Last night Matt Welch over at Reason Magazine called out Senator Lindsey Graham for openly wanting to hold Florida Pastor Terry Jones accountable for exercising his constitutional rights. Said Graham:
Free speech is a great idea, but we're in a war. During World War II, you had limits on what you could do if it inspired the enemy.
We also locked up U.S. citizens of Japanese descent during World War II so, you know, "they did it in World War II" lacks structural integrity as far as arguments go. And, as Welch points out, we're always in a war whether it's the War on Drugs or the War on Terror or Kinetic Military Action in Libya. Our rights have been slowly and reliably whittled away under the guise of national security. Case in point: TSA can touch your penis.
I agree with Senator Graham that free speech "is a great idea." But it's also non-negotiable. We either have it or we don't. Unfortunately there are lots of people like him - many of whom are in power - who want to make those rights conditional. As Salon's Glenn Greenwald points out:
First, it demonstrates how many people purport to believe in free speech but don't. The whole point of the First Amendment is that one is free to express the most marginalized, repellent, provocative and offensive ideas. Those are the views that are always targeted for suppression. Mainstream orthodoxies, harmless ideas, and inoffensive platitudes require no protection as they are not, by definition, vulnerable to censorship.
I find Pastor Jones as ignorant and boorish as I find Westboro Baptist Church. I don't think they're good people. That said, the Constitution gives them the right to be as loud, crass and dumb as they want. It's unfortunate that there are politicians willing to put conditions on the Constitution because of the risk of hurt feelings or rampaging medieval-minded fanatics.
During the Mohammed Cartoon riots of 2005 Denmark's Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen was asked to apologize on behalf of the newspaper that published the cartoons. He replied:
Listen, in Denmark we do not apologize for having freedom of speech.
Guess we need more Danish guys in our government. They seem to get it.