Thursday, January 01, 2015

Many on both the Left and Right allow the "heckler's veto" to become the speaker's moral burden

Barry A. Fisher offers a particularly disturbing op-ed on p. A11 of the Tuesday, December 30, 2014 edition of “The Wall Street Journal”, “Free Speech’s Shrinking Circle of Friends” with the byline “Liberals, and even some conservatives embrace the ‘heckler’s veto’ threat to the First Amendment”, link here
The obvious reference, of course, is the Sony hack, and the attempt of hackers (who may or may not have been the North Korean government as of this writing) to extort Sony into destroying the film; Sony thankfully eventually stood up to the threat.  More recent analysis by some suggests that this is a convoluted prank, but the idea that a government might not tolerate fiction that seems like a veiled threat makes sense.  As I noted (Dec. 19, 2014) I have some experience with this scenario with my own “fictive” screenplay. The "Elonis" case before the Supreme Court (Dec. 1) bears some similarity. Fisher also notes that the 1982 MGM film “Inchon” (about MacArthur’s invasion at the start of the Korean War) by Terence Young disappeared because of the Unification Church (but I believe that I actually saw it when living in Dallas).  There is still no DVD or Netflix rental; and it's not clear that Steve Carell's 2015 film on North Korea will ever get going again (link).  
 Fisher starts by discussing the Supreme Court’s 1949 reversal of a conviction in the Terminiello v. Chicago case (opinion) which struck down a Chicago ordinance which banned speech likely to provoke public unrest.  However, as Fisher notes, sometimes courts still seem willing to hold speakers accountable for the violence of others that their speech might provoke out of mere indignation, as in the case where a high school in California banned distribution of “Cinco de Mayo” T-shirts, or when a Christian group was ejected from an Arab festival in Dearborn, MI.
Fisher notes that the broadly construed idea of “hate speech” may be outside the purvey of First Amendment protection.  Private interests nearly always use this criteria;  self-publishing companies like XLibris consider “hate speech” one of the categories that would cause a book to fail “content evaluation”. 
Fisher also notes that the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (link  ) pretends to protect free speech, but directs its member parties (including the U.S.) to clamp down on “any advocacy of national, racial, or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination”

In my own life, I’ve sometimes experienced the retort that my own speech could bring harm to others (like parents) and I find this particularly offensive.  Yet, many people think it is particularly normal in society to ask someone “like me” to “keep a low profile” for the supposed safety of others. The "moral" retort seems to be that people with "real lives" take responsibility for others in a way that constrains them, when I don't, so I'll have some "responsibility" assigned to me anyway.  

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