Why Is America Curbing Free Speech, and Giving Extremists What They Want?

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By Daniel Huff
Published September 24, 2010

The struggle for civil rights in the last century forged a national commitment to preserving free speech in the face of hostile audiences. At the beginning of this century, it is alarming how quickly the Koran controversy that erupted before 9/11 melted that resolve.

 


Initially, everyone from Mayor Bloomberg to the White House affirmed a right to burn the book even as they condemned the act. Then Gen. David Petraeus got involved, followed by the FBI, and now Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer says Koran burning may not be protected speech after all.

The key to this rapid reversal was General Petraeus’ warning that Koran burning “could endanger troops” and the war effort. Although styled as a request not a demand, his comments laid the legal foundation for compelled government censorship. The reason is that First Amendment rights are not absolute. The Constitution permits the government to censor speech if necessary to achieve a compelling government interest. This is a very high standard, but the fact that the nation’s top commander made a rare public appeal for restraint will be cited as strong evidence that avoiding offense to Muslims is essential to the national interest. 

Once this dangerous premise is accepted, the door is open to court injunctions against speech that inflames Muslim sentiment in strategically important locations.It has already started.

Recently, the New Jersey Transit Authority fired an 11-year veteran employee for burning the Koran at a 9/11 rally. Ordinarily, a government employee cannot be dismissed for expressing personal views on a matter of public concern unless it interferes with the orderly functioning of the workplace.

Should he sue, the government may try the “Petraeus defense.”Hopefully it will fail. 

In a series of cases arising out of civil rights demonstrations, the Supreme Court explicitly held that free expression cannot be limited “simply because it might offend a hostile mob.”

An alternative rule, would reward bad behavior creating what First Amendment experts call a “heckler’s veto.” Dunlap v. City of Chicago illustrates the extent of this principle. Officials had denied demonstrators a permit to march in a predominantly white area because every prior similar protest in the vicinity had resulted in violence. When they sued, the district court not only ordered the city to permit the parade, it also demanded officials provide policemen “in such numbers as … are required to afford adequate protection” to the marchers. When the violence officials feared materialized, the court allowed a suit against the city for providing insufficient police protection.

The argument that speech should be censored to prevent violence was rejected in the civil rights context and it should not be accepted now.

That is what made it so frustrating to hear the president, in the very same appearance, denounce Koran burning for fear of offending Muslims, but insist the First Amendment rights of the Ground Zero Mosque planners trump the “extraordinary sensitivities around 9/11.” In essence, opponents of the Ground Zero mosque project are being punished for not being violent

The perverseness of this approach is even starker considering there is no genuine First Amendment issue in the Ground Zero context. That provision places constraints on the government; not on the general public’s right to pressure a religious group. 

By contrast, the administration’s pressure on the Florida pastor, which included dispatching the FBI to impress upon him that his life would be in danger, carries the distinct flavor of prohibited government interference.

Legal wrangling aside, the administration has it backwards from a strategic standpoint. Insisting Americans curb their First Amendment rights in deference to Muslims, but not asking Muslims to do the same when Americans are offended creates a privileged status for Islam which is exactly what the extremists want. Their goal is to impose a radical brand of Islamic law on society at large. Censoring speech that insults or critiques Islam is the first step in this process and the US government should not be doing it for them.

Even at the tactical level it doesn’t make sense. The Obama administration argued Koran burnings could function as a “recruitment tool for Al Qaeda.” But anyone who could actually be driven to terrorism by a stunt from a handful of individuals thousands of miles away is no moderate. He was going to be set off eventually anyway. Better to flush him into the open now.

Senior military officials also worried it would hurt our efforts to “win hearts and minds.” Afghans “do not understand either the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment or the fact that President Barack Obama can't simply issue a decree to stop” Koran burning.

It would be one thing if Afghan operations were just beginning and America’s good faith needed to be established. But U.S. forces have been there 9 years. If the billions spent and thousands lost are not proof enough of America’s commitment, nothing ever will be.

As such, curbing free speech rights buys only temporary appeasement and it comes at a high cost. Not only do we compromise our principles, but it emboldens extremists who will conclude the Administration is so fearful of retaliation it jettisoned its inaugural promise to reject the “false …choice between our safety and our ideals.

Daniel Huff is the Director of the Legal Project at the Middle East Forum. He previously served as counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee and as an associate at McKinsey & Company.

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I think that even Obama can not argue with Dan Huff. Excellently written. Thanks Dan.

Get this damned straight , it is not AMERICA, but the scum which hates AMERICA who is doing it!  It's close to the time we take it to the streets and take down the scum and criminals who hide behind 3 piece suits and public offices. It is nearly time to decide who goes first and who goes last.

 

The average American wants to be able to call a spade a spade, a liar and liar and run out the scum and the elitist's who believer tyey can control all of us. Their day is coming and they will find out that all their money won't be able to buy us off. They will see we have gone stone deaf and our hearts will be as stione as we do what is necessary to restore the Republic as it should be. When that happens the scum from the Middle East will berunning faster than the illegals to get ouot of the country, because they will know we will show absolutely no mercy on them. They will have brought that upon their own heads with their crap and foaming at the mouth!

 

This government is he!! bent on making us slaves, especially if you are a Christian.  Somehow they are turning to local police against the citizens of this once great nation.
The government will control police through the unions.

The problem is, if you do anything, as an American, that is a hate crime if it is carried out against any anti-american group.

Anything done against American Patriots is not.

If you had five fires. One for each of the following: Bible, Koran, Book of Mormon, Constitution and Flag

There would be very little protesting against three of those.

 I can be as cold as hell,,,,,,,,,I KNOW HOW TO " WIN HEARTS AND MINDS " !!!!,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,Jack
Shamrock and Gary S., so distressing to have to acknowledge it but you two are so right. Today anything ANTI-American is good while anything patriots do is bad since we have the "audacity" to stand up for our country. THEY are against all we do because we are awake and know what's going on while so many other "Americans" aren't. 

And then there are times when we want to just call it a f---ing shovel.

Louis P. Llorca, USN RET

iligitimi non carborundum

Simply because the Whitehouse is now the nome of the terrorist groups.

 

With another post, homeland security is now the terrorist groups.

 

When does treason occur, when you find out that things are not right by law, or when someone blows off your own damned head.

Remember this president is more like Nevile Chamberlain, all he want to do is to appease the maslams and nothing more. he would rather see half the country taken over than say something that would cause the maslams to get upset. Well I say to heck with the maslams we were here first and we have the constitution and if the maslams don't like it then they can just go eat worms. A firend of mine tossed a copy of that book in a backyard bonfire the other day no one said anything. If those jerks can go around burning the American Flag then we can burn the kuran.

Shamrock

Your right about that this gay of a president that we have would rather destroy this country than help it.

Appeasement is often seen as cowardice which in this case gives ammunition to our enemies.  Gen. Petreus was/is concerned about his troops as he should be.  The problem is our troops are put in a situation where the corruption of politics rules.  With that concern we should stop trying to spread the gospel of Freedom and Liberty with our troops.  Send the politicians, besides they make more than our soldiers.

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