Fear, and the First Amendment.

Fear, and the First Amendment, by Daniel Shaw

In September of 2010 Terry Jones, a church pastor in Gainesville Florida, caused a worldwide uproar by scheduling an event called “burn a Koran day”. After receiving phone calls from the Defense Secretary Robert Gates and multiple visits from FBI agents, Jones cancelled the event. The opposition to the event was very large to say the least. Some opposed the event for the sake of tolerance while others cited security risks that would likely result from such actions. The US Attorney General Eric Holder referred to the Koran burning as “idiotic and dangerous” while a spokesman for the State Department called it “un-American”. The public destruction of any symbol, book, or flag that represents the values and beliefs of any group of people is disrespectful, but what can possibly be more un-American than a government spokesperson calling an exercise in one’s freedom of speech un-American?

The willfully surrendering of one’s freedom of speech is one such idea that is as un-American as a hammer and sickle embroidered flag flying over the capital building. When Bibles were burned in Afghanistan by US forces in 2009, the US government stood behind the decision, saying that if Bibles were distributed it would give the impression that we were forcing a religion on the people of Afghanistan (Apparently forcing a form of government on them is just fine). Is this double standard due to the reason for the burnings, or is it something more? How is destroying the Bible acceptable as long as it is for diplomatic reasons, while destroying the Koran as an expression of feeling is utterly outrageous? The answer is fear. It’s not the fear of offending Muslims or a fear of seeming intolerant of the Muslim faith. It’s the fear of a violent Muslim minority that has driven the world to place limits on freedom of speech.

Proponents for political correctness say that this dilution is necessary because it insures the civil liberties of all Americans by denouncing racism and other intolerances. The idea is to keep racist, sexist, and religious intolerant comments or ideas from being accepted as the norm, thus creating a tolerant and demographically sensitive society. They often consider the Don Imus case a win for political correctness because a large amount of people came together to influence the outcome of the situation.

Imus made a derogatory comment about the Rutgers women’s basketball team during a live broadcast and was fired from CBS as a result. In this situation CBS was well within its rights as a private company to set a precedence of language or ideas that it will not tolerate in its broadcasts. Surprisingly, there was even pressure from civil right activists to have charges filed against Imus, citing his comments as a hate crime. If a company decides that offensive comments or language will not be tolerated then that is their choice, but to peruse criminal charges for an idea or name calling is absurd. At least it should be absurd for the government to involve itself in such matters, but unfortunately for one Maryland man this absurdity became a reality.

According to the US Justice Department, Ilya Sobolevskiy, a Maryland resident, was sentenced to serve twelve months in prison and to pay a fine of $3000.00 for sending a threatening email to a member of the Central Illinois Mosque and Islamic Center. Sobolevskiy stated in his email that “He would do whatever it takes to eradicate Islam”. Other than making a threat via email from three states away, Sobolevskiy committed no crime. Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez of the Civil Rights Division stated “We have no tolerance for threats of violence fueled by bigotry, and we will aggressively prosecute such actions”. The ruling Judge in the decision was obviously not familiar with the US definition of terrorism when he called it “an act of terrorism”. If Sobolevskiy was prosecuted, why did the DOJ refuse to prosecute Black Panther party members who were videotaped making violent threats, face to face, to voters while carrying the tools to commit such acts? Better yet, there has been no thought crime filed against Younes Abdullah Mohammed for his Anti-American rhetoric, Mujahedeen recruiting, and specific threats of terrorism against non-Muslim Americans recorded by CNN on the streets of New York City.

There is an underlying Islamaphobia that can be seen in the idea of political correctness as it pertains to religion. The politically correct advocating crowd would call the topic of this essay a product of what they feel is this author’s Islamaphobia. On the contrary, I would argue that their fear driven, willful omittance of the truth is their own version of Islamaphobia. An example of this can be found when The New York Times refused to print the Jyllands-Posten Muhammed cartoons. In defense of their decision, an editorial for The New York Times stated “It’s a reasonable choice for a news organization that usually refrains from gratuitous assaults on religious symbols”. Of course the Times did not refrain from printing the elephant dung covered Virgin Mary with cutouts from pornographic magazines, or the crucifix in urine photo by Andres Serrano that they so diligently defended with freedom of expression rhetoric. And why would they refrain from posting content that would offend Christians? The worst the Christians will do is picket, or go on TV and complain about it.

Somewhere along the way we began to muzzle ourselves and each other, we decided that we should no longer speak our minds or allow others to speak theirs. Hiding behind a guise of tolerance and anti-bigotry, we have chosen politically correct terminology and phrases that dilute what we are actually thinking. I am not suggesting that we should not choose our words with respect for others, and I am not saying we should uncontrollably spout from our mouths every thought that enters our mind. I am suggesting that if we as a country wish to retain our freedom of speech than we must not willfully surrender it to the double standard that is political correctness. Benjamin Franklin said “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”. Those words are as true today as they were in 1775. We must speak the truth even when the truth is not popular, we must speak the truth when no one wants to hear it, and when it is dangerous to speak the truth we must then speak it louder and with more vigor than ever.