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You Can’t Have Free Speech and Eat It, Too

Apparently the Obama Administration wants us to have our free speech and eat it, too.   Following the attack in Libya last week that left Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead, less serious attacks (I don’t call them “protests” when there is violence) in Egypt, Yemen, Niger, Tunisia, etc., the White House is working diligently to pin the blame for these attacks on a fake trailer for a movie, “Innocence of Muslims,” that criticizes the Islamic religion and its prophet Mohammed.  The trailer (or whatever it is) is available on YouTube.

The doubletalk keeps mounting: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rightfully called the Libya attack a “senseless act of violence” the day after, stating “there is no justification for this.”  Then, on Friday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney emphasized that the attacks were a reaction to the movie and nothing more, and admitted that the White House “asked YouTube to review the video to see if it was in compliance with their terms of use.”  Yesterday, United States Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice called the video “the proximate cause of what we’ve seen last week.”

Foreign policy is complicated, and I largely avoid it.  I’d like to see cuts in military spending and our military presence abroad, but incidents like this make the alternative a harder sell.  It’s difficult enough to diplomatically engage in policy debates here in Wyoming: how on earth do Americans begin to find common ground with a bunch of barbarians abroad who can’t take the slightest insult to their religion?  Even if this is just a number of small bands of barbarians living in various African and Middle Eastern nations, how do we find common ground with people who let them live there and behave this way? 

These are tough questions, but it’s chilling that rather than promote—or at least represent—American principles like free speech throughout the world, our leaders appear to be, at best, apologizing for it or, at worst, trying to censor it. 

Like my previous post about an anti-flag burning position in the GOP platform, it’s baffling to see this play out.  We have a rich history in this country that protects the worst of the worst speech. In the late 1980s, the Supreme Court overturned a defamation verdict against Hustler magazine brought by Reverend Jerry Falwell.  A parody in the magazine portrayed Falwell in perhaps the most insulting way imaginable.  I won’t go into details, but it implicated alcoholism, bad hygiene, incest and even bestiality.  Certainly, nothing the “Innocence of Muslims” says about Mohammed could be worse than what Hustler said about Falwell.  There is no difference.  The video is protected.  End of story.

Certainly free speech means that people are free to advocate against the First Amendment.  Others may freely advocate that making an offensive movie like this is the equivalent of yelling “fire” in a movie theater, even though this would create an exception so wide we could drive a truck full of red tape through it.  But I expect more from a President, whose chief duty is to uphold the Constitution; I expect much more from a White House led by an experienced lecturer in Constitutional Law.

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Friday, 20 October 2017
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