Protect the Second Amendment, screw the First!
Tens of thousands of people have signed a petition calling for British CNN host Piers Morgan to be deported from the United States over his gun control views. And sadly, I’m not surprised.
Morgan has taken an aggressive stand for tighter U.S. gun laws in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting. Last week, he called a gun advocate appearing on his Piers Morgan Tonight show an “unbelievably stupid man.” And that is Mr. Morgan’s opinion, which he is entitled to, whether you like his accent or not. Entitled to, you ask? Is he a citizen of this country?! Well, there are a few folks, namely our founding forefathers, and more currently constitutional legal experts, who were pretty clear with regard to whose speech is protected by the First Amendment. Noncitizens and permanent residents are also protected under the First Amendment–that is unless, like those of us who are citizens, we’re yelling fire in a crowded theatre.
But that doesn’t seem to faze the gun rights activists. They are fighting back, creating a petition on December 21 on the White House E-petition website. This was done by a user in Texas accusing Morgan of engaging in a “hostile attack against the U.S. Constitution” by targeting the Second Amendment. It demands he be deported immediately for “exploiting his position as a national network television host to stage attacks against the rights of American citizens.” The petition has already hit the 25,000 signature threshold to get a White House response.
Unfortunately for Tex and those who signed this petition, they shouldn’t hold their breath. Noncitizens, and especially permanent residents, have statutory rights to remain in the country unless they’ve done (or there’s sufficient reason to think they’ve done) certain bad things—at least until Congress revises the statutes to broaden the grounds for deportation. Even if the Executive Branch decides to deport someone, it has to have statutorily authorized grounds, and it has to provide hearings at which an immigration judge decides whether the conditions for deportation are met. The government may not criminally punish noncitizens—or presumably impose civil liability on them—based on speech that would be protected if said by a citizen. See Bridges v. Wixon (1945).
And how has Piers Morgan responded? Actually, he seemed unfazed, perhaps even amused by all of this. On Twitter he urged his followers to sign the petition, and in response to one article about the petition he said “bring it on” as he appeared to track the petition’s progress. “If I do get deported from America for wanting fewer gun murders, are there any other countries that will have me?” he wrote.
What bothers me about this is the blatant hypocrisy of those gun rights proponents. As a liberal, I push for stricter gun control measures; I always have, even before Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tuscon, Aurora, Portland, and Newtown, and I have been attacked by the right for wanting to take away their Second Amendment right to bear arms. I and other liberals have been clear we don’t want to take their rights away, we just want to protect other Americans, especially our children by restricting military-style weapons with high volume magazine clips. Yet when someone voices their opinion and it is completely contrary to what a gun proponent believes, they have no trouble tramping on their rights…namely the First Amendment.
Look, I’m no Piers Morgan fan. As a broadcaster, I get tired of radio programmers and networks hiring people with pretty British accents. I’m a fan of not only buying American, but “hiring American,” since I know so many people out there who are unemployed in the field of broadcasting and, quite frankly many of whom I feel are much more talented and qualified interviewers and broadcasters than Mr. Morgan. I don’t make the decisions as to who they put on the air at CNN, but I do have a choice what network or program I tune into. And I can assure you, Mr. Morgan’s show is not on my list of favorites programmed on my television.
If the gun enthusiasts really want to hurt Mr. Morgan for his opinions, they should realize it’s his ratings, not his residence address they should be attacking. Because if Mr. Morgan’s ratings plummet, CNN will hand him his walking papers and as Mitt Romney once proposed, Mr. Morgan will deport himself–perhaps back over the pond for a better cup of tea.
By: Leslie Marshall, U. S. News and World Report, December 26, 2012
Today, Philip Bump at Grist passed along this interesting story about a shock jock in Australia who, after spewing some false nonsense about climate change on the air, “has been ordered to undergo ‘factual accuracy’ training, and to use fact-checkers.” Obviously, the government has no such powers here in America, but it’s a good reminder that America’s particular version of free speech wasn’t handed down from above, or even by the Founders. The words in the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”) are very general; the contours and details of that freedom have been given shape over the decades by a succession of Supreme Court cases. James Madison didn’t have an opinion about whether it was OK for Rush Limbaugh to go on the air and call Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute,” so we had to figure out later how to handle that, and we chose, for some good reasons, to let it slide (legally speaking).
In other countries where people are just as committed to freedom as we are, they’ve come to slightly different conclusions about where the limits of those freedoms are. It’s not that they don’t value free expression, it’s just that competing values like truth and civility sometimes get weighed more heavily. We believe there are limits to freedom of speech no less than the Australians do; we just put those limits farther out. There are plenty of speech acts you can be sued or even prosecuted for, from intentionally libeling someone to inciting violence to revealing state secrets to conspiring to commit a crime.
I wouldn’t be comfortable with our government making decisions like the one the Australian government did, but we shouldn’t forget that our expansive interpretation of free speech comes with a cost. Because we don’t want the government policing the truth, we have to put up with a lot of lies; because we don’t think you have a right not to be offended, we have to put up with lots of offensive speech. There are countries where the consensus belief is that personal dignity is a value that outweighs freedom of speech, so you can be punished for offending someone. This is at the heart of why many people in the Muslim world can’t quite understand why our society would tolerate something like that anti-Muslim film, and why we can’t quite understand why they got so worked up over it, since it was just some jackass making a stupid video. Here in America, we offer wide latitude to jackassery.
There are lots of Americans who only value free speech so long as their own feelings aren’t being hurt and they don’t have to hear any speech they don’t like. But democracy is often painful and unpleasant. For instance, 18 days from now, half the country is going to be very, very disappointed with the results of the election. I have a feeling that when it happens, particularly if Barack Obama wins, we’re going to see how thin the commitment to democracy is on the part of some people.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, October 19, 2012
ESPN will no longer air Hank Williams Jr.’s song at the beginning of Monday Night Football, it was announced today. Will MNF survive? Ha, of course it will. Nobody cares about that song. ESPN could play literally any song in the world before Monday Night Football, and the experience would be just as good. Please just don’t use this song. We can’t take it anymore.
Amusingly enough, both ESPN and Williams took credit for the split. ESPN, in a statement, said, “We have decided to part ways with Hank Williams Jr. We appreciate his contributions over the past years. The success of Monday Night Football has always been about the games and that will continue.” Williams, meanwhile, posted this note on his website, once again capitalizing whatever words he felt deserved capitalization.
“After reading hundreds of e-mails, I have made MY decision. By pulling my opening Oct 3rd, You (ESPN) stepped on the Toes of The First Amendment
Freedom of Speech, so therefore Me, My Song, and All My Rowdy Friends are OUT OF HERE. It’s been a great run.”
Williams makes a common mistake here. His “First Amendment Freedom of Speech” was not “stepped on” by ESPN. Williams was and is free to make whatever Hitler analogies he so desires. He can write a new country song called “President Obama Is Just Like Hitler” if he wants to and play it at his next concert. But ESPN isn’t bound by the First Amendment to associate with him. The First Amendment doesn’t protect anyone from the repercussions of their own stupidity.
By: Dan Amira, Daily Intel, October 6, 2011
Ayn Rand has a large and growing influence on American politics. Speaking at an event in her honor, Congressman Paul Ryan said, “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.”
A few weeks ago, Maureen Fiedler, the producer of the weekly radio show, Interfaith Voices, asked me to participate in a debate with Onkar Ghate, a senior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute. I eagerly accepted. I wanted to hear how a follower of Rand would defend proposals to cut Medicare, Medicaid, and food stamps while exempting the wealthy from paying their fair share.
In one sense there was agreement. Maureen, a Sister of Loretto, argued that Republican budget proposals turned their back on Christ’s admonition to care for “the least among us,” the hungry, the sick, the homeless. Ghate did not dispute that. Rand, he said, was an atheist who did not believe in government efforts to help those in need.
Ghate countered Sister Maureen’s religious position with a moral argument. He maintained that redistribution of wealth was unfair to the rich and weakened the ambition of the rest. I wasn’t surprised by this position, since I’d heard it repeatedly during the fight on welfare reform.
What I did find startling was Ghate’s insistence that just as there should be a separation of church and state, so there should be a separation of economics and state. That notion really got me thinking.
I’ve always understood that one’s loyalty to God should take precedence over one’s patriotic duty. Churches are exempt from taxation, and conscientious objectors aren’t required to serve in war. Our high regard for the First Amendment shows the preeminence of faith in the American consciousness.
But to place economics on the same level as religious freedom seemed to me almost blasphemous. Are we really to believe that the freedom to make money should stand on the same level of religious liberty? Are the words of Milton Friedman equal to the Sermon on the Mount? I don’t think so. But maybe in the eyes of Ayn Rand and Paul Ryan, they are.
Ayn Rand’s biography goes a long way toward explaining her animus to government. Her first-hand experience of communism showed her how the state can crush people, kill dissent, and exile lovers of freedom to the gulag. Horrified by what government power could do, she was determined to shrink it to the point of impotence.
America was the perfect place for Rand’s single-minded celebration of the individual. After all, this was the nation that inspired intrepid emigrants to leave behind country, family, and friends with little more than the shirt on their back to make a new life. Here they wouldn’t be judged by what they were before or who their parents were but by what they could made of themselves.
America was a beacon of freedom from its earliest days. But the freedom to earn one’s living is not the same as the freedom to emasculate government. It’s a mistake to enshrine individual liberty without acknowledging the role that a good government plays in preserving and promoting it. Look at places like Haiti, Somalia, and the Congo to see what happens when governments aren’t around much.
When government is marginalized, it’s not just individual freedom that suffers; the economy suffers too. A vibrant capitalism requires a legal system: contracts must be honored, fraud punished. Markets have to work, and for that we need a strong infrastructure of roads, rail, energy, and water and sewage systems.
Good government sets us free to spend our days in fruitful endeavors, not evasive action motivated by fear and distrust. Government regulations reassure us that speeding drivers will be arrested, that the financial products we buy won’t cheat us, and that it will be safer to put our money in banks than under our pillows. If we can’t trust our food to be healthy, our drugs to be safe, or our planes to fly without crashing, we’ll waste a lot of productive time.
During the debate, I also raised the point that the separation of economics and state implies that businesses and the people who run them are under no obligation to be patriotic.
In the 19th century, the Rockefellers, Carnegies, Fricks, and J.P. Morgans wanted America to do well because their own fortunes were tied to American prosperity. They made America a great economic power by creating jobs and technological advances right here at home. They knew that their own fortunes were bound up with the well-being of their fellow Americans.
In Ayn Rand’s America, the first obligation of CEOs is to their shareholders, not to citizens. Their business is global, not local. Why should they care if they send jobs overseas? Why should they be concerned if American kids can’t do math or write a sentence? They’ll just outsource the work. Why should they worry that the next generation of Americans is going to have a tough time? Their own kids will do just fine. And in the meantime, they’re doing just fine themselves.
Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, sees a problem with this view. He writes, “You could say, as many do, that shipping jobs overseas is no big deal because the high-value work–and much of the profits–remain in the U.S. That may well be so. But what kind of a society are we going to have if it consists of highly paid people doing high-value-added work–and masses of unemployed?”
Don Peck makes a similar point in his new book, Pinched, and in an Atlantic cover story. “Arguably,” he writes, “the most important economic trend in the United States over the past couple of generations has been the ever more distinct sorting of Americans into winners and losers, and the slow hollowing-out of the middle class.”
Besides this economic problem, I also see a moral issue with Ayn Rand’s insistence that all of us, CEOs included, should be totally free of the ties that bind. I especially disagree when it comes to CEOs. As I wrote here a few months ago, the wealthy have a special responsibility. Much will be asked of those to whom much has been given. Participating in government and civic life, serving in war, helping the less fortunate, and–yes–paying a fair share of taxes are inescapable responsibilities for all Americans, especially for those who have realized the American dream that inspires us all.
I doubt there was anything I could have said in the debate that would have induced Onkar Ghate to view the meaning of freedom in a different light. I suppose he might say the same of me. Still, I can’t see how one can be free in a vacuum. Freedom takes work, by each of us, and by our government, to create the place where each of us can prosper. The freedom to sleep under a bridge is no freedom at all. We can only be free when we work together for the well-being of all Americans–including the least among us.
By: Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, The Atlantic, August 23, 2011
Pharmaceutical companies, which spend billions of dollars a year promoting their products to doctors, have found that it is very useful to know what drugs a doctor has prescribed in the past. Many use data collected from prescriptionsprocessed by pharmacies — a doctor’s name, the drugs and the dosage — to refine their marketing practices and increase sales.
The Supreme Court on Thursday made it harder for states to protect medical privacy with laws that regulate such practices. In 2007, Vermont passed a law that forbade the sale of such records by pharmacies and their use for marketing purposes. The ruling upheld a lower court decision that struck down the law as unconstitutional.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the 6-to-3 majority, said the law violates First Amendment rights by imposing a “burden on protected expression” on specific speakers (drug marketers) and specific speech (information about the doctors and what they prescribed). It is unconstitutional because it restricts the transfer of that information and what the marketers have to say.
In dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer explains that the law’s only restriction is on access to data “that could help pharmaceutical companies create better sales messages.” He notes that any speech-related effects are “indirect, incidental, and entirely commercial.” By applying strict First Amendment scrutiny to this ordinary economic regulation, he warns, the court threatens to substitute “judicial for democratic decision-making.”
The law would have been upheld, Justice Breyer says, if the court had treated it as a restriction on commercial speech, which is less robustly protected than political speech. The court’s majority unwisely narrows the gap between commercial and political speech, and makes it harder to protect consumers.
By: Editorial, The New York Times, June 23, 2011