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Protecting Freedom of Speech...(38 posts)

Protecting Freedom of Speech...TJeanloz
Apr 1, 2003 9:06 AM
This is sort of a theoretical/ethical issue more than a practical one, but here's the question:

We all recognize that U.S. citizens in the United States have freedom of speech, freedom to criticize the government, etc. But is the Government obliged to protect those who say things that offend others?

The question arises because we have a situation here in Boston (actually in some suburb) where some college kids have decided that an appropriate protest is to hang a U.S. flag upside-down from their balcony. The house has been the target of a number of vandalous attacks (a rock thrown through the window, etc.) and people have left notes on their door etc, etc. Particularly upset is a local veterans group that says that hanging the flag in such a manner is disrespectful not to the Government per se, but to all Americans. Here's where it gets interesting. After a few days of vandalism, the police chief acquiessed to posting a police officer outside the house 24/7; but the police force, which is primarily made up of veterans, have all refused to staff the shift.

So the question is, does society have an obligation to proactively protect the freedom of these individuals to speak, or only to retro-actively act after an actual crime has been committed? Or should free speakers have to deal with the consequences of their speech?
May be a bad example, sinceOldEdScott
Apr 1, 2003 9:19 AM
crimes (vandalous attacks) have already been committed. Seems a matter of public safety, not free speech. If rocks had been thrown through the window of a black family trying to move into a white neighborhood, would a cop be stationed? Police respond to threats all the time.
It's not public safety -- it's personal safetyTJeanloz
Apr 1, 2003 9:30 AM
If somebody is consistently saying odious things, that result in numerous threats to their property and person, is it the job of Government to protect them?

It's different from a racial case, because a black family moving into a white neighborhood can't change the fact that they're black (unless they're Michael Jackson) -- they aren't choosing to be offensive to their neighbors.

I agree that the police have the responsibility to investigate those crimes that are committed, but I wonder what degree of protection they should pre-emptively provide.
So the police are only there to protect larger groupsOldEdScott
Apr 1, 2003 9:37 AM
of individuals(the 'public,' under your formulation) and not ensure the personal safety of individuals themselves? So if just one person is being threatened, tough? Not sure about that one.

Again, I have to question what's so 'odious' and 'offensive' about a signal of distress. If they had a perpetually burning flag hanging out their window, I could see folks getting exercised about it, but this ...
So the police are only there to protect larger groupsTJeanloz
Apr 1, 2003 9:43 AM
Well, (1) if it weren't offensive to a large group of people, this would be a non-issue. I'm personally offended by the move because I think it's the little boy crying wolf -- there is no real distress or danger in the house as flying the flag upside-down would indicate.

But if a person knowingly and willingly puts themself in a dangerous position, is it reasonable to expect that the Government will bail them out? Should we have a secret service detail for Louis Farrakhan, et. al.? I would not be at all opposed if the people pay the costs. Note that at a bike race, you need to pay the police to be there to assure public safety.
If you fall off a mountain, Park Service rescuers come getOldEdScott
Apr 1, 2003 9:50 AM
you even though you had willingly put yourself in a dangerous position. I don't know, do you get a bill for the overtime and helicopter time? I got towed in sailing one time by the Coast Guard when my engine failed on a calm day in a shipping lane, and they didn't charge me. I was becalmed by my own stupidity.

I think just as citizens we pay taxes and expect certain protections. If the activity is legal -- as this flag deal is -- who are the cops to make a judgment who they'll protect? Seems a no-brainer to me.
The rescued get sent the bill in Nat'l parks (nm)TJeanloz
Apr 1, 2003 9:53 AM
but I'm guessing collection is not strictly enforced (nm)ColnagoFE
Apr 1, 2003 10:03 AM
Apr 1, 2003 9:34 AM
That's a great analogy. Since when are cops allowed to pick and choose the duties they will do? This has become a public safety issue, and any cop who doesn't feel they can support public safety should turn in his badge and gun.
Apr 1, 2003 9:58 AM
I concur. They may not agree with the protestor politically, but they need to put aside that and carry out their duties or be fired. What if soldiers got to choose when or not they would go into battle? It would be chaos. I'm sure many if not all of the officers who protect groups who parade (like the neo-nazis or the klan) don't support their views, but they have a job to make sure that laws are not broken and as much as they may dislike it they are there to protect and serve the neo-nazis as much as they are there to protect the rest of them who are incensed at the nazis.
Protect hippies or lay off a teacher?Alpedhuez55
Apr 1, 2003 9:27 AM
Should the taxpayers have to pay for a 24/7 detail at the house? Lets say the cost of the detail is $30 for time and a half for the officer to stand outside the house. That that comes to $5,040 a week. Say that the war goes on for 6 weeks, that is $30,240. Or about enough to hire or retain employment for a teacher.

The police should respond reports of vandalism and the residents can identify the vandals, they can press charges. If the police ignore those responses then that should be an issue. Maybe the owners can hire a private security firm if the want as well or set up a camera they can use to catch them. Or even better, maybe some of the human shields who left Iraq prematurely can stand in front of the windows to block any incoming rocks ;-)

Massachusetts is in a budget crisis with local aid being cut in most cities and towns. To spend $5K a week so some morons can hang a flag upside down is a huge waste of taxpayer money.

Maybe they can choose a less offensive way to try to make their point like a sign.

Mike Y.
Doesn't an upside-down flag signal distress?OldEdScott
Apr 1, 2003 9:33 AM
Seems like a mild a perfectly legitimate political statement. Not sure what's so gravely 'offensive' there, Mike. It's a far cry from flag burning. And I doubt you know for sure if they're 'hippies' or 'morons' either.
Doesn't an upside-down flag signal distress?Alpedhuez55
Apr 1, 2003 10:37 AM
I doubt their intent has anything to do with military distress. THey are trying to offend. It is obviously very offensive to the veterans groups, police officers and many other people in their neigborhood.

As for being hippies and Morons, I think that is as safe an assumption as the one you made. I am from Boston and think I saw the same morons in question on the news over the weekend. THough terms like moron, Hippie & "Gravely offensive" are subjective, I think I am an educated guess here. I am sorry if I offended any real morons by grouping these ones with them.

I agree with you that the police should take action against the vandals. But I also think sometimes making a less offensive statement can make a louder one.

Mike Y.
yeah...let's just do away with free speech. who needs it?ColnagoFE
Apr 1, 2003 10:02 AM
Can we also just let those lynch mobs loose down South too. It's too expensive to protect the people from harm. Or maybe just let the college students riot and destroy the campus. After all, the police are on a budget crunch and fighting a riot is costly and eventually they will just get it out of their get the picture.
How does this sound?Alpedhuez55
Apr 1, 2003 11:13 AM
If a group wants to pull a permit to run a protest, let them pay the bill for the police and security needed for that protest. It is putting a burden on cities already tapped out in a struggling economy.

And why do we protect the people who want to fly a flag upside down with a 24-7 police detail instead of the battered wife fearful of her violent ex-husband making threats against her. Who is in more need of protection?

If they can get a plate # or picture, arrest the rednecks who are throwing the rocks though the window. A 24/7 police detail is not reasonable though.

Mike Y.
Apr 1, 2003 12:04 PM
That would limit the right to peacable expression or gathering to those who can afford it.

How about this? Stop blaming the victims. The problem here is intolerance, and that is something that should be taken seriously.
Are the protesters victims?Alpedhuez55
Apr 1, 2003 1:18 PM
I think real victims are the cabbies stuck in traffic for 3 hours during a "die in" not able to pick up a fare, The business owner who looses sales because people cannot reach the shop or the person an back of an ambulance that could not make it to hospital on time.

THere is a cost for police and cleaning up at these demonstrations, let the organizers pay that cost instead of the taxpayer. It does not limit free speech. The groups organizing these functions raise plenty money. (just ask Jeese Jackson's mistress ;) Anyone can go to public land and hold a sign, but if a grup wants to pull a permit for a 10,000 person protest, let them pay the costs associated with the rally.

The small numbers of protesters are trying to disrupt the lives of people with their tactics. Disrupting the lives of hundreds of thousands is hardly a "Peacable Protest."It is backfiring on them. Support has gone up 10% in the last week. Maybe if they went to peaceful protests that did not disrupt lives their statements would have more impact.

Mike Y.
Anyone with a rock through their window is a victim, period.czardonic
Apr 1, 2003 1:36 PM
That seems perfectly obvious to me. But I guess you would tolerate the intimidation of unpopular expression if it maintained order and kept the trains running on schedule (if you catch my drift).

Did it ever occur to you that liberal activists pay taxes too?

Anyway, lets not equate people hanging a flag upside down with some jerk throwing a bottle at a cop in the name of peace. These guys are protesting peacefully, on their own property in a manner that no person with a modicum of self-control need be agitated by. In fact, they are doing exactly as you suggest in your last statement.
Anyone with a rock through their window is a victim, period.Alpedhuez55
Apr 1, 2003 3:19 PM
I agree the homeowners at victims and the police should go after the vandals. I draw a line at the 24/7 police detail the town wanted to give them. That is a waste of tax payer money that i my first post I conservatively estimated at $5000 a week.

As for liberal activists paying taxes, of course they do. I would charge pro war activists for police costs as well. These are mostly done by organizations who can afford to pay the cost of security. If someone were running a festival or concert at a site like the Boston Common, they would pay the city for usage, clean up and the police details. Why should political protests get a free ride?

They family in question has chosen a methodof protest that is offensive to a lot of people. They do not deserve a rock through the window, but they do deserve a private cop payed for by the city either.

Mike Y.
Look at it this way.czardonic
Apr 1, 2003 3:25 PM
The family may not "deserve" a personal cop, but anyone vandalizing their home surely deserves to be punished.

Also, the cop wouldn't just be protecting one unpopular point of view. They would be sending a message that property crime will not be permitted regardless of how popular the sentiment behind it. IMO, that is money well spent.
That part I agree with you onAlpedhuez55
Apr 1, 2003 3:50 PM
The vandals are wrong and deserved to be punished. I have said that in my posts. I just expanded it in response to
another post.

Mike Y.
I think the fundamental problem is that flag burningLive Steam
Apr 1, 2003 6:13 PM
should never have been considered "free speech". I doubt that our Founding Fathers would ever have imagined that burning a flag they gave some much of themselves for, would ever be burned in the name of free speech. The jurists that allowed this interpretation were wrong.

The act of burning an American flag, obstructing traffic,putting others in jeopardy in the name of what ever your cause one may support, and other forms of uncivil disobedience, should be treated for what they are - crimes against the public. Enemies of a state or nation burn flags as a sign of disrespect. Why should it be tolerated as free speech from those that have no respect for the governing body it represents? At one time, burning the flag was considered a form of treason. It still should be considered that.

"yeah...let's just do away with free speech. who needs it?"

So back to your statement - no we do not need to do away with free speech. We need to do away with disrespect for the laws and government that protect it! The children in that frat house or what ever it is, should write their Congressmen to protest. If we all were to act as they are because we disagree with some law or act by our government, chaos would rule the land. I do however believe these idiots should be protected - even from their own stupidity!
If the taxpayers are so concerned about the bill. . .czardonic
Apr 1, 2003 11:05 AM
. . .maybe they should guard the house or better yet, stop vandalizing it in the first place. The residents have every right to hang that flag. It is not their fault that certain criminal idiot thugs can't disagree without being destructive.

Do you really want to live in a country where free expression is allowed to be intimidated for the sake of balancing the budget?
There's no question that they have the right...TJeanloz
Apr 1, 2003 11:11 AM
There is no question that the residents have the right to hang the flag (actually, there is a question, but that's another situation entirely), the question is what level of protection are people assured of? If I don't feel safe, because I say something rude and nasty, can I ask to have a policeman by my side all the time?

As I recall, the first amendment only restricts Congress' ability to restrict speech - it doesn't require that Congress defend the freedom of speech.
Congress (the police) would not be defendingOldEdScott
Apr 1, 2003 11:24 AM
the freedom of speech. They would be dealing with a public safety issue (the acts of vandalism). This really isn't about speech. It's not the right to speech that's at question, it's the right to sit on your couch without being beaned by a brick through your window.
they are the same thingDougSloan
Apr 1, 2003 12:09 PM
You can't really separate the speech and the threatened violent reprisals. You must keep the law enforcement content neutral, if the violence is in response to speech. The government could easily permit some content and not others by selectively protecting speakers. The 14th guarantees "equal protection under the law", including the First Amendment. Local police cannot protect some and not others, or they would violate the 14th Amendment.

no but it does protect you from being assaulted (nm)ColnagoFE
Apr 1, 2003 12:22 PM
There's no question that they have the right...TJeanloz
Apr 1, 2003 11:23 AM
There is no question that the residents have the right to hang the flag (actually, there is a question, but that's another situation entirely), the question is what level of protection are people assured of? If I don't feel safe, because I say something rude and nasty, can I ask to have a policeman by my side all the time?

As I recall, the first amendment only restricts Congress' ability to restrict speech - it doesn't require that Congress defend the freedom of speech.
"HIPPIES?"!! There haven't been any hippies for 30 years.Silverback
Apr 1, 2003 5:00 PM
I knew it! You're still reliving your hatreds of the Woodstock Era!
"HIPPIES?"!! There haven't been any hippies for 30 years.Alpedhuez55
Apr 1, 2003 5:42 PM
Hippies are still around. Just go to the parking lot at a Phish Concert, The Christania section of Copenhagen, an Amsterdam Coffie House or a faculty lounge at Columbia University ;)

Actually when I was a kid, I wanted to bee a Hippie. There was a house of them down the street from me. I used to play Frisbee with them. They used to sit in front of their house all day and smoke cigarettes. They did not smell like the ones my dad smoked though ;)

Mike Y.
government has some obligation to protect civil rightsDougSloan
Apr 1, 2003 9:37 AM
Yes, the government has some obligation to protected those exercising First Amendment rights. While the easier issue is prosecuting or preventing common crimes, the issue arises very often.

Police are brought in to protect or keep the peace for protestors, marchers, churches, abortion clinics, etc., all the time. This is not unique.

I think the bottom line is keeping the peace, which is an essential government function. Nonetheless, that protection has some limits. I would not suggest doing as Bruce Willis did in Die Hard (3?) standing in Harlem with a "I Hate N..." sign. While that may indeed be protected speech, it is beyond reason to be expected to be protected.

It's a shame that the flag is used for "speech" purposes by anyone. But, when it's used as a show of political support for the country, you have to expect that it can be used to show dissention, too. Nonetheless, assuming no extreme stupid acts like the Bruce Willis thing, the government should protect the flag "abusers". Sometimes it's an ugly duty, to protect those with whom we vehemently disagree, but even the ACLU went to court to protect the rights of Nazis to march.

Almost everything you say could offend othersColnagoFE
Apr 1, 2003 9:53 AM
That would be one for the courts to decide I guess, but hanging a flag upside down seems pretty harmless as far as anti-maerican protests go. It's a powerful symbol though and it's akin to spitting on those who died in wars fighting to keep that flag flying properly. I think that those who do such things (Nazis parades, Abortion Clinic protests etc) need to be able to live with their actions to the extent that nothing unlawful (ie...lynch mobs) is done back to them in retaliation for their speech. The police would be obligated to protect them at the point where assault or other unlawful acts are commited against them. Nothing says that a good old-fashioned counter-protest against them is out of order though. Maybe the VFW could stand outside their house and "fart in their general direction"? (apologies to monty python)
It reminds me ...sacheson
Apr 1, 2003 10:41 AM
... of a black defense attorney in Texas who was drawn/selected to defend a KKK member on trial for a some form of free speach where someone thought he crossed the line. When being interviewed about his situation, he said something about denying a person who he disagrees with the ability to express themselves, we should also take that right away from someone we do agree with. That has stuck with me since I heard it.

I also remember in some class I took - your right to freedom of speach stops when your fist touches my face.

Even though I personally think hanging a flag is a) sending the wrong message and b) something a young, idealistic person will do, they aren't harming anyone by doing it.

On the other hand, damaging property and refusing an assignment are wrong. Close minded fools that resort to violence suck. Cops suck also ... but that's another story.
Apr 1, 2003 10:49 AM
Your right to free speech ends when you threaten to immediately punch me in the face, and I believe it, well before the actual contact is made. Really.

Sexual harassmentStarliner
Apr 1, 2003 12:09 PM
Portions of sexual harassment laws are examples of government stepping in to limit freedom of speech in order to protect another person's feelings.

A current wartime issue is whether or not to allow the troops in the front lines to receive porn materials - the naysayers say the women soldiers would be offended; their feelings should be protected. The proponents say screw the PC police; these guys who may be dead tomorrow should be able to have this personal freedom if they want it.
speech definedDougSloan
Apr 1, 2003 12:22 PM
Telling your secretary you want to take her to a cheap motel is not speech for 1st Amendment purposes. While the definitions and exclusions are complex, generally, "speech" is a dissemination of information of public interest, or the intent to do so. Dirty jokes, physical threats, defamatory remarks about a person, etc., generally are not considered protected speech.

What if ....Starliner
Apr 1, 2003 12:38 PM
If you tell your secretary you want to take her to an expensive hotel, would that be good enough to be protected speech?
Apr 1, 2003 1:40 PM
If you got on television and said that all women should be taken to cheap motels, that would be protected speech. Not wise, but still protected.