Friday, January 12, 2007
Who will stand for freedom of speech?
Get ready for another political rant:

For some reason I've been thinking a lot recently about censorship and freedom of speech issues. I don't know why exactly, I haven't read any articles lately about any fresh censorship issues or anything like that. I guess it's just one of those things that perrenially nags at me.

What I wonder is whether there anyone left in our society who will stand up for our freedom of speech. It seems that everyone is into censorship these days. Conservatives seem to want to ban anything with sex, witchcraft or pluralism; liberals seem to want to ban anything with "hate speech" or public reference to religion. And what about the libertarians, the ones who, more than anyone, ought be standing up for unrestricted freedom of speech? Well, these days they seem to be more interested in standing up for the second amendment and complaining about paying taxes.

Perhaps surprising to some, but I am against censorship in all it's forms, whether it's pulling the plug on valedictorian speeches, banning Harry Potter from schools and libraries, flag burning bans, or even restricting KKK activities like burning crosses and wearing hoods. Freedom of speech doesn't exist to protect the speech we like; it exists to protect what we don't like. It's like the French philosopher Voltaire said: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

If you don't like something someone says, you don't have a right to ban it, but you do have a right to speak up against it yourself. I wish our whole society could gain just a little bit more maturity and learn to deal with hearing things they don't like. Expose yourself to differing viewpoints and then respond intelligently rather than trying to insulate yourself from any conflicting opinions. If someone says something offensive, tell them you're offended, but don't try to sue them for hate speech. If someone wants to talk about their religion, even in school, and it's different from yours, listen and learn rather than forcing them to pretend like religion doesn't exist (or forcing them to conform to your religious or non-religious sensibilities). Bottom line, grow up. Respond to differing views with intelligent dialogue, not censorship. And if intelligent dialogue is beyond your abilities, just turn the channel, walk away or stop listening. That's your freedom too.

I'm really afraid for our society however. With both the Left and the Right obsessed with their own forms of censorship (and the Libertarians busy cleaning their guns) who will stand up for our freedoms? Will we let it slip away piece by piece until we no longer even miss it?


posted by Mike Clawson at 8:20 AM | Permalink |


At 1/12/2007 11:13:00 AM, Blogger M James

You said:
liberals seem to want to ban anything with "hate speech" or public reference to religion.

I would disagree with the last part of that sentence to some extent. I think there may be a small contigency of liberals that want to ban any reference to religion from the public domain, but the prevailing attitude, in my estimation, is that publicly funded statements about religion that only endorse one particular religion over another is what most liberals have a problem with.

I take the stance that we should have more religion in our schools. The problem arises though when the same people who fight so hard to have their picture of Jesus hanging up in a publicly funded school won't defend my right to hang a picture of Atum-Ra right next to it. Or a picture of Kristna, Zeus, Guru Nanak Dev, Zoaraster and Muhammad.
You can't have it both ways. And I think this is the bigger issue. If you won't recognize them all, then let's not recognize any of them and just keep it out of publicly funded places.
It's censorship by omission.


At 1/12/2007 11:53:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

I agree with you Michael. I would like to see more teaching of religion in schools, and by that I definitely mean teaching a diversity of religions. My experience in Michigan public schools was that everyone was so scared of controversy that they just avoided talking about religion at all. As you said, that's censorship by omission, and I think it's almost as distasteful as deliberately censoring all but one type of religious speech.

I totally agree that we shouldn't have publicly funded endorsements of religion, but (just for example) is letting a Valedictorian say what she wants to say, when everyone understands that it's just her opinion and not the school's, really an endorsement? I definitely don't want to see school sponsored prayer (I don't even like the tendency of athletic teams to pray before a game) but letting students speak their opinions freely? I don't see anything wrong with that. If the school board really thinks people are too stupid to realize that the Valedictorian's opinions are her own and not the school's couldn't they just offer a disclaimer either before or after her speech?

Anyhow, that's one of those examples where I think people just need to grow up and deal with it. (No offense intended of course, since I don't know your opinion on that particular matter.)


At 1/12/2007 02:01:00 PM, Blogger M James

None taken! We are in complete agreement. A student should be able to say whatever they want, no matter where they are. If they want to give a speech at graduation, more power to them. I think we should encourage that! If that student used a belief in a higher power to help them through the four years of complete atrocity that we casually refer to as "high school", that student should definitely get up there and talk about it.

If a student wants to witness to other students at school, go for it! As long as they are not interrupting studies, they should always have a voice that's respected.

I've never understood the urge to ban things we don't agree with.
To be quite honest, I believe this stems from the fact that neither sides want to critically look at what they believe (religious people don't want to question their faith;non-religious people don't want to question their "logic".)

People fear change and the unknown. Loved the Volitaire quote also, a classic that is always useful to bring up.

Kind of related:
My old school (where I learned all about The Letter People in first grade) in Howell, MI just made the news by choosing not to implement the bible classes advocated by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools.
Check it out:


At 1/12/2007 02:46:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Interesting story. Thanks for sharing.

In theory I support teaching the Bible as literature, and as one of the most significant influences on Western culture (I don't see how you can have a decent understanding of the history of Western culture without studying the Bible). But of course, it would all depend on the particular curriculum and whether it's treated in a neutral and academic way or not. And if you are going to have a class on the Bible as literature you'd better have one on the Koran and the Talmud and all those too.

Personally I think it's a great idea for every high school to have a required "World Religions" course, where they'd cover all the major religions in an unbiased way. I'd love to teach a course like that. The more people understand about diverse points of view, the better we'll all be IMO.

BTW Michael, you might enjoy some of the conversation over at Conversation at the Edge and the message boards linked from there. It's atheists and Christians in dialogue, and the conversation is actually usually pretty respectful and interesting. You'd probably find yourself agreeing with both sides at different times.


At 1/12/2007 03:56:00 PM, Blogger M James

I actually lurk on that messageboard every day.
I tried to sign up for it a while back and it sent me an email saying that I needed to be approved before I could post, but I never heard back from the admin.


At 3/07/2007 04:39:00 AM, Blogger Robin

Hi Mike,

You said in an earlier post *I would like to see more teaching of religion in schools, and by that I definitely mean teaching a diversity of religions.*

I as an atheist would have no problem with that at all as long as the concept of no religion was discussed as well. What would be your thoughts on that?


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