Amend your schedule to celebrate Bill of Rights Day
by Linn and Ari Armstrong
This Saturday is Bill of Rights Day. The first ten amendments to our Constitution were ratified on December 15, 1791. Say a silent "thank you" to those who have fought for our rights, and take time to exercise those rights. Write a letter to the editor, take your family to the shooting range, buy a controversial book, etc. And take the time to share the meaning of the Bill of Rights with your children or students.
Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Pro Second Amendment Committee are hosting an event on Saturday starting at 12:30 at the VFW Hall at 14th and Ute.
Not everyone enjoys legal protections of their fundamental rights. Take, for instance, the story of Gillian Gibbons, a teacher from England who was working in Sudan. As The New York Times reported, Gibbons "was found guilty... of insulting Islam and sentenced to 15 days in jail and deportation. Under Sudanese law... Gibbons could have spent six months in jail and been lashed 40 times."
A spokesman of Sudan's government said, "She got a very light punishment," reported the Times. Fox News reported that mobs chanted death threats.
Gibbons's crime? She "let her 7-year-old pupils name a class teddy bear Muhammad," noted the Times. That's a crime, in places where there is no equivalent of our First Amendment. Just think of what might have happened had she named the teddy bear something like, "Muhammad the Pork-Loving Homosexual!" We suspect she would have been seriously injured if not murdered.
But here in the United States, we expect the government to protect the rights of people who use lines that some regard as offensive, not subject those people to detention or physical harm. Of relevance here are government sanctions, not possible actions by employers. (Incidentally, we find nothing offensive or insulting about homosexuality, eating pork, or naming a teddy bear after a religious figure.)
Unfortunately, our rights of free speech are eroding even here in the United States. The left, which often pretends to champion free speech and occasionally even does so, increasingly calls for censorship when it comes to radio broadcasts and political campaigns. Incredibly, the left calls its censorship "the Fairness Doctrine." By "fairness," the left means that government bureaucrats will force owners of radio stations to offer "equal time" to the left -- as defined by those bureaucrats -- or else. With the help of President Bush, the left has also censored select political speech prior to elections.
But the right wing is no better and very often worse. Some on the right wish to censor what it deems to be obscene or pornographic. (We're not talking about cases involving the abuse of children, which are not instances of free speech and which should be criminally prosecuted.) The problem is that when government bureaucrats and/or judges get to decide which naked pictures constitute art and which pornography, they cannot possibly issue objective rulings. Moreover, any censorship undermines the principle of free speech. If politicians and their bureaucratic thugs can forcibly stop you from looking at dirty pictures, why should they not also stop you from looking at dirty text?
Ironically, even though the right blasts the left's "Fairness Doctrine," the right often relies upon the same sorts of political controls to achieve their pet objectives. For example, as Don Watkins explains in a recent article for the Ayn Rand Institute, the "Federal Communications Commission recently asked Congress to hand it broad powers to regulate 'excessive violence' on TV." No doubt some on the right would cheer the move.
But why are these federal bureaucrats able to censor broadcasts at all? Watkins explains that "in 1927, just as radios were becoming widely used, the government seized control of the airwaves [and] declared them 'public property'... Thus broadcasters' right to free speech was cut off at the root..." If the federal government can censor speech on the basis of content, as many on the right desire, then why shouldn't the same censors limit right-wing talk radio? In fact, all of the censors should be kicked out of their plush, tax-funded offices to look for real jobs that contribute to the economy rather than violate people's rights.
It is true that, in a free society, others might express views or publish images that offend you. As a parent, you might have to take more responsibility for raising your own children, which might mean shielding them from certain materials. But the alternative is a society in which the political class arbitrarily decides what we may read, publish, and say with our own resources. A society that censors the perverse cannot help but finally censor the noble.
This is the third year running that we have celebrated Bill of Rights Day in this column. Hopefully, someday we will celebrate because the Bill of Rights is fully enforced.