Freedom of Speech & Stupidity: The Q&A Session

Posted: September 21, 2010 in Culture, In the News, Politics, Religion
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Many thanks for the overwhelming amount of feedback, both on and off, on my last column: Freedom of Religion & Stupidity: The Rev. Terry Jones Story. Some loved it, some hated it, and someone actually compared me to the Tea Party (*Shutter*), but collectively everyone had a worthy opinion to contribute.

In response to everyone’s questions and comments, I’ve created the following Q&A to add to the discussion and further develop my position on this topic.


Q: Why do you care if the First Amendment rights of someone like Rev. Jones is denied?

A: I don’t. What I do care about is the current contradiction in this country where many Americans are cherry picking when, where, and who the First Amendment applies to.

There is no asterisk in the Constitution. Maybe there should be in some extreme cases, but when you start denying the rights of one person based on personal opinion, it weakens everyone’s rights and leaves the door open for more bias. Demanding a mosque not be built based on “feelings,” for example, is not a viable excuse to disregards someone’s rights; that is called discrimination.

Q: Isn’t Qur’an burning the equivalent of shouting “fire” in a crowded theater?

A: No. Falsely, shouting “fire” in a crowed theater, though irresponsible, much like burning the Qur’an, the Bible, or the Torah is not specifically against the law. However, if it directly leads to injuries, death, and/or public services i.e. local law enforcement having to get involved, then the person can be held personally and financially responsible. In the case of Pastor Terry Jones, he was ordered to pay the city of Gainesville, Florida $180,000 to cover security costs.

As a potential counter argument, there is the case of Brandenburg v. Ohio where the scope of banned speech was ultimately limited to that which would be directed to and likely to incite imminent lawless action (e.g. a riot). However, if this addendum is considered applicable in the case of Terry Jones, we’re again confronted with the hypocrisy of cherry picking. Jones might be a bigoted lunatic, but what about an elected official like Newt Gingrich likening Islam to the Nazis or fear mongers like Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck? The latter have their own TV shows every weekday, inciting hatred and violence in their loyal viewers. In fact, much of what they say could be categorized as “hate speech.” Shouldn’t they also be held responsible for the acts of crazy fanatics who have been inspired by them to aggression and murder? Who gets to decide when speech should be banned?

Q: Couldn’t the same logic be used to defend the KKK burning crosses in front yards?

A: No. Though the definition may vary from state to state, burning a cross on someone’s property and/or a public place is considered a hate crime and, if the purpose is criminal intimidation, it is a felony (as well it should be), so it does not fall under the First Amendment.

Q: What about the potential danger to our military?

A: Obviously I’m not a fan of soldiers getting killed, much less because some idiot thought book burning was a good idea. I just want to know how and where we can reasonably draw the line. I’d LOVE to see people like Bill O’Reilly off the air; hell, shutdown Fox News entirely. They incite hatred and fear – the verbal equivalent of burning a cross on the New York Imam Rauf’s front lawn – which could potentially endanger the lives of Muslims in America. Why are they allowed Freedom of Speech and the Press, but some preacher in a tiny church in Florida gets undeserved news coverage and worldwide condemnation?

Americans justify our country going to war by saying our military is, “fighting for our freedom.” It’s an utterly ridiculous concept for many reasons, but in this case, if it truly is OUR freedom they are fighting for, then why are so many in the U.S. using lies, hostility, and intimidation to take freedom away from someone else i.e. specifically Muslims who want to build an Islamic Center in New York?

[Video: Glenn Beck says we don’t want Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal’s help or money. He says, the Prince already sent us help and [he] flew that help into the Trade Centers.” Someone should probably let Beck know that bin Talal is a major share holder in Fox News’ News Corp.]

Q: Is denying the Freedom of Speech of a Terry Jones really a “slippery slope” situation?

A: My fight is not about Terry Jones. It is against the idea that freedom is selective in this country. For example, if the Terry Jones’ of the world should not be allowed to burn the Qur’an because it might incite violence, then the Bill O’Reillys and the corrupt Fox News organization should be shut down too. Why is ANY hate speech allowed?

We’re already on a slippery slope in this regard. There was a time when whites were uncomfortable with blacks using their same drinking fountain. Now, despite the fact that it was extremists who attacked us on 9-11, people are uncomfortable with peaceful Muslims building a mosque. Some even go so far as to say Muslims shouldn’t even be allowed to wear a religious headscarf in public.

What if crucifixes were deemed offensive? Should every Christian be forced to remove them in public? What about Ash Wednesday dots? Nuns and their funny hats? Religious tattoos? Those damn Jesus fish alone are enough to provoke unreasonable anger.

To be honest, I’m happy Terry Jones was silenced. But he is not the root of the problem.

Q: So what is the root of this problem?

A: The way I see it, the real problem behind all this strife is:

  1. The media’s constant, irrational peddling of terror and giving insignificant people like Terry Jones an audience.
  2. Americans buying into the media’s propaganda.
  3. Religion.

Religion might be the worst of the three. People seem to forget that everyone has a God to kill for; they all just have a different name. Let’s just throw everyone’s holy book on a pyre and roast ourselves some marshmallows.

I’m not suggesting imminent lawless action, by the way; just a tasty, fireside treat using some potentially inflammatory kindling.

  1. Ciaran says:

    Hi Tina,
    Finally got round to reading these. I must say I find the mindset of Rev Jones quite ironic. Does his view that his version of Christianity is the only true way (and I use the word version since I fail to see how his views fit in with core Christian values) and his hatred of all the Koran which is so severe as to go as far as to destroy it not directly contradict the underlying tolerance/values of the right to free speech?
    Anyhow, it seems that Rev Jones is not alone in the land of lunacy. Another preacher is up in the supreme court for intolerance of another kind.

    • natinanorton says:

      Thanks for the feedback and the link, Ciaran!

      Rev Jones’ message certainly doesn’t fit into the standard “love they neighbor” version of Christianity. However, there is currently no exception in the Constitution nor any decision handed down by the Supreme Court that would take away his right to express his warped views. Until that day comes, we can not legally silence bigots like Jones and the anti-gay Fred Phelps (who’s behavior appears to be more harassment than free speech) simply because we don’t like it. To do so would leave the door open for people to also shut down mosques for the same reason. That’s just not good enough for me.


  2. Bob says:

    Thanks for the nod Natina. Funny that you should like the show Due South. Although I never really was a fan of that particular program I love the work of Paul Gross.
    You should check out a movie that he wrote, directed in and stars in. It’s called Passchendaele, and it’s about Canada’s involvement in the First World War.

    Gross says he got the idea for the movie from talking with his Grandfather who served in WWI.

    • natinanorton says:

      That sounds interesting. I’ll definitely have to check that out. Hopefully Gross is better at writing drama than he is at writing comedy (wasn’t too impressed by Men With Brooms). He’ll always be four stars as Fraser though. He’s not too bad as a singer/songwriter either. 🙂


  3. Bob says:


    I have been following your blog for a little while and I have to agree most people just make you want to shake your head.

    But I did come across a very interesting story regarding cross cultural co-operation from my neck of the woods. Just goes to show you that if everybody would just calm down amazing things can and do happen.

    Keep up the good words and fight the good fight.

    Heres the link to the story.

    • natinanorton says:

      Excellent post there Bob. I highly recommend everyone take a gander.

      It’s nice to know there are still some kind, rational people out there… of course, they would be in Inuvik, where one of my Canadian heroes, Constable Benton Fraser, RCMP grew up. 🙂


  4. dylangreene says:

    I wish to clarify that my comment of shouting fire in a crowded theater was not directed at you; but at the person who commented immediately before me. Sorry for the screw up there.

    I’d say that the media has more a hand in this than we think. But…religion can be powerful as well…

  5. cala4lily says:

    As usual an excellent, well thought out and well supported post! I agree that the root of the problem lies in the media’s “irrational peddling of terror” and personally would cheer in the streets if Faux News was actually shut down one day! Unfortunately, you are right, freedom of speech means we have to tolerate bullshit like Faux News and there ilk, Terry Jones and his ilk, etc. What is sadder is the fact that too many people seem to be unable to differentiate between the propaganda and facts, no one seems to really want to think for themselves anymore but swallow the sound bites that incite the most, especially if it is in the name of religion. Thanks for the great post!

    • natinanorton says:

      Thanks very much for the feedback!

      The more I think about it, the more religion seems to play a major role in the current divide in the United States. If Christianity is supposed to be such a great thing, why is it making people act so ugly? I must’ve missed the memo that changed the old golden rule from “love thy neighbor” to “reload”… or maybe that was just a Sarah Palin tweet. 🙂


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