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Saturday, October 1, 2016

They are, perhaps, the most dangerous words ever written:

“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.”

That, for those who don’t know, is the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

What makes those words dangerous is that they guarantee a freedom that, in the wrong hands (or even the right hands) can cause upset and outrage, even topple regimes. America confers that kind of power — freedom of expression, unfettered by government — equally to the conscientious and the flighty, the modest and the mighty, the noble and the most vile.

We’ve been arguing about it ever since, from the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, which restricted criticism of the government, to Snyder v. Phelps in 2011, a Supreme Court ruling upholding the right of a hateful Kansas cult to picket military funerals. We are not ourselves at peace with those words. So it is no surprise foreigners have difficulty with them.

As Islamic extremists continue a campaign of anti-American violence over “Innocence of Muslims,” a risibly wretched piece of Islamophobic propaganda, it is apparently an article of faith for many in that world that the film represents a U.S. government attack upon Islam. CNN’s Fareed Zakaria says they have “a lack of … understanding of freedom of speech and opinion.”

That’s putting it mildly. And that ignorance has become a potentially deadly flashpoint in recent years. It used to be that only a few high-profile, theoretically responsible, individuals had access to the world stage and the ability to affect world events. But with the advent of YouTube, Google, Facebook and Twitter, it is now conceivable some shlub in Fort Lauderdale could start a riot in Mogadishu. So the most dangerous words ever written have become more dangerous still.

  • budahh

    Nicely written in your unique style.

    Thank you.

  • You are correct, as usual, Mr. Pitts. Words have power. Those who know how to use them correctly can inspire people to greatness, or can inspire those same people to committ some of the greatest horrors imaginable. Let us pray that people can be inspired to the paths of greatness instead of horror.

  • daniel bostdorf

    Sorry…Mr. Pitts is a well spoken man, but he forgets the real world we live in.
    This has absolutely, positively to do with “the price of freedom” in my opinion.
    He states:
    “Newt Gingrich told CNN last week that the U.S. should use this episode to “teach the Muslim world about freedom” — free speech in particular. He’s right. Even if it were possible to put the toothpaste back in the tube as Joyner demands, one has to ask: what next? If extremists on the far side of the world learn the lesson that we will abandon a core principle because they throw tantrums or even commit murder, what does that tell them about us? What might we next be bullied into doing?”

    Sorry…wrong. Nothing to do with free speech.

    In this case, we CAN put the toothpaste back and reject it.

    In this age of social media, facebook, youtube, twitter and others, we now live an a “global theatre.”
    It is illegal to shout “fire” in any theatre.
    This includes the “global theatre.”
    The anti-muslim video was obscene and a total lie.
    It was like yelling “fire” in the theater. And it should not be condoned. And it isn’t. It is being pulled from Youtube.
    Those who made this film must be held accountable for yelling “fire” that has caused an already incendiary situation to finally ignite…
    Essentually this video was the match that sparked a fire in a theatre. A global one.
    Sure—you have a right to free speech….but not when it causes death and destruction.
    Finally–Obama apologized for the insensitive and careless video that caused this. And as president, he should have.

    This is NOT a price we should pay ever.

  • Don’t count me among those who sees the anti-Islam film as an expression of free speech. In my opinion there is a difference between being able to express our thoughts and releasing a video for the express purpose of inciting violence. The film was, in a way, a tool used to carry out premeditated acts of terrrorism, spontaneous expressions of anti-American and anti-Western values, which resulted in the death of four Americans, endangered the lives of thousands of Westerners working in Muslim countries, and compromised our interests in that part of the world. Dismissing it as an exression of free speech trivializes the severity of this act and encourages a sequel.

    • Ed

      Couldn’ agree more. For my money it meets the test of “yelling fire in a crowded thereater.”

  • WhutHeSaid

    I disagree.

    The wisdom of the First Amendment is simple yet profound. The correct antidote to lies are truths, the correct antidote to hatred is love. Humans will find ways to communicate their ideas no matter what laws exist, yet this law simply asserts their right to communicate without government interference.

    I too find that the anti-Muslim video is despicable and likely designed expressly to cause an uproar, however, I’ve noticed one thing about the debate: Extremely few are defending the actual content of the video or the message it attempts to convey.

    Who should decide when an idea is ‘not allowed’? You? Me? A government committee? When the simple act of voicing one’s opinion becomes a crime all citizens will become criminals. There are limits to free speech, of course, such as yelling ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater. If you can prove that the very act of voicing the idea was the direct cause of injury or death then there ARE laws that prohibit it, as there should be.

    The article points out an important point: There were no Muslim riots in Cleveland or Detroit, places where the antidote to hateful speech is also freely allowed. Muslims in those places do not like it, to be sure, yet they understand what the freedom to speak your mind freely is all about.

    This country has debated the wisdom of this amendment for hundreds of years. Many people have died defending this right, and the many similar rights that Americans enjoy. It’s a very simple freedom, really: The right to do something that is basic human nature — communicate — without fear of punishment for your ideas. Ideas can be ignored or shunned, as is true in this case, or drowned out by alternate views. The hate should be reviled, yet the right to express it cannot be stamped out by fiat. We need to supply plenty of antidote to such hate — not punish the individual for the gall of having a hateful thought. Hate cannot be cured by force.

    I’m not convinced that the video was the direct cause of the killings in Libya. There are too many signs that this was an organized effort. Everyday folk and passers-by don’t carry heavy weapons like RPGs in their everyday business — even in Libya. Perhaps the video was even designed as a cover for the killings — this, if proven, is indeed a crime.

    It’s a very slippery slope that you travel when you begin to legislate individual human thought. Those who authored the Bill of Rights saw this danger, and for that I’m grateful. I hope that people today will take the time to put half as much thought into the subject as they did so many years ago.

  • tokoloshi27

    Thanks for a thoughtful article, this is the sort of discussion that can add to our net worth as an experiment in Democracy. We need, however to keep the discussion on theory theoretical and the lessons internal to the Republic; when the threat is external, we should be unified behind our fundamental beliefs.

    The full picture of this episode, as other commenters have indicated, may still to be drawn. Aspects of this infamous attack have yet to be released and there may well be other shoes dropping in future.

    However we might want to consider what role our current, polarized media and public opinion are playing in this tragedy. There are elements both domestic and abroad involved. What part of this discussion plays into the hands of those determined to do hurt to our Republic (beyond the invasion and torture/public humiliations and murder of our Country’s sovereign territory and Representative)?

    Freedom of speech is closely aligned with freedom of thought and expression. To censor any American’s rights in this respect , diminishes us all. Unjust or untrue attacks on individuals are subject to the laws governing libel; however attacks on nebulous entities like a religion (since we embrace religious freedom) do not lend themselves to a binary solution set.

    The cultural reverse, however is not true. Under Islamic law criticism of Islam is illegal – and punishable by death (usually by a humiliating method) and it should be borne in mind that to lie in defense of Islam is condoned and encouraged under its teachings. Clearly to do battle under these terms in the media arena is not an easy task; the State department has for decades flailed and failed in this task.

    Culturally Arabs do not ‘respect’ our conciliatory apologies and expressions of concern, etc. They respect strength and expressions of unwavering will. We need to support our ‘friends’ and immolate our enemies, this is why the drone attacks have had the modest success that they have enjoyed.

    Lets not make this tragedy about something an American has done, sure we could have defended the Consulate/Embassy better on a day of significant threat; but it was clearly intended as an attack on all Americans by persons who identified an opportunity to do us harm. Our response options are unlimited, we are the wronged party and our justice should not be indefinitely delayed.

  • SaneJane

    The point the writer makes is very valid. The people rioting, burning and killing cannot understand that which they have never known, freedom of speech. They will never learn what it means by watching how Americans have responded to the violence. Finger pointing, political spin, blame game and an astonishing amount of ignorance displayed by the American public.

  • stsintl

    Where does the “Right to Freedom of Expression”, even without Responsibility, end and the laws against Antisemitism and Hate Crimes begin?

  • howa4x

    Oour protection of free speech is a core right and we should not give it up because people in some other part of the world live under religious tyranny. Magazines, papers, Cable TV shows and Utube have offended people through out our history by poking fun at religion. The constitution defended the right of Nazi’s to march in Skoke Ill a predominately Jewish neighborhood. They marched, people yelled at them and it was over in 2 hours. But media can also lite the fire. Think of the Rodney King beating, and the 4 days of riots that happend here in LA. If we can understand the outrage of people watching that then we can see why people get upset in places where there is no free speech. We don’t have to agree with it but we can understand it. We cannot tolerate killing in the name of any religion though. The constitution never gave us that right, and we can’t accept it elsewhere.
    The Arab spring produced imature governments that lack the social instutions we have. They can’t decern the fact that here the government dosen’t stop anyone from saying anything, since that is not in their history from being ruled by iron fisted dictators that controlled the media. We have to learn more about them and they have to understand us. We are all in unkown territory. They have to learn as we have that not everything you see on the internet is true or real. We still have people here who tend to believe things on TV and the internet that most of thinking people know is untrue, so what do we really expect from over there? They have to learn one American phrase: Get over it!!

  • daniel bostdorf

    Go ahead and say anything or film anying or cartoon anything you want.
    BUT….there are consequences if it leads to death and destruction.

    Legal ones.

    Restating:

    In this age of social media, facebook, youtube, twitter and others, we now live an a “global theatre.”

    It is illegal to shout “fire” in any theatre.
    This includes the “global theatre.”

    The anti-muslim video was obscene and a total lie.
    It was like yelling “fire” in the theater. And it should not be condoned. And it isn’t.

    Those who made this film must be held legally accountable for yelling “fire” that has caused an already incendiary situation to finally ignite…
    Essentually this video was the match that sparked a fire in a theatre. A global one.

    Sure—you have a right to free speech….but not when it causes death and destruction.

    Regarding the belief posted here:

    “I’m not convinced that the video was the direct cause of the killings in Libya. ”

    Which came first? The chicken or the egg?
    Philosopher Aristotle solves this with simple loigic:
    The chicken came first so an egg could be laid.

    The anti-muslim film (the actual) caused the Libyian riots and others (the potential)

  • well i would rather have a movie and free speech than have to bow to a religion that kills their flock for any reason that their pastor or what ever cut of heads for not staying with the flock honor killings of your own because you want to think for yourself hangings for god only know why beating their wifes as if they are cattle my opinion they are so far back to i donot know how far why in he..ll did we think that other countrys really want our way of life look at what has happened in countrys that have allowed them in they demand their way of life that they say have oppresst them they want freedom but not not our kind they my opinion want to have a country in a country and later take over there host country my opinion we must be ready for what ever our leader and his friends have in store for our country keep your eyes open and ears watch your backs for the evil one is waiting

    • amazonfan

      Ignorant, paranoid, cowardly, bigotted. Lovely.

      • daniel bostdorf

        There is absolutely no logical rational thought with Dale????

        What is Dale talking about regarding Pitt’s article??

        JEESH!

        • amazonfan

          I have no idea. He’s absurd.

  • ajjohnson31

    Thank you, Mr Pitts. Your writing is concise and thought provoking.

    Dominick Vila, I respectfully disagree. I am unpopular among my liberal friends for supporting the sale and ownership of guns; I support gun ownership for approximately the same reason I support full freedom of speech. Both guns and speech are tools. I consider that neither is inherently bad or good; it is the user of the tool who commits the violent act.

    I can understand and sympathize with those who want to restrict gun usage. I agree with them sometimes. But words – briefly, no one can make another person do something they don’t want to do, with words. I believe the person who actually commits the violence is guilty – 100% guilty – of his own heinous acts. The person who riled him up is 100% innocent. (Okay, eliminate those who are not responsible for their own acts such as the mentally deficient, and also those who hear someone yelling ‘fire’ in a theater where there is none.)

    Even though it was one of the most heinous acts in history, the preacher Mr Jones who led 600 people to drink poisoned kool-aid was probably not guilty of laws as we have created them in this country. Unless he actually physically forced someone to swallow the poison, he cannot be held accountable by the laws as we know them now.

    So, do you think that in persuading a person to do something, you are equally guilty of the crime you exhort this person to commit? Or do you believe that the hand that fires the gun belongs to the only criminal? I would have a hard time, as a jurist, figuring out where regular, reasonable speech is protected and where it begins to become criminal. It would be the most difficult thing to decide and to prove. Doesn’t the amount of guilt depend on the words used? And don’t certain words mean different things to different people?

    Just one more thing: It is my understanding that in a few instances, the law has recognized that one person has influenced another to commit a deed, and that lessens the guilt of the committer of the deed. I can’t think of any instances where the influencer is considered guilty, or more guilty, because of that influence. I’m thinking of Stockholm Syndrome, in which a victim’s mind and personality are changed in a medically defining way, beyond the responsibility of the victim, by being held captive and basically brainwashed. Patty Hearst received a lesser sentence because of her brainwashing. I don’t think any of her captors received extra sentencing because of their brainwashing of her.

    So, I think we have begun to recognize that one person can be involuntarily influenced by words, but we haven’t yet come to a point where we punish the person who says those words. I’m not sure how this can be codified.

    Alice Johnson

    • daniel bostdorf

      Your post is interesting but a bit obtuse ..

      There are ramifications on one’s actions.

      In this case, the video is killing people.

      In this age of social media, facebook, youtube, twitter and others, we now live an a “global theatre.”

      It is illegal to shout “fire” in any theatre.
      This includes the “global theatre.”

      The anti-muslim video was obscene and a total lie.
      It was like yelling “fire” in the theater. And it should not be condoned. And it isn’t.

      Those who made this film must be held legally accountable for yelling “fire” that has caused an already incendiary situation to finally ignite…
      Essentually this video was the match that sparked a fire in a theatre. A global one.

      Sure—you have a right to free speech….but not when it causes death and destruction.

      Regarding the belief posted here:

      “I’m not convinced that the video was the direct cause of the killings in Libya. ”

      Which came first? The chicken or the egg?
      Philosopher Aristotle solves this with simple loigic:
      The chicken came first so an egg could be laid.

      The anti-muslim film (the actual) caused the Libyian riots and others (the potential)

      • ajjohnson31

        Hi, Daniel Bostdorf.

        So inciting someone else to commit a crime is criminal?
        This reminds me of a different kind of incident – tell me what you think.

        For many years, and currently in many countries, a woman who was raped is blamed for her own attack if she wore a short skirt. The reasoning there is that if she invites the attack by being desirable, a man can actually lose control of himself to the point where he needs to have sex SO much that he is compelled to rape the woman. Her desirability, uncovered, is so strong that he cannot help himself. So he is not charged as a criminal.

        Daniel, are those Muslim Libyans so not able to control themselves, that an invitation to violence cannot be ignored? That is, someone makes fun of their prophet – and they are not criminally responsible if they lose control to the point where they kill people? (Not the ones who did the inviting, by the way – just other people.)

        I’m sorry, but everyone – EVERYONE – is responsible for his/her own actions. Words may incite and inflame and invite, but everyone can and should control their reactions to words. This is nothing at all like shouting fire in a theater – completely different. Yelling fire in a theater is not an incitement to violence – it is provoking a person’s fear of death. Unlike with rape, a person who believes she is about to die can lose control of her actions to the point where she climbs on top of other people, walks over them, in order to live.

        I can’t be sure, of course, but there is a possibility put forth by several bloggers in the last few days that the violence was coming, anyhow – and the insulting video merely touched the match to the fire where there was already smoke. And those people are definitely responsible for the murders they committed.

        I will not be censored for inflammatory speech; that’s why we have a constitution. You wouldn’t like it, either, as soon as something you said inflamed a person – and instead of arresting the person, they arrest you for inflaming him.

  • John Holliday

    Except that the video had nothing to do with the violence in the Middle East. It was posted to YouTube months ago. Why weren’t there riots and murders then? Because the movie had nothing to do with it. For a week, the Obama administration claimed the cause of the violence was the movie. Now, they are saying that it was just an act of terrorism on the anniversary of 9-11. Yes, it was.

    So all this hogwash (can I say that when speaking about islam?) about the movie is just so much propaganda dredged up by the propagandists in the press to make us believe this is OUR fault. IT IS NOT! It is the fault of a phony religion started by a pedophile that takes offense when someone tells the truth about their fake religion. Christians don’t riot and storm embassies and sodimize and kill ambassadors when someone “insults” Jesus. But muslims do.

    Stop blaming the United States and it’s people. Start blaming those responsible — muslims.

    • amazonfan

      You don’t know the first thing about Islam in the slightest. I can’s say that I’m surprised since racists and bigots never bother with research!

      Oh, and it was extremists who were responsible. You do understand what that means? They were extremists, just as those who bomb abortion clinics and kill dozens of Muslims in Norway are extremists! Or if you are willing to blame this on Islam, perhaps we should allocate blame for such acts where it belongs- Christians! It should also be noted that Christianity is responsible for more killings and horrors than any other religion! Stupid Islamophobe!!!

    • daniel bostdorf

      Th violence was incited by someone yelling fire in a crowded theatre.
      In this age of social media, facebook, youtube, twitter and others, we now live an a “global theatre.”

      It is illegal to shout “fire” in any theatre.
      This includes the “global theatre.”

      The anti-muslim video was obscene and a total lie.
      It was like yelling “fire” in the theater. And it should not be condoned. And it isn’t.

      Those who made this film must be held legally accountable for yelling “fire” that has caused an already incendiary situation to finally ignite…
      Essentually this video was the match that sparked a fire in a theatre. A global one.

      Sure—you have a right to free speech….but not when it causes death and destruction.

      Regarding the belief posted here:

      “I’m not convinced that the video was the direct cause of the killings in Libya. ”

      Which came first? The chicken or the egg?
      Philosopher Aristotle solves this with simple loigic:
      The chicken came first so an egg could be laid.

      The anti-muslim film (the actual) caused the Libyian riots and others (the potential)

  • The world is not a dangerous place. It is those who live in it who are dangerous. Just as the West is bewildered by the incomprehension of others about the freedom of expression so also are others bewildered by the bulldog pursuit of the freedom of speech by the West even at whatever cost.

    The film that is the centre of the controversy was certainly produced not for commercial gains or educational pursuit. Except deviants, conscience, that little voice within everybody will certainly forewarn you of possible repercussions of your course of action. From precedents, the people concerned , even if they were braindead should have forseen the consequences of their project and anyone who will claim that it upheld freedom of speech must surely be a genius. A person who carelessly leaves a loaded gun that results in a death is more guilty of the mishap.

    • daniel bostdorf

      I agree.

      The loaded gun was left in the world of youtube.

      In this age of social media, facebook, youtube, twitter and others, we now live an a “global theatre.”

      It is illegal to shout “fire” in any theatre.
      This includes the “global theatre.”

      The anti-muslim video was obscene and a total lie.
      It was like yelling “fire” in the theater. And it should not be condoned. And it isn’t.

      Those who made this film must be held legally accountable for yelling “fire” that has caused an already incendiary situation to finally ignite…
      Essentually this video was the match that sparked a fire in a theatre. A global one.

      Sure—you have a right to free speech….but not when it causes death and destruction.

      Regarding the belief posted here:

      “I’m not convinced that the video was the direct cause of the killings in Libya. ”

      Which came first? The chicken or the egg?
      Philosopher Aristotle solves this with simple loigic:
      The chicken came first so an egg could be laid.

      The anti-muslim film (the actual) caused the Libyian riots and others (the potential)

  • daniel bostdorf

    Too all:
    I beliueve i free speech and constitutionally protected right to do so..

    You CERTANLY CAN yell “fire” in a theatre. But you are held accountable as it is against the law.

    You CERTANLY CAN yell “fire” in the world theatre as thsi movie has done… that causes death and destruction….and you should be held accountable.

    There is a $100,000 reward for killing the producer and maker of the film and anyone who blasphemes the prophet..

    That’s not legal….but it is a consequence of yelling “fire” in the world theatre…
    AN HAVE free speech…that is not what I am talking about.

    I am talking about being held accountable for that speech.

    Your speech cannot cause the deaths of another human being.

    There is no more, theical or constitutional justification.