on how playful I was feeling.)

If their limitations on what they deemed acceptable language became too restrictive, I’d suggest they leave the conversation. If they were trying to stifle me more generally or publicly, I’d advise them to tune out and leave me and my non-offended listeners alone. But laying off the god-swears for a while is not a request that significantly puts me out.

And you know what, “Please don’t call me a cunt” is also not something to get flag-wavingly, First-Amendment-fappingly, free-speechily defensive over. Words mean things, and they don’t always mean the same things to everyone else as they do to you.

The times I’ve called a woman a cunt in the past, they’ve been good friends of mine and I’ve been damn certain they wouldn’t take it the wrong way. (The only person I can think of who I’ve publicly called a cunt and meant it harshly is Danny Dyer, and I’m pretty sure he won’t be hurt by it because he can’t read.) But if you do offend someone with it, and they protest, it’s sort of impossible to dig your heels in and defend your right to use that word with no apology unless you’re being either deliberately malicious or immensely oblivious to the culture you live in. If you’re paying any attention, you should appreciate what it can mean.

If a lot of people tell you that they’d prefer you didn’t so casually use a certain heavily loaded word which demeans some people, and your only response is to assert your freedom by stubbornly repeating it over and over, you know what you are? You’re Dr Laura.

I apologise for my use of that offensive term, but I believe it was justified by the context.

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Almost every debate in American politics, about the law and what things it should or should not allow, brings up the issue of constitutionality.

The US Constitution, drawn up in the late 1700s when little ol’ America was just starting to cut loose of the apron strings and make its own way in the world, has formed the bedrock of its legal system ever since, and provided vital and unassailable decisions on how hundreds of millions of people’s lives should be run.

I’m not really a fan.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s got some good ideas. It’s just weird how reverentially it’s treated sometimes. A lot of major political players and law-makers seem to act like it’s the unquestionable be-all and end-all of every legal dispute that can be imagined. If what you want to do is unconstitutional, no dice, end of.

And I don’t get it. If you share the values it espouses, then by all means embrace it for that, but… You do know that whether or not something matches up with what some guys 250 years ago had in mind isn’t as important as whether it’s actually a good idea, right?

I’ve seen this a number of times with regard to gun control. People who like their guns point to the “right to bear arms” guaranteed by the Constitution, while those on the left often claim that this was only intended to refer to the 18th century weaponry that existed at the time it was written. The country’s founders couldn’t have predicted the range of pistols, assault rifles, and the like available today, and wouldn’t have condoned their unchecked possession.

It’s hard to imagine what could be less useful to the gun control conversation that the imagined and hypothetical opinions of some people two centuries dead on the subject of modern technologies of which they had absolutely no knowledge. Can’t we try to be smart and figure out how it makes sense to act, based on what we know now?

Actually, you don’t even have to go as far as the Second Amendment to find a good example:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This is generally about the government staying out of people’s way, which is largely a good thing. But the question of exactly what constitutes “freedom of speech”, against which no law shall be made, is a notoriously knotty one. There’s no mention of fraud, libel, or shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre anywhere in the clause. There have been numerous legal decisions since the Constitution regarding these subjects, as well as on things like obscenity and campaign finance, and the law itself acknowledges a good deal of nuance to an obviously complex issue.

But it still tends to be framed around whether certain harmful or undesirable forms of speech or expression are “constitutional”. It always seems to be about whether something “counts” under that part of the Constitution. Surely a decision to restrict or punish certain types of behaviour should stand on its own?

In practice, I imagine it usually does. The law is trying to reflect what behaviours are actually desirable or should be punished, and it probably doesn’t make a lot of difference that technically this takes the form of contrivances and qualifications being continually added to those important, constitutional principles. It just seems a strange obeisance to continue making.

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There’s an oft-quoted line among free speech advocates, often in response to religious types insisting they deserve special treatment:

Nobody has the right not to be offended.

It’s a succinct way of expressing a basic freedom, and reminding people that you’re not entitled to forcibly inhibit others from saying what they want in a public space, just because it upsets you. It’s a handy little truism.

Only, in Tennessee, it’s no longer true.

Here’s the wording of the relevant Tennessee law, as it was amended last month:

(a) A person commits an offense who intentionally:

(4) Communicates with another person or transmits or displays an image in a manner in which there is a reasonable expectation that the image will be viewed by the victim by [by telephone, in writing or by electronic communication] without legitimate purpose:

(A) (i) With the malicious intent to frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress; or

(ii) In a manner the defendant knows, or reasonably should know, would frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress to a similarly situated person of reasonable sensibilities; and

(B) As the result of the communication, the person is frightened, intimidated or emotionally distressed.

This is a frighteningly low threshold that has to be met before people are guilty of a criminal act. It’s not just addressing death threats or harassing midnight phone calls any more. If it’s something you “reasonably should know” will cause “emotional distress” to someone who might see it, you’re expected to keep your damn mouth shut. If that someone then claims to have been “emotionally distressed” – something there’s really no way to measure except by taking their word for it – then you’ve broken the law.

I’ve heard directly from people who find a drawing of a featureless stick-man labelled “Mohammed” to be unconscionably offensive. I have no doubt that a competent lawyer could make the case that every one of the above points applied to some of the things I’ve posted on my blog, if any religious people ever made the complaint and claimed emotional distress.

Just not visiting my site would be the obvious solution. And in practice, even with this law in place, that’s what most people will do, and what most of the lawmakers would support, in such truly trivial cases. But the law is still frighteningly broad in scope, and leaves ample room for just this sort of abuse.

I’m also unsettled by the phrase “without legitimate purpose” which qualifies the whole thing. The implication that expressing yourself needs to be justified before it can be permitted is chilling. My legitimate purpose is “I will say what I fucking like”.

I’m not aware of any recent events in Tennessee or elsewhere which would suddenly necessitate such a change to the legislation. If you know of any cases of legitimate harassment, against which no action could have been taken under the previous law and which justify the changes, do send me a link.

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While I was offline for a month, I kept a note of any links and news stories worth commenting on. Now that I’m back, I’m aiming to post two short items a day here, about stuff that happened during my online absence, until I’ve cleared the backlog. This is one of those.


If you’re new to the godless community, there’s two things you should know about atheists.

They love to party.

And they love Christmas.

Okay, bit of blanket generalisation there. But the Atheist Vuvuzela Marching Band joined in with a Christmas parade recently in Texas, to play festive Christmas songs on their chosen “instruments” and join in with the fun.

Sounds like a good time. But at least one person had to be a cunt about it.

“Wasn’t exactly happy about the Christmas Parade this year, I spent many years teaching my children to love and respect other people and to love the fact that they were children of God and I don’t feel that they should be influenced in any other way especially not at a Christmas parade,” said Tina Corgey, who is a lifelong Bryan resident.

For fuck’s sake.

I’m going to try and get through the rest of this without calling anyone a cunt again. Don’t hold your breath.

This is so much bullshit on so many levels I don’t know where to start.

If you look at what this band were doing, there was not a single objectionable thing about it. They were joining in, and celebrating Christmas. They didn’t do anything to denigrate or offend anybody or anything.

What this… What Ms Corgey claims to be offended by is the very fact that they were there at all. She didn’t even want the atheists to be allowed to share a street with her and her Christian friends.

The logical extension of which is that she wants the right to tell anyone who’s different from her to just stay indoors and out of her sight whenever it suits her.

“If you have younger children they weren’t going to understand but I have older children, a teenager, 8-year-old and they were curious and they asked questions and it was hard for them to believe and understand that there are actually people out there that don’t believe in God,” Corgey said.

This woman thinks her children will find it hard to get their head around the fact that I believe what I believe.

And, although we don’t know for sure if her kids really are as dumb as she is, she thinks that I should shut up and never express myself publicly, just so that I don’t confuse anyone.

They find it hard to understand that sometimes other people are different? Well then, as the Friendly Atheist was too polite to say, FUCKING TEACH THEM.

THEY’RE YOUR CHILDREN. FUCKING TEACH THEM SOMETHING.

JESUS FUCKING CHRIST.

Do your children also find it hard to understand that there are people out there who produce different amounts of melanin, resulting in a variety of types of skin pigment? Do you want all black people to stay off your street and keep out of sight too, for your children’s imagined comfort?

You know, this is what all those idiots who complain about gay people “shoving it down my throat” are really getting at. Even the simple fact that gay people exist is more than they think they should have to face, so they treat it like something’s being forced upon them. For anyone different to so flagrantly and undeniably be is enough to cause offense.

And frankly, if she’s preventing her kids from acquiring any kind of understanding of the world they’re living in, to that extent, it sounds to me like borderline child abuse.

She doesn’t want them to be “influenced in any other way” than what she’s brought them up to know. They’re learning that having their ideas challenged is an unacceptable thing, and that if they even hear any alternative viewpoint being expressed, the people with that viewpoint should shut up. Because their worldview is so fragile that it’s apparently in danger of shattering if it so much as meets a different opinion.

Not that I have any plans to have children, but I emphatically would NOT want them raised unquestioningly and fanatically godless. But if I did want that, then maybe we shouldn’t even have a Christmas parade, so that they wouldn’t have to be influenced in any other way by noticing that some people believe something else. Why do your kids deserve this kind of protection any more than mine?

And she’s spent years teaching them “to love and respect other people”? That’s a joke. She’s been teaching them that the very existence of other people is an unacceptable abomination, unless those other people are the same as them. That’s not love, and it’s not respect.

Yeah, this one made me pretty angry.

Hat-tips to Hemant, PZ, and Ed Brayton.

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This might not be the only place you see the following message cropping up. It’s a coordinated thing, and it really is saying something important. It’s in everyone’s interest to establish a good libel law which actually defends people against being wronged, without being open to abuse.

If you happen to be against the idea of having years of your life derailed by legal proceedings that will cost you more than everything you own, simply because you said something true which someone rich didn’t like, then please sign the petition at the link below.


This week is the first anniversary of the report Free Speech is Not for Sale, which highlighted the oppressive nature of English libel law. In short, the law is extremely hostile to writers, while being unreasonably friendly towards powerful corporations and individuals who want to silence critics.

The English libel law is particularly dangerous for bloggers, who are generally not backed by publishers, and who can end up being sued in London regardless of where the blog was posted. The internet allows bloggers to reach a global audience, but it also allows the High Court in London to have a global reach.

You can read more about the peculiar and grossly unfair nature of English libel law at the website of the Libel Reform Campaign. You will see that the campaign is not calling for the removal of libel law, but for a libel law that is fair and which would allow writers a reasonable opportunity to express their opinion and then defend it.

The good news is that the British Government has made a commitment to draft a bill that will reform libel, but it is essential that bloggers and their readers send a strong signal to politicians so that they follow through on this promise. You can do this by joining me and over 50,000 others who have signed the libel reform petition at http://www.libelreform.org/sign

Remember, you can sign the petition whatever your nationality and wherever you live. Indeed, signatories from overseas remind British politicians that the English libel law is out of step with the rest of the free world.

If you have already signed the petition, then please encourage friends, family and colleagues to sign up. Moreover, if you have your own blog, you can join hundreds of other bloggers by posting this blog on your own site. There is a real chance that bloggers could help change the most censorious libel law in the democratic world.

We must speak out to defend free speech. Please sign the petition for libel reform at http://www.libelreform.org/sign

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