The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Monday, April 25, 2011

Terry Jones and Free Speech

So, the Florida guy with a Koran-burning fetish and a xenophobic streak the width of Michigan was arrested last week for protesting outside of a Dearborn, Michigan Mosque. He paid a token $1 bond to get out of jail, and he is now looking at suing the local government because of his arrest, and the ACLU is coming to his assistance.

I never thought I'd write this, but I hope that Terry Jones wins.

I still don't like him. After reading through much of the material he has put out, I am pretty-well convinced that he's a bigot and a hypocrite (he rants about the violence promoted in the Koran while never bothering to look at his own Bible to see much of the same).

However, any dogmatic belief system (including religions - and including both Islam and Christianity, and also including some political and social doctrines) has the potential to push people towards violent or extremist behavior. This is something that we need to be able to talk about. While Jones' own views seem to be fed by his own xenophobia more than an actual understanding of what he is criticizing, if he is denied the right to protest, that means that the rest of us may also be denied that right.

If you think that Jones is evil, and that I am being short-sighted in thinking that the right to protest should overshadow Jones' shortcomings, then all I can say is that I am in good company. This matter is a piece with the trial of the even-more-loathesome Fred Phelps, who was determined by the Supreme Court to have the right to protest at funerals without fear of being sued. I despise Phelps, but I think that the court made the right decision.

There is a tendency for people to support a right for themselves without acknowledging that the same right must then be extended to others. We routinely see people upset if someone of their political affiliation is censored in some way, but they have no problem with someone on the other side of the political spectrum receiving the same treatment. Similarly, several years back, a group of Evangelical Christian lawyers with the incorrectly-named Liberty Counsel threatened to sue the Albermarle County, Va. school district if it didn't allow distribution of a local church's flyers, and then were livid when they discovered that this meant that non-Christian groups were also allowed to make use of this. I have heard people who support Rush Limbaugh argue that Michael Moore should be arrested for "hate speech" and people who support Michael Moore say the same about Limbaugh.

The simple fact of the matter is that if we live in a society that has any real freedom, rather than just claiming to have freedom, it means that we do have a right to make our views known and, conversely, don't have a right to not be upset or offended. It is important to remember that there are legitimate, reality-based reasons to oppose mosques, churches, synagogues, temples, etc., and that if we are to have a right to protest under those, it means that Jones must have the right to protest as well.

If you think that Jones or Phelps is simply too loathsome, hey, you can protest outside of their churches. In fact, it would be amazing to see their reactions, to see whether or not they still support free speech while on the receiving end. But we shouldn't support use of government force (while I believe they are necessary, we shouldn't fool ourselves, police and prison are government uses of force) to push our viewpoint over others.

No comments: