This Is All Getting Very Complicated


Given my interest in free speech and the First Amendment, it made sense to write about the Charlie Hebdo incident. And at one point, I thought about incorporating in this piece some of the cartoons that precipitated the attack. Because I clearly have the right to do so. But I opted not to do that. And I find myself asking why? Why not show an example of what I’m talking about? Am I afraid? No, I don’t think so. Although it does beg the question whether I have the right to potentially put my co-workers in danger by displaying images that might lead some deranged radical to retaliate. 

No, I think I decided not to post the cartoons for the same reason I write f*%# when I write about a case involving someone using the f-word. What’s the point of using offensive speech when I can convey the same message using symbols? And if that’s the case, why not be considerate of readers who would be offended if I spelled the word out? 

Of course, this all depends on what message I am trying to convey. Today’s post is a comment on tragic events apparently inspired by the cartoons. It’s not a comment on the cartoons themselves. 

And I’m not out to make a point by ridiculing anyone. So this post is different than the one I posted last week, making fun of Kirby Delauter. I’m sure Mr. Delauter found that post offensive (at least I hope he did) but that’s the point. He took an idiotic position and I held a mirror up to it. There was no way to convey my message in a completely inoffensive manner.

But the critical distinction here is I made the decisions about what to include and what to leave out. No one, particularly not the government, is telling me what I can and can’t say.

But that’s where it gets a little complicated doesn’t it?  France bans anyone from denying the existence of the Holocaust. So the argument goes, if France can prohibit holocaust denial speech, because it is offensive, why can’t it ban speech that offends Muslims? Once you start picking and choosing, you invite that type of response.

Which brings me to this piece from the New York Times. The United States Supreme Court is going to hear an argument this term on a case arising from a decision by Texas agency denying a license plate design featuring a Confederate flag. The agency denied the request because it considered the Confederate flag offensive. A  group called the Sons of Confederate Veterans is challenging the decision, arguing that the flag is a symbol of “sacrifice, independence and Southern heritage.”  And just to make this a little more difficult, the Supreme Court may also consider an appeal by the American Civil Liberties Union challenging a decision by the North Carolina state legislature not to issue license plates featuring an abortion rights slogan despite the fact that it had previously issued plates featuring the “Choose Life” slogan.   

The New York Times thinks it’s okay for Texas to ban the Confederate flag but not okay for North Carolina to ban the pro-abortion plates. I’ll leave it to you to read their reasoning, but these cases bear some similarities to the French conundrum. Once the government makes content based decisions, things get really complicated.