THE FIRST AMENDMENT COMES FIRST

White House Spokesman Jay Carney says that the heinous attack in Libya resulted from “…a fairly volatile situation, and it is in response not to United States policy, not to, obviously, the administration…”

For the sake of the argument, let’s give him that premise. Let’s assume that the protestors in the middle east are quite satisfied with the current foreign policy, and with Mr. Obama’s presidency. That the reason that they are protesting, and killing people, is that they are DSCN0603upset and offended by a movie that has been placed on YouTube, and have no other venue to vent their frustrations.

Apparently, then, their intent is bring to the world’s attention how horrible a crime it is to portray the prophet Muhammad at all, let alone in a ridiculous light. It is, in their eyes, a crime punishable by death—not only for the person who created the film, but for representatives of his country.

I must admit, I have not seen the film. Before the protests and murders began, it was an obscure effort. I have heard that it’s an amateurish attempt, that as art goes, it doesn’t advance the cause very much.

But I understand that many protestors haven’t seen it, either. So they are offended at the very idea that someone in the United States has had the audacity to make a film, of whatever quality, depicting the prophet. And, instead of explaining their feelings, instead of seeking worldwide denunciation of the so-called artist, they decide that they have no choice but to kill Americans. If that’s the case, then we are in big trouble, because they understand our country too well.

They know that there is no actionable cause against the filmmaker, unless his speech causes a breach of the peace or violence. Usually that translates into a ban of the shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater type, but if the protestors are able to establish a nexus of film to violence against embassies and Americans around the world—or here, at home—they will give the government a perfect excuse to crack down on any religious speech that is offensive. And that ban can then be extended to any speech that may be offensive, or may tend to offend, those people who do not hesitate to enforce their feelings through violence.

The problem with trying to limit speech so as not to offend others is that those others can choose to be offended by whatever they want. Changing our behavior and limiting our freedom in order to keep others from lashing out at us does not work. The protestors feel that it is appropriate to respond to a pictorial offense against their religion with extreme violence. We cannot retreat far enough to protect ourselves against such beliefs.

The only thing that will protect us is an unequivocal statement that this country respects the First Amendment to our own Constitution, which states, “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.”

Until the government of the United States makes it clear to the people of the rest of the world that it stands behind the right of all its citizens to say whatever they like about anyone else’s religion, regardless of how intolerant or awful that may be, our citizens will be at risk, both at home and abroad.

Instead of distancing themselves from it, the Obama administration ought to be embracing this movie. Not for its content, but for the producer’s inherent right to make it and to publicize it. Free speech, especially political free speech, is one of the most basic rights upon which this country was founded. And speech, no matter how abhorrent or disgraceful, is no grounds for physical attack.

If the countries who have asked us to set up embassies in their countries disagree that speech is a right to be protected, perhaps we shouldn’t be so eager to put our citizens at risk in those countries. The United Nations meets in New York; we have a commitment to protect the citizens of every other country that is invited here. Maybe we should keep our citizens out of those countries whose governments refuse to, or are unable to, protect them. To those countries whose protestors are engaged in inciting violence against Americans Mr. Obama can say “Thanks, but I think we’ll be going home now. Come see us in Turtle Bay whenever you’re in New York, and we’ll talk. But I don’t think that I’ll risk the lives of our citizens until you get your country in order.”

Mr. Obama says that he wants countries around the world to know that he is listening. Well, Mr. Obama, those countries around the world are speaking volumes, and they are saying that Americans are not welcome there. He says that he wants to be respectful of other countries. But how respectful is it when the only way you can keep your citizens safe in those countries is through force of arms? It is much more respectful to recognize when you’re not wanted, say goodnight, and head home.

Then he can focus Americans’ attention on developing all those green energy processes that he’s so interested in.

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Filed under Critical Thinking, Elections, Politics

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