“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
(Evelyn Beatrice Hall, 1906, in Friends of Voltaire; NB: NOT a quote from Voltaire himself.)
“But when all people are allowed to express their views and ideas, the principles of democracy and liberty are enhanced. This extends even to that speech which is most hateful and offensive.”
(Oliver Wendall Holmes, Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America.)
“Over my dead body!”
(David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Alex Salmond jointly, severally and together with leaders of all developed countries as they held hands with “Gay Rights”.)
When debating or discussing Free Speech, invariably the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America is cited. There being no obvious reason to depart from this rhetorical tradition, it reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
(For those unfamiliar with American politics and government, the Congress is the Senate and the House of Representatives together forming the Legislature; and this is akin to the House of Commons and the House of Lords acting together as our Legislature in the UK.)
One of the great defenders of Free Speech in the USA in the 20th century, specifically but not exclusively as the discussion pertains to the Press, was HL Mencken, the legendary “Bad Boy of Baltimore”. One of the guiding principles I like to think I live by is Harry Mencken’s dictum: “To every complex problem there is a solution which is simple, neat and wrong!” So I was pleasantly surprised when I recently came across an example of a slightly altered form of this sage advice employed in a High Holy Day Message of the distinguished Jewish Theological Seminary of America which appeared as an advert in the September 23, 1982, issue of The New York Times. It read:
FOR EVERY PROBLEM THERE IS A SIMPLE SOLUTION… WHICH IS USUALLY WRONG
Two men are crossing a desert. They are three days from the nearest water hole. One of the men is carrying a canteen. The canteen holds three days’ supply of water — for one man. Should they divide it? Then both will die. Then what is the obligation of the owner of the canteen? One opinion says: a man must not stand by and watch his fellow man die. He should share the water with his companion. Another says: preservation of one’s own life takes precedence. The owner of the water must drink it and live.
Not so simple, is it? If you don’t see a simple, obvious solution, you’re in good company, because the discussion is nearly 1900 years old. It is recorded in the Talmud, and here is the interesting thing: both opinions are presented in the Talmud, the prevailing and the dissent.
Why both? Because Judaism recognizes life’s dilemmas and the difficulty of knowing how to handle them. The truth is, for most significant issues there is NO simple solution. Euthanasia? Abortion? Freedom of expression? Pornography? Skokie? In most cases, it just isn’t clear what God wants us to do.
When I read this, my first reaction was that I disagreed with these learned Jewish scholars: I think that more often than not it IS perfectly clear what God wants us to do. However, more or less simultaneously a question also sprung to mind: who, what or where is Skokie? And, why should it matter to these good men? The answer to the former, I found out, is that Skokie is a small suburb of Chicago, Illinois, which came to both national and international notice because, and this is the answer to the latter, of a highly unusual and seriously controversial case brought before the Supreme Court of the United States of America in the late 1970s.
I had recourse, of course, to the internet where I first read a review of a book, “When the Nazis Came to Skokie: Freedom for Speech We Hate”, by Philippa Strum (Landmark Law Cases and American Society: Series Editors Peter Charles Hoffer and N. E. H. Hull; University Press of Kansas). The review outlined the background:
In the Chicago suburb of Skokie, one out of every six Jewish citizens in the late 1970s was a survivor — or was directly related to a survivor — of the Holocaust. These victims of terror had resettled in America expecting to lead peaceful lives free from persecution. But their safe haven was shattered when a neo-Nazi group announced its intention to parade there in 1977. Philippa Strum’s dramatic retelling of the events in Skokie (and in the courts) shows why the case ignited such enormous controversy and challenged our understanding of and commitment to First Amendment values.
It should be noted that the neo-Nazi group in question had intended to hold their parade on April 20, Hitler’s birthday.
Clearly, differing legal rights were engaged here. On the one hand, the desire of the National Socialist Party of America, under its then leader Frank Collin, to parade through the streets of any community, anywhere in the United States, was supported by their First Amendment rights. On the other hand, the people of the town had every right to live in peace, free from any assault on their sensibilities — there was a village ordinance prohibiting the display of Nazi uniforms and the distribution of material deemed offensive — and free from violence, or the threat of violence, on their streets, and to their persons. (A couple of years later, it transpired that Frank Collin had been born Francis Joseph Cohen, the son of Max Simon Cohen, a survivor of Dachau Concentration Camp. Arrested for serious sexual offences against several children, a psychiatric report concluded that he was “consumed with hatred for his father”. This, it seems, was supposed to explain his name change, political activity and sexual abuse of the children.)
Nobody could doubt that the good people of Skokie had every reason to fearfully apprehend that, in what would inevitably be a volatile climate, either the neo-Nazi marchers, or the counter-demonstrators — Sol Goldstein, a Holocaust survivor and local community leader, on hearing of the proposed parade had immediately announced his plans for a counter-demonstration — or both, would resort to violence. And so Albert Smith, Mayor of Skokie, a devout Catholic and graduate of Notre Dame University, sought and obtained an injunction prohibiting the parade.
Incredibly, the American Civil Liberties Union then took up the case in behalf of the Nazis and for their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly. Their case was fought by attorney David Goldberger: a Jew defended before the Supreme Court the rights of neo-Nazis against the rights of fellow Jews. And won! No wonder this mattered to the faculty of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
One can hardly say ironically, but the ACLU both won AND lost — 30,000 of its members left the organization as a direct consequence of their taking up the neo-Nazis’ case. Doubtless, the ACLU decision-makers later rued the fact that subsequently the march never did in fact take place, but that is another story. The main story here is that in her book the point that Philippa Strum makes, and forcefully makes, is that freedom of speech MUST be defended — even when the beneficiaries of that defence are far from admirable individuals!
So what if those who some would silence are not far from admirable individuals, but are, on the contrary, perfectly ordinary, sane and sensible people? People just like you and me, for instance, the normally silent majority? Surely, no-one would ever dream of denying us our rights to Free Speech?
After all did not Oliver Wendall Holmes (1841-1935), that great American jurist (Associate Justice USA Supreme Court 1902-32; Acting Chief Justice January/February 1930), if we set aside Buck-v-Bell, not once say: “The First Amendment protects free thought, not free thought for those who agree with us, but freedom for the thought we hate. If the past two centuries of struggle to preserve freedom of expression have taught us anything, it is that the first target of government suppression is never the last. Whenever government gains the power to decide who can speak and what they can say, the First Amendment rights of all of us are in danger of violation. But when all people are allowed to express their views and ideas, the principles of democracy and liberty are enhanced. This extends even to that speech which is most hateful and offensive.”
But, of course, this is not the USA and their Supreme Court’s writ does not run here. However, the legal and moral issues are just the same and the legal frameworks in which they must be dealt with are strictly analogous. In Rome, on November 4, 1950, the High Contracting Parties, the Governments of those countries who were then full members of the European Council, signed the European Convention on Human Rights. Section 1, Article 10 states:
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
(2) The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or the rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
But both in the USA and in the UK, Free Speech is no longer respected as a Civil Right IF you happen to disagree with a tiny fraction of one of the smallest minorities in either land: the professional proselytes, many, if not most, paid through the public purse in one way or another, within the less than 1½% of the population who are homosexuals of one sort or another (which statistic seemingly holds good more or less else- and every-where in the developed world).
This miniscule minority has decided that mainstream Christians and their beliefs about marriage, the family and society, and; their Bible and patristic writings, and; their ethics, morals, philosophy, theology, tradition and history (which history IN Europe is consubstantial with the history OF Europe), each and all are “most hateful and offensive” to them and, therefore, according to them, to each and every other homosexual, of whatever sort, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding for the good and simple reason that evidence to the contrary is not admitted and nor will it ever be if these people get their evil, anti-democratic way. Indeed, evidence, any evidence, in the matter from within the homosexual community has never been sought by them. So in that respect at least the overwhelming majority of the homosexual community are most definitely just like the overwhelming majority that is the rest of us.
For this miniscule minority, there can be no question of respecting the civil right to Freedom of Speech for we Christians, we perfectly ordinary, sane and sensible people. Nor for those, including many homosexuals, who though not sharing our religious perspective and background nevertheless concur with our views on marriage, the family and society. And they ARE getting their evil, anti-democratic way. And, just like Oliver, they want more. But unlike Oliver, they are likely to get it. But how can this be so?
These homosexual proselytes, thinly disguised as “equal rights activists”, and their fellow travellers, mainly of the political left but naturally including both trendy liberals and libertine Tories, have assiduously applied the principle enunciated by Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900): “I am afraid we are not rid of God because we still have faith in grammar” (Walter Kaufmann, editor, The Portable Nietzsche, “Twilight of the Idols”, Penguin, 1982, p. 483). They have totally subverted the honest use of language, aided and abetted by those three greatest users, and abusers, of language: the print and broadcast media (aka MSM); the politicians, and; the judiciary.
PS: In his letter to Pinocchio, the then Cardinal Patriarch of Venice Albino Luciani, later Pope John Paul, quoted an anecdote from “Pitigrilli” (Dino Segre, 1893-1975) the noted Italian aphorist (whose novel Cocaine was placed on the Index) in which he recounted that a preacher was addressing the crowd gathered at Hyde Park Corner in London when he was heckled by a dirty and dishevelled individual who shouted out: “The Church has existed for two thousand years and the world is still full of thieves, adulterers and murderers.”
“You are right,” replied the preacher “but for two million centuries water has existed in the world and your neck has still not been washed.” (Illustrissimi: Letters from the Patriarch of Venice, Albino Luciani.)
Among Pitigrilli’s well-known sayings is this: “Grammar: a complicated structure that teaches language but impedes speaking.”