James Leroy Wilson's blog

Sunday, September 17, 2006

When Speech Hurts Somebody's Feelings

One does not have to look hard to read about Muslim reaction and over-reaction to comments the Pope made about Islam. Just like the cartoon controversy of last winter, current incidents of violence and threats of violence indicate that some Muslims are very effective in making themselves and their religion look bad.

But any critic who smugly mocks and condemns these Muslim fanatics, but then says something like "If I see somebody burning the flag, I'll kick his ass," in some ways he's even worse. At least the Muslims are defending their God and faith; American "patriots" (fanatics) reserve the same outrage not when their faith is mocked, but when the State is mocked.

Imagine three propositions:

1. Insulting Islam should be banned.
2. Insulting Christianity should be banned.
3. Desecrating the American flag should be banned.

I disagree with all three propositions. But I understand the worldview of one who, in the interest of peace,order, and even "sensitivity," agrees with all three. There is something admirable in the consistency, and there's a certain glory in being completely wrong about something. It is less bad to say "I don't believe in freedom of speech" than to say, "I believe in freedom of speech, but..."

The "but" is an admission to the world: "I am lying to myself; I do not believe in freedom of speech at all. I pick and choose what should be tolerated, based on my own preferences and prejudices."

It is like saying:

"I believe in a young girl's right to an abortion because it's her body and her right to choose, but I believe there should be parental consent if she wants a tattoo. And drugs should be banned." This isn't an argument in favor of "choice," it's just saying "I don't mind abortion, but I don't like tattooes and drugs."

You have the right to that opinion and those preferences, but don't pretend that it has anything to do with "choice" or "freedom." (Such rhetoric is the #1 reason I hate Democratic politicians.)

Some people believe we should have the freedom to insult Islam and the Prophet, but not Christ or the Flag. These people show themselves to hate Islam, but they are still enemies of free speech. Others believe it is wrong to insult a person's religion, but not the Flag, because they believe that God is more important than country. And still others believe it is permissible to insult religion, but that the Flag must be protected. They tell themselves that they are respecting freedom of speech and the Separation of Church and State. The truth is, for them, the State is their God and their Church. To believe in free speech is to tolerate it no matter who takes offense.

The issue is, do you or the State have the right to punish someone whose speech hurts your feelings? The answer for anyone whose God is love, and/or for any American patriot who believes in freedom, is emphatically no.

In a recent piece on immigration, Stephen Cox wonders about the future of the country if it allows immigrants who "see a cartoon satirizing a religious figure and immediately concludes, "Somebody should be punished for this."

Earlier this summer, 99 Senators voted to make flag "desecration" a federal crime. That is, 99 Senators see something that hurts their feelings, and says "Somebody should be punished for this." They are all enemies of the Republic, of the free society, of civilization. One-third of them are up for election this year. They all must go down. For if they are wrong on this, they can't be trusted with anything.


  1. remind me then why we even bother to vote

  2. I have no problem with someone saying, "If I see him burning the flag, I'll kick his ass", as long as it's not the government saying it. The individual has a right to his feelings about the flag (and those can quite justly be pretty strong feelings) and to express his opinion on it. If he actually does "kick someone's ass" over it, he has apparently committed an act of civil disobedience with a willingness to endure the potential consequences for it (jail, lawsuit, revenge beating at a future date??). Burning the flag is a statement of disrespect for the government. We have the right to make such statements. The flag may well be defended by people who feel an obligation to do so.... but it has NEVER needed such defense. Quite the opposite. Its beauty has always lain in the fact that it stood for an association of people who have over our history comitted their lives and personal fortunes to maintaining a government that allowed you to voice your irritation with it or disrespect for it. Its beauty has always lain in the fact that it represented an idea that could not be destroyed through disparagement, and that made anyone who tried look like a damned fool for trying. If you burn a flag that allows itself to be burned in protest, ultimately you look ineffectual, and frankly silly at best and pretty moronic at worst. If you burn a flag that says you can't burn it, you take on an air of nobility. By making burning the flag a crime, all we've done is grant a degree legitimacy to anyone who thereafter burns it.