Posted by Christopher Johnson | Wednesday, September 26th, 2012 | Uncategorized | 30 Comments

University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner thinks that this country really needs to dial down its obsession with free speech:

The universal response in the United States to the uproar over the anti-Muslim video is that the Muslim world will just have to get used to freedom of expression. President Obama said so himself in a speech at the United Nations today, which included both a strong defense of the First Amendment and (“in the alternative,” as lawyers say) and a plea that the United States is helpless anyway when it comes to controlling information. In a world linked by YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, countless videos attacking people’s religions, produced by provocateurs, rabble-rousers, and lunatics, will spread to every corner of the world, as fast as the Internet can blast them, and beyond the power of governments to stop them. Muslims need to grow a thick skin, the thinking goes, as believers in the West have done over the centuries. Perhaps they will even learn what it means to live in a free society, and adopt something like the First Amendment in their own countries.

Maybe that’s right.  But actually, America needs to get with the international program.

But there is another possible response. This is that Americans need to learn that the rest of the world—and not just Muslims—see no sense in the First Amendment. Even other Western nations take a more circumspect position on freedom of expression than we do, realizing that often free speech must yield to other values and the need for order. Our own history suggests that they might have a point.

Look at it this way.  At least the trains will run on time and everyone will be able to read the “No Food Today” signs.  Posner points out that it was the left which first turned the First Amendment into an weapon.

The First Amendment earned its sacred status only in the 1960s, and then only among liberals and the left, who cheered when the courts ruled that government could not suppress the speech of dissenters, critics, scandalous artistic types, and even pornographers. Conservatives objected that these rulings helped America’s enemies while undermining public order and morality at home, but their complaints fell on deaf ears.

Shogi, the Japanese version of chess, has a unique characteristic.  Because of the way the pieces are shaped, no piece is ever completely out of the game.  Any of your pieces that I happen to take can be turned around and employed by my army.

A totem that is sacred to one religion can become an object of devotion in another, even as the two theologies vest it with different meanings. That is what happened with the First Amendment. In the last few decades, conservatives have discovered in its uncompromising text— “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech”—support for their own causes. These include unregulated campaign speech, unregulated commercial speech, and limited government. Most of all, conservatives have invoked the First Amendment to oppose efforts to make everyone, in universities and elsewhere, speak “civilly” about women and minorities. I’m talking of course about the “political correctness” movement beginning in the 1980s, which often merged into attempts to enforce a leftist position on race relations and gender politics.

Posner wants Americans to remember two things.  The First Amendment is strictly an American idea whose inspiration is not shared by anybody else in the world and which cannot force people stop thinking bad thoughts.

We have to remember that our First Amendment values are not universal; they emerged contingently from our own political history, a set of cobbled-together compromises among political and ideological factions responding to localized events. As often happens, what starts out as a grudging political settlement has become, when challenged from abroad, a dogmatic principle to be imposed universally. Suddenly, the disparagement of other people and their beliefs is not an unfortunate fact but a positive good. It contributes to the “marketplace of ideas,” as though we would seriously admit that Nazis or terrorist fanatics might turn out to be right after all. Salman Rushdie recently claimed that bad ideas, “like vampires … die in the sunlight” rather than persist in a glamorized underground existence. But bad ideas never die: They are zombies, not vampires. Bad ideas like fascism, Communism, and white supremacy have roamed the countryside of many an open society.

In the past, American “values” have made this country look bad to the rest of the world.

Americans have not always been so paralyzed by constitutional symbolism. During the Cold War, the U.S. foreign policy establishment urged civil rights reform in order to counter Soviet propagandists’ gleeful reports that Americans fire-hosed black protesters and state police arrested African diplomats who violated Jim Crow laws. Rather than tell the rest of the world to respect states’ rights—an ideal as sacred in its day as free speech is now—the national government assured foreigners that it sought to correct a serious but deeply entrenched problem. It is useful if discomfiting to consider that many people around the world may see America’s official indifference to Muslim (or any religious) sensibilities as similar to its indifference to racial discrimination before the civil rights era.

It says in another part of the First Amendment that the US government is supposed to be indifferent to the sensibilities of all religions.  That’s what we were always told whenever some governmental entity allowed the display of the Cross or the Ten Commandments anyway.  So it’s unclear why the United States government should care one way or the other about the feelings of Muslims. 

But according to Eric Posner, they apparently should care deeply whenever Islamic feelings are hurt.  Not only that, this American law professor thinks that the fact that Washington was unable to legally force Google to take that film down is a scandal.

The final irony is that while the White House did no more than timidly plead with Google to check if the anti-Muslim video violates its policies (appeasement! shout the critics), Google itself approached the controversy in the spirit of prudence. The company declined to remove the video from YouTube because the video did not attack a group (Muslims) but only attacked a religion (Islam). Yet it also cut off access to the video in countries such as Libya and Egypt where it caused violence or violated domestic law. This may have been a sensible middle ground, or perhaps Google should have done more. What is peculiar it that while reasonable people can disagree about whether a government should be able to curtail speech in order to safeguard its relations with foreign countries, the Google compromise is not one that the U.S. government could have directed. That’s because the First Amendment protects verbal attacks on groups as well as speech that causes violence (except direct incitement: the old cry of “Fire!” in a crowded theater). And so combining the liberal view that government should not interfere with political discourse, and the conservative view that government should not interfere with commerce, we end up with the bizarre principle that U.S. foreign policy interests cannot justify any restrictions on speech whatsoever. Instead, only the profit-maximizing interests of a private American corporation can. Try explaining that to the protesters in Cairo or Islamabad.

I’ve got a better idea, Professor.  Try explaining to the protestors in Cairo and Islamabad that ANYTHING that happens inside this country is none of their damned business.

The mendacity and dishonesty of this piece is easily ascertained by asking yourself a simple question.  If some form of artistic expression had insulted Jesus or villified Christianity, would Posner still have written it?

If some museum displays an egregiously blasphemous painting of Jesus or Mary, if a particularly blasphemous movie was made, if another TV show or play debuted which ridiculed Christians or if Bill Maher opened his pie hole, would Posner think it regrettable that the US government was unable to legally prevent these things from happening?

Of course he wouldn’t.  The question wouldn’t even come up.  And the reason why the question wouldn’t come up is simple.  Christians don’t kill people and destroy property when they are insulted and villified or their Lord is blasphemed.

A faculty sinecure at the University of Chicago Law School would seem to suggest a certain level of intelligence.  So it’s hard for me to figure out why Eric Posner thinks that restricting American rights simply to avoid offending Muslims is a good idea.

For one thing, it’s unworkable.  As President Obama said in his recent speech, the Internet means that the genie is out of the bottle.  Putting it back in would mean establishing the sorts of governmental Internet controls which would start a second American revolution all by themselves.   

Even if the Web could be controlled, does Posner really think that the American people would tolerate the establishment of what would effectively be a Federal Bureau of Censorship which would have the power to officially ban or even criminalize any form of expression that it deems contrary to the national interest?

Take this  idea to its logical conclusion and Eric Posner and other First Amendment restrictionists have effectively ceded a large portion of American sovereignty to people who are fiercely hostile to this country and its values.  Not only that, but it would no doubt encourage the same kind of behavior among fringe Christian groups that one sees inside most of the Muslim world right now.

Bill Maher, Ellen Barkin and other fiercely anti-Christian “artists” would probably have to spend a fortune on security for the rest of their lives.

And where does it stop?  I shouldn’t be allowed to make a film that insults Mohammed?  What if I were to write that, as a Christian, I don’t believe Mohammed, assuming he even existed at all, was a prophet of the God I worship?  Is that not an insult to Mohammed and to the adherents of his fraudulent religion?  For that matter, isn’t the fact that I am a Christian an implied insult to Mohammed as well?

See what I did there, Eric?

The world doesn’t love the First Amendment?  So what?  This is one instance where we’re right and the rest of the world is wrong.  Besides, I don’t love societies that make women dress in sacks and/or kill people for changing their religion.  So until the Islamic world develops a thicker skin, I don’t care what it thinks about anything at all.

30 Comments to HECKLER’S VETO

September 26, 2012

There’s another (former) University of Chicago law instructor who bothers me. Maybe it’s in the water.

The only reason these people are advocating speech restrictions is because some adherents of Islam, mostly but not exclusively overseas, are ignorant barbarians. Note that leftists scream bloody murder at any criticism of, much less suppression of, offensive leftist statements.

Daniel Muller
September 26, 2012

Why does their god hate them so much?

I don’t love societies that make women dress in sacks … .

The last time that I was at the Dallas Galleria, we went to a fancy shoe store. This fat young unshaven Middle Eastern guy came in dressed in a tee shirt, shorts, and flip flops. My brother-in-law, whom he sat next to, later said he really stank, too. He was accompanied by an animated object that was apparently his wife, but I could not be too sure because it was wearing a burqa; maybe the beautiful mauve color was supposed to indicate gender. Anyhow, it certainly did not try on any shoes; I wonder whether it could have. It never said a word.

When we got back into the car, I said, “Now, I am not much of a women’s libber, but …”

September 26, 2012

I have always been intrigued by the “Shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre” argument against free speech. What is one supposed to do if there IS a fire?

So am I supposed to keep my mouth shut and not observe that most terrorists in the Modern Age are Muslims? Or censor the fact that on the basis of the Koran and the Hadiths, all non Mulsims are to be relegated to the status of Dhimmis with no rights whatsoever under Sharia Law and that their lives may be forfeit to the Ummah because their very existence as “infidel” is an affront to Allah? Am I supposed to keep my logical conclusion that therefore Islam is NOT a relgion of peace a secret, lest I upset the barbarians?

September 26, 2012

Daniel Muller, I recently stood for half an hour in an Apple store waiting for my Genius Bar appointment. A Muslim man was there, also waiting. He was sitting on one of the stools that are supposed to be for people who are actually being helped. Behind him, for the full half hour, stood his wife and daughter. The thought of offering the stool to his wife, or to one of several older women standing there (including me) never occurred to him.

FW Ken
September 26, 2012

Not to be cranky, but at the moment I’m less concerned with the rants of a law professor than the silence on the mainstream media about the incompetence of the current administration in allowing what happened in Libya and then the denial and possible cover-up for over a week. If it were Pres. Bush, there would already be calls in The New York Times for congressional hearings about it.

Yes, I am being cranky.

Ad Orientem
September 26, 2012

I’ve got a better idea, Professor. Try explaining to the protestors in Cairo and Islamabad that ANYTHING that happens inside this country is none of their damned business.

In general I agree with this. But in my experience it is easier to tell other people to mind their own damned business when we are not constantly sticking our nose (and troops) into theirs.

ann r
September 26, 2012

My experience is that “progressives” think they are the only people who should have freedom of speech.

[…] Go here to Midwest Conservative Journal to read the brilliant rest.  The committment to freedom of speech of many of our elites is distinctly underwhelming.  John Stuart Mill summed up what is going on now long ago: […]

September 27, 2012

Perhaps the professor couls self-censor and shut up? This is America and we have our laws. Better yet, let him go advocate his position in person to the folks who are yelling. They should equally shut up under his advice. I suspect he will have a change of tune before they change his venue…permanently.

September 27, 2012

Can you say “Alien and Sedition acts”? Sure you can.

Didn’t work out too well for John Adams.
Wouldn’t go over too well for Barak Obama either.

Scott W.
September 27, 2012

My experience is that “progressives” think they are the only people who should have freedom of speech.

Indeed. You will notice our zero-population chuckle-heads never offer to commit seppuku to reduce their carbon footprint.

September 27, 2012
September 27, 2012

FW Ken, it’s an outrage, a dangerous outrage. We can always hope the “news reporters” will do their jobs, but don’t hold your breath waiting.

John, you keep posting these stupid links. “Free speech” means you can say what you want. It doesn’t mean you can freely disrupt meetings to force other people to listen to you, especially when the speaker is now protected by Secret Service.

September 27, 2012


HufPo is not much different that the National Enquirer. Actually the NE is probably a more reliable venue for news.

September 27, 2012

May not be an apt comparison, but QUISLING comes to mind.

September 27, 2012

Daniel, I recall the first time I saw a bagged figure. On a plane to Europe in 1992 coming down the aisle was a handsome, well dressed man accompanied by a cute little boy, and —- a vast amount of black cloth. Just shocking. It might very well have been a woman, but there was nothing to back up my guess. If I had been asked under oath “was that a woman?” I could not have said yes or no. I would hazard a guess it was the boy’s mother? The closest thing to that poor creature I’ve seen since then are “dementors” in a Harry Potter film. I wonder if anyone else has noticed the resemblance? I expect there would have been howls of protest from the younger precivilized peoples of the east if my take on it was more widely held.

FW Ken
September 27, 2012

Here’s a pretty good reply to Posner from, of all places, the Huffpo.


September 27, 2012

John, John, John, is that all you got? Check out these links on proper heckling by Democratic union thugs in St Louis…http://search.yahoo.com/search?fr=ffds1&p=st+Louis+union+thugs

Here’s video so you won’t have to strain the eyes with the small print: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wr_4ZWEFOjQ

Democrats and Unions love free speech! Yes, sirree! Just so long as it is the “right” free speech and they can take away from someone to give away to another (themselves excepted).

September 27, 2012

bob, I had a very similar experience at an airport last year. I was sitting in the gate area waiting for my flight to board and noticed a family across the room. A man, two small children (one in a stroller), and a figure with what looked like a black sheet over its head. It seriously reminded me of kids putting a sheet over their heads to dress as a ghost for halloween, except there were no eye holes. No part of the face was visible, not even the eyes. I assumed it was a woman but didn’t actually know that this was the case since no part of her was visible. I wondered how she’d gotten through security. To be honest, it totally creeped me out. Your suggestion of the dementors from Harry Potter is right on. That’s exactly what it looked like.

September 27, 2012

I checked out your links and saw bad behavior but no punches thrown or anyone arrested. Not what you would call thuggery, reminds me of the Tea Party, only much milder… http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/20/tea-party-protests-nier-f_n_507116.html.
Much of the stuff on You Tube is staged for the cameras.
Speaking of staged protests, remember this…

FW Ken
September 27, 2012

Obviously, John does support the suppression of speech. not a surprise.

September 27, 2012

Fw Ken

Your comment is fallacious.

September 27, 2012

Thanks, John. You also saw no shouting in an attempt to drown out the speaker … cause it didn’t happen. But, que sera, Chicago.

September 28, 2012

> As President Obama said in his recent speech, the Internet means that the genie is out of the bottle.

Actually, the sad thing is that Government does not need to fear the internet anymore. Here in my new homeland no-one knows about things as the collapse of the West, their booming economy, the beginnings of the construction of a National Heath Service, the countries incredible growth rate or even that it is now a member of the G20.


Because no-one watches TV for anything more than comedy shows and no-one uses te internet for anything other than facebook now.

The general public how managed to reduced to world’s greatest news source to “My car gave birth to fluffy kittens last night.”

I think the US Government invented facebook just to stop people actually USING the internet.

It took me three months to get Indonesians to believe me that an MRT was being built in Jakarta. They thought I was lying – even though there was a website relying progress reports.

Explains again why I left the UK. People WILL not see what is happening in their country.

As an aside – I am telling people here that we are living in the 1930’s again. On TV here it was recognised that the only think keeping Europe going AT ALL were massive cash infusion from the IMP and the World bank. Asia know its cannot go on forever. They KNOW Europe (and I dare say the US thanks to Obama) is utterly bust.

Thing is… last time this happen we had world war. Given we have learnt absolutely NOTHING since 1945 or even 1989 watch for the tanks rolling. An Putin is licking his lips I can tell ya.

Don Janousek
September 28, 2012

FW Ken – I see John-boy called your comment “fallacious.” At least now we know what the “F” in “FW” stands for.

Posner has been insane for a long time – and is very full of himself. Pay no never mind to him.

I see some liberals are now proposing “fair speech” as a substitute for “free speech.” Hmmmm. Wonder who decides what is “fair?” Our “betters,” I reckon.

John – Here’s some free speech for ya – “I love the smell of thick coal smoke in the morning.”

Elaine S.
September 28, 2012

Everybody: You HAVE to read this, which I found over at Mark Shea’s blog. It’s datelined “Devil’s Bottom, Missouri” and it only gets better from there:


Elaine S.
September 28, 2012

Oops, that’s “Devil’s Elbow”… my bad… but really, this is side-splitting, Onion-worthy satire.

FW Ken
September 28, 2012

John-boy can call me anything he likes. He promoted an article in which protesters were shouting down the speaker. That’s suppression of the speakers freedom to speak and the rights of the audience to hear what he had to say.

Shouting people down was a favorite tactic in the 60s, and, yes, it has been used on the right as well as left.

September 28, 2012

Thanks, Elaine S., that was highly informative and entertaining. Let’s just hope the MSM complex don’t get “confused” and publish it like they believe it!

October 2, 2012

“This is that Americans need to learn that the rest of the world—and not just Muslims—see no sense in the First Amendment.”

Americans don’t much care what the rest of the world thinks does or doesn’t make sense, especially Muslims.

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