Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The freedom to be a dumb ass

I was reading a post about freedom of speech and I can’t seem to get it out of my head.

The original post is actually in regards to the UK (where the writer lives) banning two Westboro Baptist Church members, but the writer shares some of his views on freedom of speech and it really got under my skin.

Mainly, because he doesn’t think freedom of speech and separation of church and state are important. And the fact anyone could possible think that, has really irked me.

Our government banned these folks from landing on the island. Our Home Secretary has the power to ban whomever s/he chooses from entering the country. I entirely support our Home Secretary's decision to ban these people from the UK. I know that most Americans are quite proud of their 'freedom of speech'/'freedom of religion' thing, but I think that taken to extremes it can be dangerous and damaging…I think that the WBC's promotion of hatred should be illegal and banned. I can't see the benefit of allowing these people to say and do the things that they do, and I don't see why the promotion of hatred - in any form - should be allowed and legal (and, therefore, by default granted de facto endorsement by the state).

The same applies to Islamic militants who promote an anti-West/anti-Christian doctrine. If they promote hatred, they should be punished under the law. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion is all fine and well when the intent isn't to actively cause or promote harm to others. When it starts to impact on the quality of life of innocents, then the state must intervene. I think that we've taken somewhat of a backwards step in the past few years with regards to religion: if I started a political party that said that all, say, brown-eyed folks were depraved and that they should be deported or killed, I'd be marginalized by society and possibly even arrested under some type of race-discrimination Act. The only difference between that and what churches like the WBC and militant Islam are that I wouldn't have the sanction of 'God' (whatever form 'He' may take) to back me up. So what's the difference here? Why are we so touchy about religion; and why do the 'religious' get a carte blanche to say and do whatever they please?

My question, then, to any American readers is this: would you find it too much of a leap to ban these people? Is your constitution so important to you in this regard? I appreciate your separation of church and state - a notion which I've discussed briefly before, and which I don't think is beneficial in any manner of speaking - but can it not be the case that, in some instances, the involvement of the government in religious affairs is a good, a necessary, thing?

The obvious answer is we could ban these people. The true question is would it be worth restricting my freedom of speech in order to restrict another's?

And for me, the answer will always be NO.

One of my favorite quotes by Noam Chomsky is, “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” I hold fast to that idea.

Plus, banning something will never solve the problem.

The more ridiculous the idea, the more it needs to be heard so people will realize the absurdity of it. (For some reason I thought of Mormonism just know. You’ll notice not too many non Mormons actually know what the religion’s about. That’s because it’s so ludicrous that widespread knowledge would probably result in catastrophic devastation brought about by unstoppable laughing fits.)

If we are to start silencing certain groups, where will we start? What will be the criteria? Who will decide? Words like “intent” and “harm” are so subjective they could be forced to include anything. There is no way to possible measure the potential harm words could cause a person and it's pointless to even try.

Freedom of speech is one of our most glorious rights because it gives us the freedom to question and criticize the government without fear of reprisal.

And yes, sometime the government does need to intervene. They are plenty of instances when the government interceded due to the behavior of church members. Cults are a great example, not to mention this is the very reason Mormons stopped practicing polygamy.

It seems to me he’s looking at separation of church and from the wrong angle. Its importance doesn’t lie in the church’s freedom from the government; the importance is the government’s freedom from religion. That's what makes it such an amazing notion and worth fighting for. (I also think it’s hypocritical to judge us for trying to keep government and religion separate when there have been cases of religious classes abusing children in the UK that are funded by the government.)

So yes, I guess our constitutional rights are important enough to me to allow room for people to say things I don't want to hear.

Because the alternative is nothing less than frightening.

"A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people." -JFK

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