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Category Archives: Freedom of Speech
Posted: July 21, 2020 at 12:30 pm
Reverend John Koletas preaches on Troy, New York street corner at 4th and Broadway. July 26, 1990 (Arnold LeFevre/Times Union Archive)
Reverend John Koletas preaches on Troy, New York street corner at 4th and Broadway. July 26, 1990 (Arnold LeFevre/Times Union Archive)
Photo: Arnold LeFevre, Times Union Historic Images
Reverend John Koletas preaches on Troy, New York street corner at 4th and Broadway. July 26, 1990 (Arnold LeFevre/Times Union Archive)
Churchill: Troy preacher has the right to offend
TROY John Koletas has been testing this city's First Amendment resolve for a very long time.
Three decades ago, the controversial pastor of the Grace Baptist Church in Lansingburgh was best known as a street preacher who tried to save the souls of passersby in downtown Troy. In a not-quiet voice, he'd demand that they repent for their sins.
The shouting wasn't always appreciated, unsurprisingly, and Koletas was repeatedly charged with disorderly conduct. Eventually, Koletas filed a lawsuit arguing that he had a First Amendment right to preach on the street and that his repeated arrests amounted to unconstitutional harassment. Two national TV shows Fox's "A Current Affair" and NBC's "Inside Edition" even came to Troy to report on the controversy.
Koletas ultimately lost in court, when the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 1995 that police did nothing wrong by arresting him.
Had I been a columnist for this newspaper back then, I generally would have been on Koletas' side. I would have argued, in other words, that he did in fact have a free speech right to preach outside, at least within reason.
No, a person shouldn't be allowed to holler on the street at, say, midnight. People do need to sleep, after all. Laws against unreasonable noise are justified.
But certainly, the city needed to accommodate the preacher's free speech rights without needless harassment. Koletas had the right to preach, even if few passersby wanted to hear it.
Fast forward three decades, and Koletas is again attracting attention. AR-15 rifle giveaways at Grace Baptist and Koletas' consistently hateful rhetoric toward Blacks, Jews, Muslims and Catholics have attracted Black Lives Matter protesters to the Fourth Street church in recent weeks.
As I noted in a column published Sunday that focused on Koletas' attacks on Catholicism, protesters aren't coming to Grace Baptist to attack Christianity or religion, as some in conservative media would have you believe. They're protesting what Koletas says, and justifiably so.
As has been well documented by bloggers and others, Koletas has referred to Blacks as "termites" and "savages." He has described himself as a racist who "believes the races should be kept separate as much as possible." Koletas says Catholicism, like the Muslim faith, is incompatible with democracy and the Bill of Rights.
In response to Sunday's column, a few supporters of Grace Baptist claimed I was attempting to silence or "cancel" Koletas' freedom of religion or speech. But I suggested no such thing.
I believe strongly that Koletas has the First Amendment right to pray and preach as he wants, assuming he stops short of advocating violence. Likewise, his followers have a First Amendment right to listen. And yes, protesters, columnists and Facebook commenters all have a First Amendment right to object to what Koletas says.
Free speech for everybody! What a concept.
Freedom of speech seems to be falling out of fashion, though. We increasingly hear that some words are too harmful to be spoken or that listeners have the right not to be offended. On college campuses, even relatively dull speakers such as economist Art Laffer can find themselves "deplatformed" for supposedly offensive views.
The shift, if widely accepted, will redefine free speech rights as we've long understood them. Actually, it would all but eliminate true freedom of speech. After all, if you can't say something that somebody might find offensive, you can hardly say anything provocative. You're limited to a fairly narrow range of expression.
The result would be a stifling monoculture of thought, devoid of intellectual diversity or compelling debate. And as any good gardener can tell you, there's nothing interesting about a monoculture.
If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear, wrote George Orwell in an essay planned as the introduction to "Animal Farm" that also included this gem of a line: "People don't see that if you encourage totalitarian methods, the time may come when they will be used against you instead of for you."
Had I been walking down a street in Troy in the early 1990s, I suppose I wouldn't have wanted to hear Koletas' call that I repent for my sins. I wouldn't want to sit through one of his sermons today. (Happily, I don't have to.)
But we allow Koletas to speak so that we all may speak. We counter his words with our own words.
Freedom of speech for everybody! It's a crucial concept.
firstname.lastname@example.org 518-454-5442 @chris_churchill
Posted: at 12:30 pm
3News Legal Analyst Stephanie Haney breaks down what the states can and can't do when it comes to restricting display of the Confederate flag
CLEVELAND Legal Analysis:Right now, people are calling for government officials and private organizations to ban the display of the Confederate flag because of its tie to slavery, but those two groups aren't created equal when it comes to who can make that happen.
People are asking these groups to prohibit the display and sale of the symbol in what we think of as public places, like county fairs.
Here in Ohio, there was even a bill proposed in the House of Representatives to do it. That bill didn't pass, but if it had, the results would have been questionable, because display of the Confederate flag is considered a form a speech.
Our freedom of speech is protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which reads in part:
"Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press."
The start of that sentence is the important part, because the First Amendment protects our speech from Congress, also known as "the government" or "the state."
Legally speaking, our county fairs can do whatever they want when it comes to banning the Confederate flag, because theyre not run by the government.
The First Amendment only stops the government from restricting our speech, except for in certain cases.
Exceptions that are not protected include when someone says something thats meant to provoke someone to break the law (also referred to as speech that is intended and likely to lead to "imminent lawless action"), speech used to intimidate, or legitimately threaten someone else.
You may be surprised to know that both hate speech, and speech that promotes the idea of violence are protected from being restricted by the state.
The government can limit where and when speech is expressed, but it has to be across the board (or "content neutral"), because restricting only a specific point of view is unconstitutional.
The closing speech in the 1995 film, "The American President," sums it up well, delivered by the character of President Andrew Shepherd, played by Michael Douglas.
"You want free speech?" he asks of the crowd in the press briefing room and the fictional Americans watching at home.
"Lets see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, whos standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours."
Then the character brings up another controversial topic when it comes to free speech and flags.
"You want to claim this land as the land of the free?"he asks.
"Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free."
To sum it up, if only popular ideas were protected, we wouldnt need the first amendment.
Stephanie Haney is licensed to practice law in both Ohio and California.
The information in this article is provided for general informational purposes only. None of the information in this article is offered, nor should it be construed, as legal advice on any matter.
Read more from the original source:
Watch | Can states ban the display of the Confederate flag? in 'Legally Speaking' - WKYC.com
Posted: at 12:29 pm
It has not been a particularly good couple of weeks for the US Army's esports teamand yes, in case you weren't aware, the US Army has it's own esports team. The Army recently launched its own Twitch channel for livestreaming games, but it ran into grief when viewers began ignoring the gameplay and asking about war crimes committed by the Army instead.
Channel moderators aggressively deleted the questions as they arrived, and those who persisted found themselves banned from the channel. But as the Washington Post reported, that could open the door to even more trouble for the Army, because such bans could violate the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Judge Mark Kearney ruled earlier this year that being muted in a game does not violate your constitutional rights. "The First Amendment and its constitutional free speech guarantees restrict government actors, not private entities," he wrote. "Defendants, who are not alleged to be state actors, are not subject to constitutional free speech guarantees."
But because the Army is an agency of the US government, Katie Fallow, senior staff attorney at Columbia Universitys Knight First Amendment Institute, said that it is forbidden from suppressing speech it finds uncomfortable or objectionable.
"The government cant try to engineer the conversation of the public by saying only people who agree with us can respond," Fallow told the site. "The First Amendment means the government cant kick someone out or preclude them based on their viewpoint."
It might seem like a stretch, but the position isn't without precedent: A judge ruled in a 2018 case, also filed by the Knight First Amendment Institute, that Donald Trump, the president of the United States, cannot block users on Twitter for essentially the same reason.
"We hold that portions of the @realDonaldTrump accountthe 'interactive space' where Twitter users may directly engage with the content of the President's tweetsare properly analyzed under the 'public forum' doctrines set forth by the Supreme Court, that such space is a designated public forum, and that the blocking of the plaintiffs based on their political speech constitutes viewpoint discrimination that violates the First Amendment," Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald wrote, as reported by CNN. The ruling was upheld a year later.
The Army defended its actions by saying that the banned users were violating Twitch terms of service against harassment and abuse. A rep also said that the Army Esports Team "does not regulate the viewpoints of participants on its social media forums," but added that the Army may "regulate the time, place and manner of discussions on its recruiting social media sites. Army Esports social media sites are nonpolitical forums for sharing information about joining the Army."
I'm really not sure how to wrap my head around the suggestion that the Army's Twitch channel is "non-political," but it's at least refreshing to see it referred to openly as a recruiting channel. But the Army may also be hedging its bets: When its Twitch channel first came to light, the "About" page described it as a place to "share the Army's passion for gaming, showcase competitions, and connect with our viewers."
It's been edited since then, however, and now say that it's dedicated to "our member's passion for gaming," a distinction that may make it easier (legally, at least) for the Army to regulate what goes on in its channel.
The Army's Twitch channel hasn't been live since the questions about war crimes first started rolling in, as the esports team is now reviewing "internal policies and procedures, as well as all platform-specific policies." The Army also acknowledged problems with a giveaway offer that actually led to a recruiting page, saying that it is now looking into giveaway options "that will provide more external clarity."
Follow this link:
The US Army's Twitch bans may violate the First Amendment - PC Gamer
‘Disillusionment With Leadership is About Free Speech, Can’t Disqualify for it’: Sachin Pilot’s Amended H… – News18
Posted: at 12:29 pm
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot. (PTI File)
Sacked deputy chief minister of Rajasthan Sachin Pilot has submitted in the Rajasthan High Court that expressions of "dissatisfaction and disillusionment" against the party leadership cannot make a MLA amenable for disqualification.
In the amendments carried out in his original petition, Pilot emphasised on freedom of speech and expression, and the right to dissent.
This petition will be heard in the afternoon on Friday. The Speaker has assured the Rajasthan High Court that the proceedings against Pilot and others shall remain in abeyance till 5pm on Friday in the wake of the prosper hearing.
The petition, filed jointly by Pilot along with 18 other MLAs, has challenged the validity of clause 2(1)(a) of the 10th Schedule of the Constitution of India.
This provision and the interpretations given to it by a body of judgments by the Supreme Court have held that indulging in any anti-party activity tantamount to voluntarily giving up the membership of the party.
The petition has maintained that this provision cannot be so widely construed that the very same fundamental freedom of speech and expression of a member of the House is jeopardised.
Pilot and others said: "Mere expression of dissatisfaction or even disillusionment against the party leadership cannot be treated to be conduct falling within the clause 2(1)(a) of the 10th Schedule of the Constitution of India."
The plea added that even if expression of views and opinions, howsoever strongly worded, are treated to be a part of clause 2(1)(a), the said clause would not stand the scrutiny and will have to be declared ultra vires the basic structure of the Constitution of India in general and that of right of free speech under Article 19(1)(a) in particular.
It said that since the basis of the disqualification notices by the Speaker was expressions of dissent by some MLAs, it is necessary that the high court examines the validity of the impugned provision under the 10th Schedule.
The amended petition, apart from annulment of the disqualification notices, has also sought for declaring clause 2(1)(a) of the 10th Schedule ultra vires since it impinges upon the fundamental right of free speech.
Posted: at 12:29 pm
A sinister new cult of dogmatic intolerance casts its shadow across our land, silencing debate, imposing conformity, whipping up hysteria, and crushing dissent.
In the wholly un-British climate of intimidation, opinions are ruthlessly censored and careers destroyed.
On a terrifying scale, the ingredients of alien despotism are now creeping into our public life.
There is an echo of the Soviet eastern bloc in the demand for absolute submission to the ruling orthodoxy, while the vicious mood of 1950s McCarthyism is mirrored in endless character assassinations and witch-hunts.
Similarly, the kind of determination to root out heresy that once drove the Spanish Inquisition can now be found in corporate Britain, from workplaces to Whitehall.
All this is the very antithesis of a free society, which should value openness, compromise and pluralism.
That great patriot George Orwell famously wrote, If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.
Tragically, instead of being guided by those wise words, the cultural commissars seem to be inspired by Orwells most famous novel, 1984, which painted a dark picture of Britain under totalitarian rule, complete with thought crimes, hate sessions, group think and hectoring propaganda.
Orwell meant his book to be a warning, but the new ideologues see it as a blueprint.
The vanguard of this revolution hails from the authoritarian Left, which uses the bogus language of compassion to justify its oppression.
In their doctrinal obsessions and frenzied divisiveness, these bullies are utterly divorced from the mainstream British public, yet they are able to wield excessive power through their stranglehold on the internet and civic institutions.
In their brutish hands, social media is both an instrument of fear and an arena for show trials.
Nothing illustrates the nastiness of the online lynch mob more graphically thanthe transformation of the best-selling author JK Rowling from cherished icon into enemy of the people.
Her thought crime is her willingness to challenge the fashionable transgender ideology, which she sees as a threat both to womens rights and childhood innocence.
For her courage, she has been subjected to horrendous misogynistic abuse.
Staff at her publishing house have tried to boycott her work.
Authors have left the literary agency that represents her.
A sculptural tribute to her in Edinburgh, comprising the imprints of her hands, was daubed with blood-red paint.
Ms Rowling is such a global figure that she can withstand a battering from the advocates of the cancel culture, as it has become known because its impulse is to cancel out dissenters.
Others have been less lucky.
The Scottish childrens author Gillian Philip says she was fired from her post by her publishers after she tweeted: I stand with JK Rowling.
As Ms Philip commented, her professionalism counted for nothing in the face of an abusive mob of anonymous Twitter trolls. The same hardline trans lobby also recently hounded out Baroness Nicholson from her position as the patron of the Booker Literary prize for showing insufficientobeisance to the new creed, a fate thatalso happened to tax expert Maya Forstater who was dismissed from her job at an anti-poverty think tank after she tweeted that men cannot change into women.
Left-wingers used to campaign to protect jobs.
Now they campaign to get people removed from them, simply for having unacceptable opinions.
Typical is the case of Nick Buckley, who set up a highly successful charity for vulnerable young people in Manchester. But in the eyes of the new zealots he committed the sin of criticising the aims of the radical Black Lives Matter protest group.
We will do everything in our power to have you removed from your position, said one activist.The warning was prophetic, as Buckley was kicked out of the charity he established.
Disturbingly, this is just part of a wider trend.
At Cambridge University, which has regularly made empty noises about its commitment to academic freedom, the philosopher Jordan Peterson had his offer of a visiting fellowship withdrawn after protests from the Students Union about the politically incorrect nature of his work.
In the same cowardly vein, Cambridge sacked sociologist Noah Carl over the unsubstantiated claims that he might use his position as a researcher to promote views that could incite racial or religious hatred. So pathetically supine was the university that it even apologised to its students for appointing him in the first place, an appointment that supposedly caused hurt, betrayal, anger and disbelief.
That is so characteristic of our enfeebled establishment.
Instead of standing up for essential liberties, officialdom now cowers before the mob and colludes with the agitators.
In another outrageous case, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist Professor Sir Tim Hunt was forced out of his posts at University College London, the Royal Society and the European Research Council after he was accused of making a joke about female colleagues at an event in Seoulin 2015, even though he strongly deniedthe charge.
Sir Tim was crucified by ideological fanatics, said his fellow scientist Sir Andre Geim of the University of Manchester.
No one is safe from this destructive form of socialist puritanism.
Last year, disabled Asda worker Brian Leach was sacked for sharing an online clip of a Billy Connolly routine that mocked religion, though Leach was later reinstated after a public outcry. In yet another indicator of the authorities submission to the new doctrine, the police are estimated to have investigated no fewer than 120,000 non-crime hate incidents over the past five years, an incredible rate of 66 a day.
The Free Speech Union, recently founded by the energetic journalist Toby Young to uphold Britains tattered traditions, says that it now receives half a dozen requests for help every day.
The fact that such an organisation is required represents a severe indictment of the growing institutional disdain for freedom of expression.
The autocratic impulse has always existed on the Left, as shown by this passage written in 1999 by the broadcaster Andrew Marr, a key member of the metropolitan elite: I firmly believe that repression can be a great, civilising instrument for good. Stamp hard on certain natural beliefs for long enough and you can almost kill them off.
That outlook has become even stronger over the subsequent two decades.
In progressive circles, free speech is seen, not as a pillar of democracy, but as a vehicle for spreading dangerously reactionary arguments. In the warped mentality of the witch-hunters, the problem with the cancel culture is that it is insufficiently expansive or effective.
This narrow attitude was perfectly captured last week by the singer Billy Bragg, who wrote that whenever he hears Orwells defence of liberty, he wants to cringe because the words are a defence of licence, allowing those in power to abuse and marginalise others.
When he was asked on social media if he supported the dismissal of people simply for an opinion, he declared, If their opinion amounts to delegitimising the rights of a minority, I believe that employers have the right to act in such circumstances.
In effect, Bragg appears to believe in the thought police and ideological purity tests, a shameful stance from a man who once pretended to be democrat.
But his outlook is a common one.
One of the performers on the deeply unfunny BBC satire The Mash Report even stated that free speech is basically a way adult people can say racist stuff without consequences.
Left-wingers love to trumpet the joys of diversity, yet they loathe diversity of thought.
All their apparatus of repression, such as safe spaces and wails about micro-aggressions, are geared towards the enforcement of their code.
Even when people are not directly threatened with losing their livelihoods, they become scared to express their views on any controversial topic.
The atmosphere of self-censorship is thereby strengthened. The absurdity of this approach is that free speech is the ally, not the enemy, of progress, enlightenment and human rights.
Without such a liberty, discussion and protest are impossible, while power becomes entrenched, as the Soviet Union proved.
An irrefutable case for free speech was made in 2009, when the BBC invited the BNP leader Nick Griffin to participate in an edition of the flagship show Question Time.
The BNP was riding high at that moment, having won almost one million votes in the European elections and secured two seats in the European Parliament.
There was tremendous outrage at the BBCs invitation, yet Griffins disastrous appearance turned out to be the worst thing that ever happened to the BNP.
Sweating, nervous and incoherent, he was exposed as a fantasising conspiracy theorist with some very unpleasant views, in the words of his fellow panelist, the distinguished Labour politician Jack Straw.
Even BNP activists were dismayed.
Maybe some coaching should have been done, said one.
Question Time triggered a chain of events that soon led to the collapse of the BNP, amid debts and plummeting popularity.
The cancel culture would have worked in Griffins favour.
As it was, he choked on the oxygen of publicity.
That is the lesson we have to learn today. Fortunately there are the glimmers of a fightback against the authoritarians. JK Rowling has stood firm.
Comedy star Ricky Gervais has stood up for free speech, denouncing its opponents as weird.
Only last week, a letter was sent to Harpers Magazine by 153 mainly liberal philosophers, writers and intellectuals among them giants su Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood and Noam Chomsky who denounced the intolerant climate of public discourse.
The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away, they wrote.
That is absolutely correct and has long been the British way.
For the sake of our future, the extremists must not be allowed to prevail.
Assault on rights to free speech, dissent: 99 ex-IAS, IPS, IFS officers say in open letter – ThePrint
Posted: July 5, 2020 at 10:48 am
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New Delhi:A group of former civil servants, including prominent former IAS officers such as Aruna Roy and Wajahat Habibullah, have penned an open letter expressing concern over the growing assault on the Rule of Law in India and on its citizens rights to free speech and dissent.
In a letter titled Assault on the Rule of Law and Article 19 of the Constitution of India, 99 civil servants lamented the erosion of the rule of law in the country and urged all Indians to unite in defence of the rule of law and Article 19 the Right to Freedom of Speech, which they said are basic elements of any democracy.
The collective known as the Constitutional Conduct Group, is known for voicing concerns regarding socio-political developments in the country and includes several prominent ex-IAS, IPS and IFS officers.
Prominent IAS officers who are part of the group include Aruna Roy, P.S.S. Thomas, Vijaya Latha Reddy, Meena Gupta and Wajahat Habibullah.
Some of the well-known Indian Foreign Services officers in the group include Shivshankar Menon, Madhu Bhaduri, Deb Mukharji and Shiv Shankar Mukherjee. A.S. Dulat, Amitabh Mathur, Aloke B. Lal are some of the Indian Police Services officers who are signatories to the letter.
Also read: Indian citizens and media have been terrorised enough with sedition. SC must end it now
The letter talked about the blatant use of the sedition law and how the rule of law militates against the actualization of the freedom of speech.
It cited the arrest of 11 activists, including Kafeel Khan, Safoora Zargar, Akhil Gogoi, Sharjeel Imam, and the murder of Karnataka-based journalist Gauri Lankesh to highlight the corrosion of Article 19 under the government.
The letter added that the government cannot use the current pandemic as an excuse to curb media freedom across the country.
According to the letter, the law of sedition, which it terms a colonial relic, has seen a sharp increase in use. The letter alleges that any criticism of the government is considered anti-national and invites punitive wrath.
The former civil servants also blamed the government for attempting to clamp down on the media and note Indias fall in the Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders.
India ranked 142nd out of 180 countries covered in 2020. In 2019, it was ranked 140.
The letter alleged that the government has used the pandemic as a means to silence the media, giving examples of 55 journalists who were singled out for writing about mishandling of the crisis, and the criminal case against Siddharth Varadarajan, the founding editor of TheWire, for writing against Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
Also read: After SC, how Tripura High Court added muscle to freedom of speech & expression
The signatories of the letter also argued that the gulf between the rhetoric and reality in the rule of law is widening.
They mention the government-imposed curfew in Kashmir and the use of the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) against people who participated in the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens.
The letter further alleged that the police establishment has become a proxy at the hands of the political party in power.
According to the letter, the arrest of activists such as Sudha Bharadwaj, Shoma Sen, Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde under the UAPA is choking their freedom of expression.
Commenting on the Northeast Delhi riots, the letter noted, The investigations into the riots in north-east Delhi have betrayed an institutional bias against the minority community.
This was in reference to Dr M.A. Anwar, the proprietor of Hind Hospital, being mentioned in a chargesheet by the Delhi Police.
Dr Anwar had reportedly provided crucial medical services to the victims of the Delhi riots.
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Posted: at 10:48 am
Since October last year, Lebanons police and security forces have investigated or detained more than 100 civil rights activists in what Human Rights Watch (HRW) has termed a spate of free speech prosecutions. The spike in cases has coincided with the rise of a nationwide protest movement that has expressed popular anger at decades of political and economic mismanagement.
In eight months of protests, the people of Lebanon have spoken out increasingly and openly on social media and at street demonstrations against members of the establishment who are considered widely to be the cause of the countrys multiple crises. Activists and rights groups, however, have raised concerns that the rising number of investigations into comments made and actions taken by protesters is a sign that Lebanons vague defamation laws are being used to intimidate and silence critics. Freedom of expression, they say, is definitely under threat.
The problem is the interpretation of the law, explains Ayman Mhanna, the Executive Director of media freedom watchdog the Samir Kassir Foundation. The same articles can be interpreted in a very liberal and open way and also in a very restrictive and oppressive way. This, unfortunately, is the current situation.
Words such as defamation, libel and slander, he notes, or charges of inciting sectarian strife or endangering civil peace, have elastic interpretations that can change depending on the judge.
Lebanon: Judge who ordered media ban on US envoy resigns
According to Gino Raidy a prominent activist with over 100,000 followers on Twitter and Instagram, politicians are exploiting the vagueness of Lebanons defamation laws to target high-profile activists in order to deter would-be critics from speaking out. Politicians choose the people with the most reach to target repeatedly. People like me, Dima Sadek, Charbel Khoury; people with a large following on social media. They keep calling in the people who are really visible.
The high-profile activist has been investigated three times since the start of protests on 17 October. Each lawsuit, Raidy points out, has been instigated by a prominent politician, including one by Prime Minister Hassan Diab at the height of the coronavirus lockdown. However, none of the cases has led to Raidys arrest, nor has the activist ended up in court.
Instead, he says, the investigations are often intended to intimidate, waste time and attract media attention. In the most recent investigation, he waited six hours for the claimants lawyer to turn up and provide a statement before he was released. Its just bureaucratic shenanigans. In the last one the claimants lawyer was six hours late, on purpose. He made us wait for him so that it looked like I had been arrested, when I hadnt. When he eventually arrived, he gave a statement and I was, of course, released.
Lebanon: Interior Minister admits killing 2 during civil war
However, says Raidy, being investigated can be a scary and traumatic experience for young protesters, especially because activists are often not told why they are being summoned, nor are they always allowed to have a lawyer present during questioning. Other cases documented by HRW show that some activists were pressured to sign a commitment to refrain from criticising a particular political party or individual. These are tactics, he claims, which investigators use to exert pressure on and intimidate critics.
Another activist, Taymour Jreissati, agrees and describes the spike in investigations as scare tactics. Simply summoning critics for questioning on nonsense allegations is a form of intimidation in itself and a threat to freedom of expression. The 33-year-old was summoned for investigation after he and a group of activists confronted former Minister of the Environment Fadi Jreissati publicly outside a restaurant in Beirut.
Jreissati the activist told me that the entire encounter was caught on camera and that the pair spoke cordially because he is related to the former minister through his father. Nevertheless, he was still summoned for questioning over the incident.
[Politicians] basically bank on the idea that if they get us in for questioning and waste our time, we will back down. They think that the next time we see them in public we will not confront them because we are afraid of being called in for questioning again.
Lebanon: Activist detained, accused of ties with Israel
Taymour Jreissati claims that the allegations against him were baseless and taking him in for questioning was a tactic designed to pressure him into silence. Asked why lawsuits against protesters and activists, such as the case against Jreissati, get filed and investigated but rarely go to court, a spokesperson for the Embassy of Lebanon in London said that, The Government is determined to uphold freedom of expression and right to protest, while at the same time maintaining law and order.
The spokesperson provided no further details on the increasing prevalence of similar cases but cited the preamble and Article 13 of Lebanons Constitution, which guarantees, within the scope of the law, freedom of speech and expression.
Nevertheless, Mhanna believes that the law needs to be updated. He told me that a draft law submitted to parliament 10 years ago has been completely transformed into a repressive text by parliamentary committees without ever being presented for a general vote.
Politicians have increasingly relied on freedom of expression investigations as one of the last tools available to silence critics, he adds. However, with mounting public pressure over the rapidly worsening economic crisis and the apparent deadlock in talks with the International Monetary Fund, he has little hope of any meaningful reform on the horizon.
Lebanon: Security forces arrest 11 over riots, vandalism
See original here:
Freedom of expression is under threat in Lebanon - Middle East Monitor
Posted: May 24, 2020 at 2:55 pm
n the last few weeks a spate of American stores have made headlines after putting up signs telling customers who wear masks they will be denied entry. On Thursday, Vice reported on a Kentucky convenience store that put up a sign reading: NO Face Masks allowed in store. Lower your mask or go somewhere else. Stop listening to [Kentucky governor Andy] Beshear, hes a dumbass.
Another sign was posted by a Californian construction store earlier this month encouraging hugs but not masks. In Illinois, a gas station employee who put up a similar sign has since defended herself, arguing that mask-wearing made it hard to differentiate between adults and children when selling booze and cigarettes.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump finally caved and wore a face mask yesterday something he didnt want to give the press the pleasure of seeing. But while it is gratifying to see the emperor finally forced to wear clothes, youve got to wonder to what extent the virus will spread thanks to the actions of citizens insisting on protecting their freedom over the right of others not to get sick.
Anti-lockdown protesters have argued that it is anti-American for the government to curtail peoples freedoms in order to reduce deaths as a result of Covid-19. Meanwhile, store owners tell customers what they can and cannot wear before entering, and customers cough in the faces of workers in the name of freedom.
I work for Costco and I am asking this customer to put on a mask because that is company policy, says a Costco employee in one video. And Im not doing it because I woke up in a free country, replies the man filming him.
A warped freedom obsession is killing us, said the writer Anand Giridharadas, in reference to those coughing in the faces of others in the name of freedom. It is, of course, a minority of people willfully misinterpreting what freedom means freedom to choose, until the choice is one that they do not like; meanwhile, most Americans dont want to return to business as usual during this pandemic.
In Franklin D Roosevelts famous 1941 Four Freedoms speech, he detailed that, yes, Americans are owed a right to freedom of speech and expression and to worship whom they please but he also mentioned the freedom from fear. This was in the context of the US joining forces with Britain in the second world war; Roosevelt was telling Americans that this was a fight for freedom. As America finds itself at war with a deadly pandemic, thats a message worth considering.
Originally posted here:
No masks allowed: stores turn customers away in US culture war - The Guardian
Posted: at 2:55 pm
May 22 (UPI) -- With scientists striving for a viable coronavirus vaccine, and public health officials considering its potential roll-out, do calls for freedom of choice and anti-vaccination sentiments, as seen in recent televised protests, represent a worrying omen?
Choice is central to American life, with freedom of speech and of opinion embedded in the U.S. Constitution. But at what point does a communal necessity, such as immunization, outweigh personal choice? How much choice do people in self-acclaimed free societies really have? Choice to murder a troublesome neighbor, or drive through a red light? Of course not. Choosing to avoid taxes or decline a vaccine may be considered acceptable by some, but are arguably a moral failure to contribute to the public good.
Herd immunity through vaccination generally requires 75-95 percent public participation, with more contagious diseases typically requiring higher uptakes. This majority who chooses immunization protects their whole community, including those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.
The United States chooses to persuade public uptake, rather than legislate for it. There is no federal law mandating immunization. Although viruses don't respect state lines, individual states determine their own vaccination requirements for specific groups, such as children, healthcare workers and residents in healthcare facilities, but there is little regulatory provision for the rest of the adult population, with limited public infrastructure for the mass vaccination of adults.
All 50 U.S. states accept exemption from vaccination for medical reasons, because the immuno-suppressed or allergic have no choice; 45 states, plus Washington, D.C., grant school vaccination exemptions for religious reasons, and 15 states allow exemptions for personal or philosophical reasons.
Immunization resistance is complex. Concerns over the safety of vaccines may be understandable, but cases of negative reactions are few, and are vastly overwhelmed by the unquestionable benefits. Unsubstantiated anecdotes attributing other acquired ailments to vaccinations are commonplace. Many express hesitancy about some vaccines but not others, and doubts don't necessarily lead to refusal.
The choice to reject immunization seems mostly predicated on questionable notions : a mistrust of science, discredited work in vaccinology, suspicion of government, flawed anecdotes, the notion of 'individual self-management' and even conspiracy theories about people associated with vaccine research, such as Bill Gates.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Public Health Service and others considered a lack of accurate information about vaccines and disparities in access to immunization to be significant public health concerns. When only a small minority refuse immunization, self-exemption is politically tolerable provided the general uptake meets the percentage necessary for herd immunity.
Unfortunately, data tell us that the ease of securing personal belief exemptions has contributed to a decrease in vaccination protection among schoolchildren. With adults, an insufficient uptake of vaccines has led to an estimated annual death toll of 40,000 from vaccine-preventable diseases. In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that immunization coverage among U.S. adults was low, despite an annually updated and recommended U.S. Adult Immunization Schedule.
In 2019, the World Health Organization ranked vaccine hesitancy as one of the top 10 threats to global health. All these factors suggest that the current socio-political trajectory in the United States does not bode well for a potential coronavirus immunization program. Of course, there is no guarantee that a COVID-19 vaccine will be produced, but if it is, the population should expect a vaccination campaign. Any immunization initiative will need to tackle vaccine hesitancy head-on, as well as consolidate the fragmented regulatory infrastructure.
Some warn that compulsory vaccination is likely to inflame public sentiment and lead to legal battles on the constitutionality of non-medical exemptions, so more nuanced policy tools, such as increasing the difficulty in obtaining non-medical exemptions and stricter oversight of exemptions, may be effective. There is a general perception that the delivery of a coronavirus vaccine will mark the end of COVID-19, and will be resoundingly celebrated, but will this be enough to garner mass compliance coast to coast, especially for a new vaccine without years of demonstrable public efficacy?
Educational programs that convey the historical benefits of vaccinations, and that present the rigors of modern vaccine development, may correct misconceptions, tackle unwarranted mistrust and lead many skeptics to choose vaccination voluntarily. In parallel with public information initiatives, a logistical infrastructure must be established to deliver the vaccine effectively nationwide. Such information initiatives and infrastructure investments will require sufficient funding to reach the whole population. It's a huge ask, especially in a fractured U.S. healthcare system, but the cost of being ill-prepared is likely to be way worse.
The fact that some states are collaborating with their neighbors for a more consistent pandemic response helps advance the notion of a nationally coordinated campaign for vaccination. Federal leadership and effective persuasion will be imperative, but whatever happens, legislative intervention for vaccination uptake may be necessary, because sometimes choice kills.
Alina Palimaru is an associate policy researcher at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corp. Marcus Dillistone is member of the Royal Society of Medicine.
Protesters rally urging the reopening of California at the Capitol in Sacramento on May 1. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo
Thousands showed up to urge an end to "shelter in place" because of coronavirus, social distancing, closure of non-essential businesses and to campaign for President Donald Trump in Sacramento. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo
California Highway Patrol officers tussle with demonstrators at the Capitol in Sacramento. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo
A demonstrator wears an American flag bandanna. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo
A child holds a sign at Sacramento's demonstration. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo
Demonstrators rally in Sacramento. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo
A demonstrator holds American flags during the protest. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo
Demonstrators for opening the state up visit the Capitol in Sacramento. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo
Protesters rally against Ohio's restrictions on public gatherings ahead of Gov. Mike DeWine's press briefing on Friday. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
Some protesters carried flags, signs and guns while encouraging the reopening of the state. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
Protesters have been gathering for more than three weeks against the stay-at-home orders. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
A protester stands on the side of a street to demonstrate. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
Some demonstrators say they are voicing frustrations of small business owners forced to close due to the restrictions. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
A protester holds a sign reading "without freedom, there is no safety." Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
DeWine said the protests were permitted under his executive order due to First Amendment protections for free speech. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
Protesters changed, "Reopen Ohio." Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
DeWine stated he respects the protesters' right to gather but urged them to keep a safe distance from each other. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
Protesters said their constitutional rights are being violated by the orders. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
A protester stands on the side of a street to demonstrate against Ohio's restrictions. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
The governor said that the state has "reached a new stage," but "it doesnt mean the virus has gone away." Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
In Washington, D.C. on Friday, activists participate in a car rally for workers' rights during the pandemic near the National Mall. The group ShutdownDC supports front-line workers, asking the district to stay "closed" and not rush to open. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
An activist decorates ar car prior to the protest. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
The group ShutdownDC supports front-line workers, asking the district to stay "closed" and not rush to open. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
Truckers park their cabs on Constitution Avenue, near the White House, as they hold a protest over low rates amid the pandemic. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
In New York, a protester puts up her middle finger at police officers at a "Rally To Free New York." Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
A protester argues with NYPD officers. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
The rally was also planned to take place in other New York cities on Friday. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
A man wears a protective face mask at the rally. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
Protesters were encouraged to wear red, white and blue -- and to maintain social distancing. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
New York officials said some streets will be reopened on Monday, though schools will be closed for the remainder of the year. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
Posted: at 2:55 pm
MAY 22, 2020
FOR EVERY ACTION, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Newtons Third Law deals with physical objects, but does it also have something to teach us about human behavior and the clash of forces in our fraught and turbulent society?
When it comes to the volatile issues of race, sex, identity, privilege, rights, and freedom, well-intentioned actions to redress genuine injuries can conflict with equally important societal values, such as freedom of speech and the open exchange of ideas. Are there unintended and adverse consequences that flow from the energetic vindication of cherished rights in our society? Consequences that have been ignored and deserve serious examination? Is there still any legitimate place for dissent and disagreement on these fundamental issues?
In The Tyranny of Virtue: Identity, the Academy, and the Hunt for Political Heresies, Robert Boyers, professor of English at Skidmore College, author of 10 books, and editor of the literary journal Salmagundi, is alarmed by the irrationality and anti-intellectuality on college campuses and in the wider cultural environment that was unleashed by many of the most vocal proponents of the new fundamentalism to silence or intimidate opponents. He is deeply concerned that
concepts with some genuine merit like privilege, appropriation, and even microaggression were very rapidly weaponized, and well-intentional discussions of identity, inequality, and disability became the leading edge of new efforts to label and separate the saved and the damned, the woke and the benighted, the victim and the oppressor.
He regrets that people who are with you on most things on the obligation to move the world as it is closer to the world as it should be are increasingly suspicious of dissent.
Boyers is asking whether in our zeal to address the consequences of racism, misogyny, sexual violence, bigotry, and intolerance in America, are we spreading a new intolerance, undermining cherished values of free and open discussion? The Tyranny of Virtue prompts serious readers to take a second look at their own assumptions as we try to navigate the troubles waters on which we so often feel adrift.
The force of Boyerss book comes from the proximity of his own university experiences to the issues he is confronting, the grounding he provides with relevant examples to illustrate his arguments, and his bracing writing style which consistently expresses difficult ideas in crisp and succinct language.
As Boyers sees it, tendencies that alarmed him and others on the liberal left 25 or 30 years ago have grown more disturbing.
Intolerance among young people and their academic sponsors in the university is more entrenched than it was before, and both administrators and a large proportion of the liberal professoriate are running scared, fearful that they will be accused of thought crimes if they speak out against even the most obvious abuses and absurdities.
Boyers offers a startling example.
An Ivy League college senior in Boyerss July 2018 New York State Summer Writers Institute a young white man told Boyers he was denounced in a seminar by several other students for writing poems based on his experience as a volunteer in Bryan Stevensons Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama. How dare he write poems about lynching and the travails of oppressed people when it was obvious that he has no legitimate claim to that material? Boyers sarcastically asks, echoing the all-too-sincere accusations leveled at the student. Was it not obvious, Boyers continues, that a privileged white male, who could afford to take off a year of college to work as a volunteer, really had no access to the suffering of the people he hoped to study and evoke?
Boyers expands this example beyond the college setting by recounting another controversy that unfolded in July 2018, when objections (which Boyers calls predictably nasty and belligerent) were lodged against The Nation magazine for publishing a short poem by a young white poet in which he used black vernacular language. Within a few days the poetry editors who had reviewed and approved the poem issued what Nation columnist Katha Pollitt called a craven apology that read like a letter from a re-education camp. In The Atlantic, the scholar of black English John McWhorter called the language in the poem true and ordinary black speech and a spot-on depiction of the dialect in use. He also noted the irony that, at a time when whites are encouraged to understand  the black experience, white artists who seek to empathize  as artists are told to cease and desist.
Boyers is angry about what he sees going on in the institutions of higher learning to which he has devoted his lifes work as well as in the society at large about which he cares deeply.
The revolution of moral concern, driven by people in the grip of delusions I have attempted to anatomize throughout this book, is clearly a bizarre phenomenon, fueled by convictions and passions that have the appearance of benevolence but are increasingly harnessed to create a surveillance culture in which strict adherence to irrational codes and principles is demanded.
He sees a toxic environment that now permeates the liberal academy that is increasingly drawn to denial and overt repression including speech codes and draconian punishments for verbal indecorum or presumption.
Unfortunately, Boyerss anger can get the best of him as he ascribes ugly motivations to the targets of his denunciation. It is decidedly not true that academics mobilizing to punish dissident or incorrect voices on their own campuses are nevertheless operating with benevolent motives, he defiantly declares. And it is not true than an ostensibly well-intentioned effort to prevent a young white poet from imagining the lives of black people is an expression of genuine concern for black people. Why does Boyers assume the motives of those concerned about cultural appropriation are not benevolent or genuine? For someone so dedicated to freedom of speech and open debate, why not address the merits of the arguments in these controversies without making groundless assumptions and attacking the motivations of those with whom he disagrees? Isnt giving others the benefit of the doubt one of the liberal values Boyers is seeking to encourage on our campuses and in society at large?
Boyers is eager for his readers to get to know him so they dont take him as just another conservative critic like Dinesh DSouza or Tucker Carlson, who do not share his lifelong commitment to equality and justice. To that end he describes an encounter with an English professor during his freshman year at Queens College in the late 1950s. Having given Boyers an A+ on a paper examining George Orwells Homage to Catalonia, Professor Stone suggests that Boyers schedule an appointment to see him in his office.
When Boyers arrives, unexpectedly a second professor is present. Professor Stone asks Boyers to summarize his paper on Orwell. After Boyers offers only a few sentences, Professor Stone asks him to stop and turns to his colleague. See what I mean? Totally, the other professor responds. Turning back to Boyers, Professor Stone guesses, [Y]ou may be the first person in your family to go to college. Its true, replies Boyers. You write very well, Professor Stone says,
But you know, I didnt call you here to congratulate you, but to tell you something you need to hear[.]  [T]hough you are a bright and gifted young fellow, your speech, I mean the sounds you make when you speak, are such that no one will ever take you seriously I repeat, no one will ever take you seriously if you dont at once do something about this. Do you understand me?
Boyers agrees to enroll in a remedial speech course to cure what Professor Stone calls his Brooklynese. Within hours of his escape he realizes this was a never-to-be-forgotten gift. It was an insult to be sure, but delivered not with an intention to hurt but to save and uplift.
Boyers uses this formative incident in his life to introduce his discussion of white privilege. He clearly understands that white privilege exists. It is legitimate, he writes, to assert that whiteness has long been an advantage, however little some white people believe that their own whiteness has given them what others lack. He provides numerous examples:
[T]hat housing laws designed to help returning GIs discriminated against black veterans; that college admissions boards, even where inclined to diversify their student bodies, continue to rely on protocols that would ensure acceptance mainly for the wealthy or the otherwise privileged; that apparently trivial slights or insults might conceivably affect people in disastrous ways, while allowing those responsible for the insults to proceed as if nothing consequential had transpired.
And he quotes poet Claudia Rankine who argues that whiteness has veiled from them their own power to wound.
But Boyers goes deeper, in order to challenge what he sees as an absolutist assumption that white privilege is enjoyed by everyone who is white. Is it reasonable to suppose, he asks, that whiteness confers, on all who claim it, comparable experiences and privileges? Alluding to his embarrassing confrontation with Professor Stone, Boyers asks, Was my own background as a working-class Jewish boy, growing up in a predominantly black community, remotely similar to the background or disposition of a white colleague who had never know privation, or in fact had no contact at all with other black children?
Boyers offers some eye-opening examples. Two years ago, at a panel discussion at a writers institute, a graduate student complained that the entire topic of political fiction was dominated by male writers. When Boyers responded by referring to prominent women who write political fiction, such as Doris Lessing, Nadine Gordimer, Joyce Carol Oates, Ingeborg Bachmann, Pat Barker, Antia Desai, and others, another graduate student asked him if he was aware of the privilege he had just exercised in addressing the question. Privilege? he asked. Your authority, she said, your presumption, the sense of entitlement that permits you to feel that you can pronounce on any question put to you. As Boyers sees it, privilege had been invoked as a noise word intended to distract all of us from the substance of our discussion and from the somehow unpleasant spectacle of a male writer intoning the names of great women writers, as if this were, in itself, a flagrant violation of a protocol.
Then Boyers reports on an incident at Evergreen State in which a professor of biology (who subsequently resigned from the faculty) criticized the universitys Day of Absence, a day on which all white students were asked to leave campus. And the Northwestern professor who was subjected to a formal Title IX investigation by university authorities after an essay she wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education was said by a number of students to create a hostile environment on campus. Boyers comments that in
the last year or two, those wishing to restrain real talk or, God forbid, actual debate more and more deploy terms like entitlement and subordination to suggest that people who stir the waters inevitably create a hostile environment and intimidate their colleagues, some of whom so it is said are thereby made to feel powerless.
Boyers enlists prominent New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who in a recent article argued that many liberals want to be inclusive of people who dont look like us so long as they think like us. Boyers writes that [o]n campuses across the country, according to Kristof, academics casually admit that they would discriminate in hiring decisions based on the ideological views of a job applicant.
Boyers sees the accusation of privilege as being increasingly hauled in as a weapon, though wielded, in the main, by persons attached still to the conviction that, whatever their own bristling incivility and the punishing quietus they clearly intend to deliver, they remain in full possession of their virtue. He argues that the privilege craze is part of a new fundamentalism built on a willful refusal to accept that the most obvious features of so-called identity are the least reliable indicators of what may reasonably be expected of us.
But here again Boyers overreacts. So-called identity? Are not those who have been subjected to discrimination and been the brunt of bigotry on the basis of their race or gender or sexual orientation entitled to organize and speak up on the basis of those real, not so-called, identities? Although Boyers is sounding a much-needed warning over self-righteous accusations of privilege which can smother honest discussions of race, gender, and class, he again betrays his own blind spots. He belittles unnamed partisans of the privilege critique of garden-variety envy. Thats a particularly cruel epithet to hurl at individuals and groups who are seeking to reverse the impact of centuries of enslavement and present-day discrimination. Accusing them of envy for simply seeking equality smacks of the argument during the battle for marriage equality that the LGBTQ community was seeking special rights.
Boyers accuses these partisans without evidence or example of having little interest in real-world politics, that is, in coalition building and respect for difference. Really? The movements for equality in society today are all about real-world politics, including voting rights, racial justice, immigration, equal pay for equal work, mass incarceration, and the entire panoply of rights which have been denied to marginalized people for so long.
But let me practice what I preach and give Boyers the benefit of the doubt, for elsewhere in his book he exhibits a far more subtle and nuanced approach to his subject. The following passage, listing the purposes of his book, is worth quoting in full:
To argue that the idea of privilege has its important uses and is, at the same time, susceptible to misunderstanding and abuse. To demonstrate that the idea of appropriation was an understandable expression of legitimate and deep-seated fears held by people with a history of oppression and subordination, but that the idea soon came to be wielded by people ignorant of the ways of the imagination and the benefits of the very practices they resisted. To argue that identity is an important aspect of our ongoing efforts to understand ourselves, but that identity politics is based on a deep misunderstanding of the nature of race and ethnicity. To insist that policies like affirmative action are essential if we are ever to achieve the kind of social justice we aspire to but that there are costs and consequences we ought to acknowledge without pretending that those costs are negligible or incidental.
Boyers fears that the excesses of these movements for social change will prove counterproductive, descending into a self-righteous close-minded orthodoxy that will alienate potential supporters and feed the criticism spread by reactionary forces which take every opportunity to ridicule and parody the movements for equality and justice. To challenge officially accredited views, particularly when those views have anything to do with sensitive issues, is now regarded as out of bounds, illegitimate, an expression of arrogance or entitlement, and thereby hostile.
In addition to privilege, identity, and appropriation, Boyers devotes a chapter to ableism and how our society deals with disabilities. He begins by describing how recently he became agitated seeing posters saying KEEP SKIDMORE SAFE hung all over Skidmore College, where he has been teaching for 50 years. According to Boyers, the posters called out examples of ableist language considered offensive to persons with disabilities and their supporters, language such as stand up for, turn a blind eye to, and take a walk in someones shoes. The posters encouraged students to ask their teachers to stop using such ableist language and, failing that, to contact advisers and file an online bias report naming the professor.
Boyers doesnt tell us what became of this call to action or whether any bias reports were ever filed and, if so, what happened, but he nevertheless is quick to attack the posters, arguing that expressions like those cited in the poster have nothing at all to do with any reasonable persons notion of keeping the campus safe. He calls the recommendation that people take offense at the language all of us use is sufficiently bizarre. Boyers notes that of course it goes without saying that everyone should speak respectfully to persons who are disabled. But according to him the notion that students will feel unsafe when I tell them I have to run to catch a train or that Ive long been deaf to certain kinds of music is a lie. He claims that students can be trained to take offense where no offense is intended. But there will be a price to pay, he writes, for creating a generation of young people who are unwilling and unable to differentiate between actual offenses and casual utterances that clearly do not rise even to the level of so-called microaggressions.
Is Boyers right? Was it bizarre and a lie for persons with disabilities to be offended by such expressions? I must admit that it came as news to me that the examples cited in the poster were offensive, so I asked Alan Toy, a longtime friend who has been a disability rights advocate for decades and is a fellow member of the board of the ACLU of Southern California, if these phrases are offensive.
Yes, and I am not alone in this, Alan replied. Those phrases
do kind of sound very much like dog whistles or worse to many of us in the disability cohort. There are a few more that could come to mind, but youve hit upon some of the more common ones. I always find those things jarring personally, though I do give a little bit of credit to the cultural habituation of these phrases in our common dialogue.
However, Alan added, once informed or (a)woke(n), I have little sympathy for their continued use. If we can learn how to not say things like the N-word, or the K-word, etc., etc., then we can also undo the ableist language in our lexicon. As for reporting these things to the proper authorities, Alan said hes
not big on that kind of approach, but if a person egregiously continued to use these phrases once warned, then perhaps further actions do need to be taken. But sometimes there are old dogs who just cannot learn new tricks, and it is not as if those folks are using these terms to purposefully slur or demean people with disabilities, even though that may be the outcome for some folks.
Im glad I checked with Alan. I learned a lot. I wish Boyers had checked with persons with disabilities too, instead of making assumptions and casting aspersions. Here and elsewhere in his book he shows few signs of having conducted probing interviews with the people involved in these controversies, such as the students on his own campus who created the poster, to get their side of the story. For someone who believes in open debate and discussion, such readily available research would have enriched and clarified his project.
Yet, despite its flaws, Boyers has written an important and provocative book that acts as an alarm calling attention to the excesses of dogmatism found in some quarters of the movements for equality. In the end, what is missing from this discussion on both sides or all sides, since it is multifaceted is a greater sense of humility, compassion, and generosity toward those, on the one hand, who are struggling to overcome the historical legacies and present-day realities of oppression and discrimination and those, on the other hand, like Boyers, who share the goals of those movements but are trying simultaneously to uphold the values of free and open debate unhindered by overreaction and censorship.
In his sympathetic New York Times review of Brandon Taylors debut novel Real Life, playwright and author Jeremy O. Harris describes how the protagonist, Wallace, a black gay grad student (with whom Taylor and Harris share similar experiences), walks the haunted halls of a white academic space feeling an overwhelming dread. Harris is struck by the whiteness of Wallaces surroundings, a fact of many spaces of American higher learning, and one rarely articulated in literature by writers of any race. Harris writes that the simple truth of Real Life is that Wallace, like myself and many others whove wandered dark, white halls in search of a future, has made himself invisible by shedding the skin of his past, and adopting a new skin unadorned with the blemishes of history.
In the year 2020, the suffocation of whiteness, sexism, and other forms of bigotry, running the gamut from insensitivity and marginalization to outright discrimination, still plagues our campuses and beyond. We ignore it at our peril. No one who has not experienced shedding their skin to make themselves invisible can sit in supercilious judgment over those who have.
Boyers ends his book by offering several sensible suggestions of what should not be done. Ideas should not be promulgated without seriousness, that is, without any corresponding consideration of what would be entailed were they actually to be effected. Ideas such as privilege, appropriation, ableism, and microaggressions should not be used to sow hostility, persecute other members of a community, and make meaningful conversation impossible. The classroom and the seminar should not be used to indoctrinate students and thus to send them off parroting views that they have not adequately thought through or mastered. An us versus them orientation should not be created which is underwritten by enemies lists, and fueled by a sense that on matters for which a consensus has been reached no dispute may be tolerated. And virtue should not be weaponized for what Marilynne Robinson calls class advantage, with zealots adept mainly at trumpeting their own superior status and making a fetish of indignation.
There is much to be learned from these suggestions. Yet even in his closing words Boyers cant resist using loaded terms like indoctrinate, zealots, and fetish to describe those with whom he disagrees. How would he react if teachers who promote his ideas in the classroom were labeled zealots who indoctrinate their students and make a fetish of their indignation?
The political thinker Michael Walzer contends that no one on the left has succeeded in telling a story that brings together the different values to which we are committed and connects them to some general picture of what the modern world is like and what our country should be like. The Tyranny of Virtue is not that book, but it is a thought-provoking effort in that direction which is worthy reading for anyone who cares about the struggle of creating a more perfect union.
In her highly original and incisive book Mere Civility: Disagreement and the Limits of Toleration (2017), Teresa M. Bejan, associate professor of Political Theory and a Fellow of Oriel College at the University of Oxford, makes a persuasive case that liberal democracies need not abandon one set of their values to preserve another. Drawing on the teachings of Roger Williams, Thomas Hobbes, and John Locke, Bejan argues that so long as we exhibit mere civility a minimal conformity to norms of respectful behavior and decorum expected of all members of a tolerant society as such without legislating civility through speech codes and other government-imposed restraints, we can achieve the highest ideals of an egalitarian, free, and just society. For her, democracy assumes ideological division, insulting invective, and sectarian splintering. Democracy is undermined by conformity that delegitimizes dissent while reinforcing the status quo, which hardly sets the stage for groups which have suffered oppression and discrimination to protest, speak out, and seek change. Equality and justice are not achieved by civilizing discourse aimed at silencing dissent and marginalizing already marginal groups.
Seen in this light, open and robust debate are the friends, not the enemies, of creating a diverse, multiracial nation dedicated to liberty and justice for all. Despite its flaws, The Tyranny of Virtue contributes significantly to a better understanding of the challenges we face.
Stephen Rohde is a retired constitutional lawyer, lecturer, writer, and political activist.