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Is appeasing religion more important to society than free speech?


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Initial post: Jun 29, 2012 3:31:12 PM PDT
Chris Cook says:
Religious Bullies

Is appeasing religion more important to society than free speech? A judge in Pennsylvania seemed to think so in dismissing charges against a Muslim man accused of attacking another man (the victim in this case) because, according the attacker, the victim had insulted the prophet Mohammed. At the time of the attack, the victim was marching in a parade dressed as "zombie Mohammed" alongside another man dressed as "zombie Pope". Apparently, this was meant as a humorous protest against organized religion. In America, this form of expression would figure to be protected by the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech, but this is not the way the judge saw it.

Judges often issue stern warnings to defendants who get off easy, but in this case it was the victim who received the admonishment. Accusing the assaulted individual of acting like a "doofus", the judge seemed to imply that he deserved the attack, telling him: "It's unfortunate that some people use the First Amendment to deliberately provoke others. I don't think that's what our forefathers intended".

The Judge also pointed out the victim's behavior would be punishable by death in many countries that operate under sharia (Islamic Law). The judge was certainly right about this. In Pakistan, for example, a person can be sentenced to death for blasphemy, which includes just about any criticism of the prophet Muhammad, the Koran or Islam in general. Few people have actually received the death penalty in such cases, but the law is still commonly exploited by thugs who seek to settle private scores or to threaten and brutalize Christians and other religious minorities in the country. Despite these sorts of abuses, liberalization is certainly not imminent. Recently, in separate incidents, two high ranking members of the Pakistan government who opposed the blasphemy law were murdered by religious extremists. Not surprisingly, few in government dare to voice their opposition now.

Violence over insults or perceived insults to Islam is becoming more common in Muslim countries. Recently, there were deadly riots in Afghanistan over the accidental burning of Korans by U.S. serviceman. Similar violence occurred in several European countries a few years ago over cartoons that satirized Muhammad. Rather than stand up for free speech, many Western counties followed the lead of Islamic states, passing laws that make "insulting religion" a punishable offense. The supposed purpose of such laws is to promote tolerance, but suppressing free speech in favor of religion, which is inherently intolerant, is a dubious means to this end.

In fact, rather than promote tolerance, such laws will almost certainly have the opposite effect. This is because laws of this sort carry an unintended message: "if your religion drives you to become so violently emotional that you riot, burn and kill, then nobody has the right to object". Never mind that your religion inspires hatred of nonbelievers or brutal oppression of women. Anyone who voices an opinion that can be construed as an insult to religion has committed a crime.

So how is this working out in Muslim countries where these sorts of pro-religion laws prevail? Are tolerance, peace and social justice being promoted? Well it's certainly true that people who favor greater freedom or who object to oppressive religious teachings or practices are terrorized into silence. But little or nothing is done to rein in thugs and goons who take the law, or what passed for law, into their own hands. As long as they can claim that they are motivated by religion, they can be as brutal, corrupt and arbitrary as they want. At Punjab University in Pakistan, for example, an Islamic fundamentalist student group is not afraid to use threats and violence to advance its extremist agenda, especially when it comes to enforcing separation between men and women. When a group of philosophy students protested the brutality and intimidation, they were attacked in their dorm rooms at night by fundamentalist students wielding clubs and bicycle chains.

In Iraq, Islamic militias roam the streets of many Shiite neighborhoods looking for anyone exhibiting behavior that could be considered "un-Islamic". Lately, these militias have taken to attacking young people who sport the "emo" look, a style of cloths and haircuts inspired by American and European punk music. At least 14 youths were beaten to death in these attacks, which began after the Iraqi interior minister labeled the emo subculture "Satanism" and called for it to be stamped out. Meanwhile, in Iran, the feared "morality police" can arrest people for violations of the nation's strict dress code. Men and women who associate too closely in public can also be arrested. Once arrested, a person's fate is entirely up to the authorities. He or she may be shortly released, or end up being tortured to death in prison.

Clearly, providing thugs with religious justification for brutalizing others is not the path to justice and tolerance. But Western society should have learned this lesson long ago. During the centuries when Christian governments ruled Europe, people could be arrested on the slightest of pretexts and charged with religious crimes. Employing an inquisition style justice system, the authorities could torture people into confessing to heresy, blasphemy, witchcraft or whatever nonsensical religion crime that could be fabricated by the goons in charge.

Today, European society seems to be forgetting the mistakes of the past with its willingness to suppress freedom of speech and expression just because a bunch of thugs and bullies threatened to become violently emotional over insults to their religion. This is not an example that we should be following here in America. We should not be intimidated by religion or its aggressive proponents. We don't necessarily have to believe that we are all just lowly sinners compared to the greatness of God (as religion teaches) and accept whatever treatment that religious bullies think we deserve. A free society needs people with the courage to stand up to religion with its nonsensical assertions about the subordination of mankind to imaginary gods. So, what do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Any comments?

Posted on Jun 29, 2012 8:57:15 PM PDT
I feel most people would answer your question in the title yes, with the qualifier that the religion must be a minority.

Posted on Jun 29, 2012 10:18:26 PM PDT
tom kriske says:
the further a society is from superstition, the better off it is.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 30, 2012 9:32:37 AM PDT
I am inclined to agree that the victim in this case was engaging in a form of speech that should be protected. Certainly being offended by another's speech does not entitle you to assault the offender. I can't imagine what the judge was thinking about in this case. However, I would make a distinction between the kind of public expression you described versus deliberately and directly provoking a religious person, for example screaming in a Muslim's face "Your Prophet is a pervert!" On the other hand, I would note that the Supreme Court has upheld the right of the Westboro Baptist Church to protest at military funerals, which suggests that the First Amendment protects even the most offensive and personal speech, even at a time when the offended are particularly stressed and entitled to respect and privacy.

BTW: Why did you post this in the Science Forum?

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 30, 2012 12:07:35 PM PDT
Irish Lace says:
I don't disagree with your essay but don't get my knickers in a knot over it. The judge was the doofus.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 30, 2012 12:08:36 PM PDT
Irish Lace says:
Most people would answer "Yes" to "Is appeasing religion more important to society than free speech? "

Now THAT is a scary thought! What would minority status have to do with it?

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 30, 2012 1:12:13 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 30, 2012 1:15:02 PM PDT
I'm not sure. I can't understand it either.

Change your story in the OP to Christian attacks man dressed as Jesus and ponder the judge's decision.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 30, 2012 1:26:38 PM PDT
Harry Marks says:
Chris Cook -

While I agree with the bottom line of your OP - the judge found wrongly, common sense tells us the person in the parade was also wrong.

If someone approached a man and began berating the man's mother and calling her a whore, the law says the insulted man may not lash out at the insulter. In practice, the one protected by free speech had better be up on his martial arts.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 30, 2012 3:31:44 PM PDT
Irish Lace says:
"...common sense tells us the person in the parade was also wrong."

Being wrong is not against the law. Free speech guarantees his right to be wrong. The problem here was that he was assaulted for practicing it. It stinks. And the judge is a doofus.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 1, 2012 6:44:52 AM PDT
Harry Marks says:
Irish Lace -

And the horse you rode in on. The problem was he didn't understand that what he was doing was deeply and gratuitously offensive, because he lacked empathy. Most of the time by the time a situation gets to court, it is far too late for a really right outcome.

The judge is a doofus, but the guy who was assaulted is a bigger doofus. I care plenty about doofus judges, so I would vote against him. I am betting that the guy won't volunteer to play Mohammed next year. Some people won't learn emphathy, so they learn some other way.

Posted on Jul 1, 2012 9:19:22 AM PDT
Captain says:
Play a little mind game with this. Take the media out of the equation. Do you really think people would bend over backwards to accomodate these savages if the media didn't say it was PC? No, they would be treated like they treat others and would likely shape up.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 1, 2012 10:23:04 AM PDT
Harry Marks says:
Chris Cook -
"suppressing free speech in favor of religion, which is inherently intolerant, is a dubious means to this end."

We in the West have gotten used to allowing neo-Nazis to march against Jews, etc. as free speech. And it works pretty well, but immigrants may not have the background to make sense of this system.

If you think about the reasons for protecting expression of opinion, you will realize that it is possible to promote all range of opinions about proper policy without insulting any religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. A different interpretation of the protection of free speech is possible with no great loss to society's ability to debate.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 1, 2012 10:59:34 AM PDT
Irish Lace says:
"And the horse you rode in on. The problem was he didn't understand that what he was doing was deeply and gratuitously offensive, because he lacked empathy."

THAT is irrelevant (to both my horse and the Constitution.) Lacking empathy and being offensive are not crimes in the U.S. - at least, not yet. If religious fundamentalists OR the political correctness Nazis take over, we may have a different situation. There are many remarkably stupid things human beings can do to provoke one another; you'll get no argument from me on that. And there may or may not be quite legal and socially acceptable recourses the offendee may have for dealing with the doofus offender. However, under U.S. law, as far as I know, assaulting the offender because he ticked you off is not one of those. If the offendee is not comfortable with the doofus offender's right to free speech, the offendee needs to get over it.

"The judge is a doofus, but the guy who was assaulted is a bigger doofus.

Agreed. Clearly, being a doofus isn't against the law.

"I care plenty about doofus judges, so I would vote against him. I am betting that the guy won't volunteer to play Mohammed next year. Some people won't learn emphathy, so they learn some other way. "

Good point.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 1, 2012 11:02:12 AM PDT
Irish Lace says:
"If you think about the reasons for protecting expression of opinion, you will realize that it is possible to promote all range of opinions about proper policy without insulting any religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. A different interpretation of the protection of free speech is possible with no great loss to society's ability to debate. "

I agree with you, Harry, except for those religions whose foundational doctrine not only does not tolerate dissent, but also authorizes its followers to take direct and sometimes lethal action. If THAT is tolerated for any "special" group, we are doomed.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 1, 2012 12:18:23 PM PDT
Mr. Marks--"I am betting that the guy won't volunteer to play Mohammed next year."

>>JGC: So it's OK with you that he was intimidated out of exercising his First Amendment rights? He may be a doofus, but even doofusses have rights, and even if they lack empathy, as has been demonstrated by Snyder v. Phelps (the Westboro Baptist Church case).

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 1, 2012 1:37:20 PM PDT
Harry Marks says:
James G. Christenson,

It would not bother me overmuch if someone intimidated the Westboro Baptist Church out of exercising their First Amendment rights. Or the neo-Nazis who march through Jewish neighborhoods. I am not saying "they get what's coming to them", just that their right to insult people for the sake of insulting them, as opposed to in the process of explaining an abstract policy position, is not high on my list of concerns about things needing protection.

First amendment rights are most important when someone is criticizing the government, and next, when they are expressing an unpopular opinion. If they want to claim it is important speech to climb the outside of the Empire State Building, I think our natural skepticism should kick in.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 1, 2012 2:14:40 PM PDT
Doctor Who says:
Hmm... I would argue that the neo-Nazis and possibly the Westboro Baptist Church actually constitute hate speech and are outside the first amendment protections.

I don't remember who said it first but I agree with the statement "your right to swing your fist ends at my nose."

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In reply to an earlier post on Jul 1, 2012 6:59:14 PM PDT
Doctor Who says:
And as that's your book spammed 4 times so its the abuse button for all of them. Amazon has a meet the authors forum and prohibit spamming the forums and promoting your book outside the meet the authors forum. Check the guidelines for more information.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 1, 2012 7:05:45 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 1, 2012 7:23:33 PM PDT
Ashwood says:
Harry Marks says: The problem was he didn't understand that what he was doing was deeply and gratuitously offensive, because he lacked empathy

Ash : Was it gratuitous? As has been pointed out people are being imprisoned/killed in other countries for disparaging Muhammad and don't forget the Danish cartoons of Muhammad that resulted in death threats and the bombing/arson of Danish embassies. Isn't that enough reason to remind people that no belief, no matter how fervently held by it's adherents is above a bit a ridicule now and then?

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 2, 2012 12:23:20 AM PDT
Harry Marks says:
Ashwood -

Go ahead and throw the guy in jail. Beating people up is out of line. That doesn't change how stupid it is to insult people.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 2, 2012 5:06:45 AM PDT
Irish Lace says:
"I am not saying "they get what's coming to them", just that their right to insult people for the sake of insulting them, as opposed to in the process of explaining an abstract policy position, is not high on my list of concerns about things needing protection."

ALL speech should be high on your list of concerns about things needing protection. If you aren't as passionate about protecting the expression of opinions you find abhorrent, you won't be on firm ground to protect the opinions about which you are passionate.
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Discussion in:  Science forum
Participants:  20
Total posts:  103
Initial post:  Jun 29, 2012
Latest post:  Jul 12, 2012

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