Something to Think About

"I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love."
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Justice served?

"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."

I'm sure most people recognize this as the First Amendment to the US Constitution. The part I want to focus on today concerns the freedom of speech.

Back in November of last year, I attended a meeting of our local atheist group. Two men, Ernest Perce and Carl Silverman, were in attendance. The pair told us about an incident that had occurred when they had marched in a local Halloween parade dressed as a zombie Muhammad and a zombie pope. They called themselves the Parading Atheists of  Central Pennsylvania.  Ernest, the man dressed as Muhammad, was physically attacked by a man on the parade route. The police were alerted and the attacker was charged with harassment. It seemed clear to all of us that all the victim was in the right in this case.  He even had a video tape of the incident as evidence that something occurred and the attacker had admitted to the officer who responded that he did attack him.

Imagine our surprise months later when we heard that the judge who heard the case had dropped the charges!  Worse, he berated Ernest for his actions!  One of our local TV stations did a story on this that can be found here. (Note: This story has now made the national news and was featured on CNN yesterday) The judge told Ernest that his actions were highly offensive and told him "you are way outside your bounds of First Amendment rights"

Oh, really?

Now let's think about this for a moment.  Speech that is not offensive doesn't need to be protected, does it? Certainly not.  One can babble on all one wants about things that no one finds offensive with no problem at all! Therefore it is obvious that the First Amendment doesn't exist to protect that sort of language.  Clearly, then, it does exist to protect offensive speech, doesn't it?

Yes. We have a right to express ourselves in this country even when it offends others.

This is not so in many other countries - as the judge pointed out.  He mentioned that Ernest could have been put to death for what he did in many other countries.  He is right about that, in any event.

I'm not sure what, if anything, will happen with this case. I can hope that, if nothing else, it serves to remind us how important our rights are here in the US and that we should not take them for granted.

Image found here

No comments:

Post a Comment