A Dying Ideal-Part One
July 14, 2008
By Bruce Walker
The weak vital signs of free speech have been a hot topic lately. What is happening outside America is more frightening than what is happening within America. Mark Steyn in Canada faces legal harassment from "human rights" commissions for impugning, allegedly, Moslems. Reverend Stephen Boisson, also in our neighbor to the north, has been ordered to stop expressing his Biblically-based views of homosexuality "in newspapers, by email, on the radio, in public speeches, or on the Internet." Canada has language similar to our Bill of Rights, but Canadian ideologues and bureaucrats ignore any Canadian heritage of free speech.
Bridget Bardot has been fined again this June by French courts for objecting to the way Moslems treat animals. This was her fifth prosecution for the crime of saying what she believes. Bardot has been sentenced to prison, with the sentence suspended, for simply stating that Islam is cruel to animals. The state prosecutor has complained that the court needs to impose a harsher sentence on the starlet next time for saying what she believes.
Last month a fifteen year old in London was threatened with criminal prosecution for holding a placard which called Scientology a "cult." London police on the scene informed the youth that he was not allowed to use the word "cult." This delinquent would have been punished in juvenile court for doing what Bardot did: Expressing a privately held belief.
The same month Dutch police arrested Gregorius Nekschot for publishing cartoons that allegedly "discriminated against Muslims and people with dark skin." No less than ten officers were required to handle this dangerous suspect. In the course of this law enforcement investigation, Nekschot's real name was revealed, making him a target for murder by radical Moslems.
In 2005, a Swedish pastor was prosecuted, with a possible sentence of two years in prison, for a sermon in which he condemned homosexuality as morally wrong. The year before that same pastor had been sentenced to one month in jail for making "homophobic" statements in the name of religion.
What is true in Canada, France, Britain, Holland and Sweden is true in Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Australia and New Zealand. Those ten nations, along with America, have long been considered to be the freest on Earth. Almost every sort of expression imaginable has been allowed for nearly fifty years in those nations from pornography to blasphemy to advocating the violent overthrow of the government. That is, until now.
Those once free governments throughout the once free world have rejected the fundamental idea of freedom of thought, speech, and expression. Citizens of those pale lands no longer have the right to worry publicly about Islam, to accept and to profess belief in the Bible, or to mock those who one believes merit mockery. Text and speech, pictures and cartoons, even thought have become regulated by the state. Those individual rights of conscience and cognition which once made us modern are dying around the world, and dying most pointedly in Europe and its offspring nations.
The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States embraces an idea of free expression which was once accepted throughout the free world - indeed, acceptance is an indispensable element of being considered part of the free world. The First Amendment was unique when adopted and it has become more than a legal fact: It has become accepted socially and morally as what America means. That is, until now. The "Fairness Doctrine," a bureaucratic attempt to balance the content of expression, is being pushed hard by those who fear free expression in the marketplace of ideas.
Representative Pence may soon have enough signatures to force a vote on House legislation to end the fairness doctrine, but that is unlikely to ever wind its way into law. When outlets like talk radio are successfully attacked, the tools to end the encroaching tyranny upon free dialogue, independent thought and the right to be contrarian will be distracted and weakened. That is the goal. The presumed virtue of uniformity - social consciousness - is already force fed to students in schools and colleges, to people who watch entertainment and news programs, and to bureaucrats in government and charitable empires and their subjects.
When the scattered voices of dissent are cowed or crushed, then minds which do not know they live in prisons will find escape and freedom harder and harder, until it is impossible. That is the grim lesson of George Orwell, whose dystopian fantasy, 1984, seems less fanciful each year.
Speech codes on college campuses, the beachheads of European censorship in America, penalize expression which manifests a belief, an emotion, or a thought which college bureaucrats deem harmful. The irony of this is that the very ideologues who protested and demanded the right to offend in the Berkley Free Speech Movement forty-five years ago, now that they are the administrators, want to protect themselves and their allies from being offended by draconian censorship that no one running American colleges in 1963 would have dreamed of imposing upon students or faculty.
Now, of course, those who dominate colleges, television networks, Hollywood, charitable and government bureaucracies, and practically every vehicle of communicating with America have found a danger which requires swift, firm, coercive government action: Talk radio must be "fairer."
What is "fairness" supposed to mean? The current controversy is about the much greater success of conservatives over liberals in the area of talk radio. But if Congress is going to mandate "fairness" in talk radio, then a threshold question should be to define fairness. Surely fairness means more than the narrow subject of political ideology. It would at least mean partisan balance, a very different thing.
But would fairness not also include fairness in other areas in which Americans are divided? It should. There is a generational battle over Social Security which transcends ideology and political party. Surely there should be fairness between the young and the old. There is a social divide between men and women. That, too, should be considered if we are to allocate radio bandwidth fairly. Fairness should include all our philosophical, social, cultural, political and other related differences, if government demands fairness to be considered at all.
Someone like Rush Limbaugh, the target of so much of this "Fairness Doctrine" talk, covers a broad range of political, social, intellectual and cultural issues. Moreover, Rush is consistent only to himself. He respects older Americans, who have done so much to make America great, but he also tweaks the selfishness of enslaving young Americans to a future Social Security grind wheel. Does he support the young or the old? Sometimes he supports the one and sometimes the other. His sense of right and wrong determines what he says.