December 26, 2005

The Week at SpeakSpeak

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 24, 2005 @ 4:56 pm
Filed under: SpeakSpeak, Right Watch, Free Speech, Cable/Satellite, Government, Media Watch, TV, Video Games, Religion, AdWatch

• In Sacramento, California last week, about 50 protesters demanded that Wal-Mart commercialize Christmas. LINK

• Corrupt GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff has been casting a shadow on Congressmen Tom Delay (R-TX) and Bob Ney (R-OH) for months. But now he’s also casting a shadow over conservative writers Doug Bandow and Peter Ferrara. It was recently revealed that Abramoff paid them to write op-eds. LINK

• Conservative columnist George Will claims there is a lot of oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But he wants oil companies to drill there even if there is only “three thimbles of oil,” to strike a blow against “collectivism.” However, blogger Amanda Marcotte responds that collectivism is a good thing. She refers to the US Constitution’s purpose of promoting the “general welfare.” LINK

• US citizens are under surveillance by our government. The Washington Post describes FBI “national security letters” a new military department spying on Americans called the “Counterintelligence Field Activity,” and more. LINK

• Conservative commentator Robert Novak is leaving CNN for Fox News. Novak notes that over the years at CNN he “said some fairly outrageous things.” LINK

• Fox News legal analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano said on the channel that “the president has violated the law” by ordering warrant-less wiretaps. LINK

• Bill O’Reilly is a “bully” like “Joe McCarthy,” writes New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. LINK

• New York police are disguising themselves as protesters to spy on Iraq War protesters and other activists. LINK

• Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) tried to ban the sale of certain video games to minors. A federal judge has put the ban on hold. LINK

• Conservative columnist Ann Coulter has written another racist statement against Arabs. LINK

• Actor Wil Wheaton thinks that right-wing talk radio has made his parents more right-wing. LINK

• Time Warner will offer a group of cable channels called the family tier which are all supposed to be G-rated. However, one of the channels doesn’t meet that criteria: CNN Headline News includes a show about violent crime hosted by Nancy Grace. LINK


New York Police Are Disguising Themselves As Protesters to Spy On Citizens

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 22, 2005 @ 12:36 am
Filed under: Free Speech, Government

From a New York Times article by Jim Dwyer:

Undercover New York City police officers have conducted covert surveillance in the last 16 months of people protesting the Iraq war, bicycle riders taking part in mass rallies and even mourners at a street vigil for a cyclist killed in an accident, a series of videotapes show.

In glimpses and in glaring detail, the videotape images reveal the robust presence of disguised officers or others working with them at seven public gatherings since August 2004.

The officers hoist protest signs. They hold flowers with mourners. They ride in bicycle events. At the vigil for the cyclist, an officer in biking gear wore a button that said, “I am a shameless agitator.” She also carried a camera and videotaped the roughly 15 people present.

They are also acting as agent provocateurs:

Beyond collecting information, some of the undercover officers or their associates are seen on the tape having influence on events. At a demonstration last year during the Republican National Convention, the sham arrest of a man secretly working with the police led to a bruising confrontation between officers in riot gear and bystanders.

No oversight, anymore:

In New York, the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg persuaded a federal judge in 2003 to enlarge the Police Department’s authority to conduct investigations of political, social and religious groups. “We live in a more dangerous, constantly changing world,” Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said.

Before then, very few political organizations or activities were secretly investigated by the Police Department, the result of a 1971 class-action lawsuit that charged the city with abuses in surveillance during the 1960’s. Now the standard for opening inquiries into political activity has been relaxed, full authority to begin surveillance has been restored to the police and federal courts no longer require a special panel to oversee the tactics.

The fact that we live in a “dangerous, constantly changing world” doesn’t mean that police in disguise at protest marches make the world less dangerous or more slowly changing.

Decent citizens engaged in First Amendment activities, are made to feel like criminals:

To date, officials say no one has complained of personal damage from the information collected over recent months, but participants in the protests, rallies and other gatherings say the police have been a disruptive presence.

Ryan Kuonen, 32, who took part in a “ride of silence” in memory of a dead cyclist, said that two undercover officers - one with a camera - subverted the event. “They were just in your face,” she said. “It made what was a really solemn event into something that seemed wrong. It made you feel like you were a criminal. It was grotesque.”

There are problems with police disguising themselves as protesters. One is that there is no accountability for police brutality by police who aren’t wearing badges. Another is that the message of the undercover police isn’t the message of the organizers.

It should be illegal for a police officer to attend a protest, unless dressed in a police uniform with a badge number plainly visible.

There is a video at the “Current TV” website titled “Made in the USA” which includes a police officer disguised as a protester. Please vote for it to be shown on TV (even if you don’t get the “Current TV” channel.)


The Week at SpeakSpeak

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 16, 2005 @ 8:07 pm
Filed under: SpeakSpeak, Right Watch, Free Speech, Cable/Satellite, Government, Media Watch, TV, Flag Burning, Religion, Radio

• Bill O’Reilly admits that “Happy Holidays” isn’t offensive after all. LINK

• Hillary Clinton proposes legislation that could be used to jail a protester who burns an American flag for a year. Senators should be thinking up ways to INCREASE our freedom, but no. LINK

• Departing FCC Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy says indecency fines are “probably the hardest area for me as a commissioner. This is one where I could argue both sides very easily. I am a firm believer in the First Amendment and the right of free speech. And at the same time, I appreciate the need to protect children.” How about writing clear rules, if one could easily argue something is indecent or that it’s not indecent under the current rules? LINK

• Meanwhile, what is “indecent” in the general sense of the term? How about Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) wasting “$223 million of pork earmarked for the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ to be used by about 50 Alaskans”? LINK

Bill O’Reilly’s reporting about bans on red-and-green clothing (Christmas colors) is false. No surprise. Will O’Reilly have to resign like Dan Rather did (for a flawed story which was more ambiguous and better researched?) LINK

• New Hampshire’s liberal radio host Arnie Arnesen: She may get fired because she’s criticized SUVs. Car dealerships are threatening to pull advertising from her radio station. LINK

Ted Koppel says ABC News has fewer foreign correspondents today than it did 30 years ago. LINK

• “A la carte” cable would mean people get exposed to less diversity in programming, says AdAge columnist Simon Dumenco. LINK

• Gay groups and the American Family Association took opposite positions on whether Ford should advertise cars in gay magazines. Ford originally said it would pull its advertising from magazines with mostly gay content. Eventually, the gay groups won. LINK

• The US military is spying on civilians who oppose the Iraq War. This includes Quakers. LINK

• Conservative groups disagree on whether Congress should mandate “a la carte” programming. The Parents Television Council and Concerned Women for America argue that a la carte is the best solution to the “indecency” problem. Meanwhile, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and TBN’s Paul Crouch, Jr., fear (logically) that a la carte programming would vastly decrease viewership of religious channels. LINK

• A trend in entertainment is increased consumer options in how to view content. Therefore, I argue that Congress should be hands-off for the next few years regarding indecency and mandated a la carte. Let things develop. LINK

• Bush told the NSA to spy on US citizens. LINK

• $300 million of our tax dollars are being spent on propaganda — for example, covertly planting stories in the press of other nations. That includes allies’. Planting propaganda is legal abroad, but not in the US. LINK

• Clear Channel owns billboards, as well as radio stations and concert halls. The company refused to post a billboard which would say, “‘Wal*Mart: Killing Local Businesses…One Main Street at a Time.” They had no problem hosting a billboard that states “George W. Bush, Our Leader.” LINK

• NPR is soooo liberal. If you believe the hype. If you look at statistics, however, NPR favors conservatives. LINK

Howard Stern aired his last show on broadcast radio. He was driven out by the pressure of FCC indecency fines. Sad day for free speech. Howard Stern will start a show on Sirius Satellite Radio on January 9, 2006. LINK

• Time Warner describes its “family tier,” which may debut next spring. LINK

Clear Channel Refuses Billboard Critical of Wal-Mart

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 16, 2005 @ 7:29 am
Filed under: Free Speech, Media Concentration, AdWatch

The organization Campaign for America’s Future wants to rent a billboard that says, “‘Wal*Mart: Killing Local Businesses…One Main Street at a Time.”

Robert Greenwald writes:

After allowing Campaign For America’s Future to reserve a billboard less than a mile from Wal-Mart’s World HQ, Clear Channel has refused to accept the ad, censoring the message about Wal-Mart which received 13,000 votes! You can help by demanding Clear Channel not suppress speech to placate Wal-Mart.

Greenwald quotes this letter by Robert L. Borosage of Campaign For America’s Future:

Bob Sadler, Clear Channel’s Fort Smith, Ark., division president, unilaterally made the decision. To try to rationalize his censorship, he forwarded a copy of Clear Channel’s official content review policy which stated:

“I wish I could offer objective guidelines for reviewing copy, but I can’t. Frankly, I think these kinds of issues need to be viewed the way Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart approached a very controversial pornography case many years ago: “You know it when you see it.”

This is outrageous. Our ad isn’t pornography. It is a clear statement of the truth about Wal-Mart. Mr. Sadler is suppressing free speech out of fear of offending Wal-Mart.

Clear Channel owns more billboards than any other company in America and over 1,200 radio stations nationwide. It is simply outrageous that they would use this power to suppress speech — even a message that we are prepared to pay for. We have to let Clear Channel know that their censorship is unacceptable. Please send an email to Bob Sadler, the man who rejected your billboard, and demand that he not suppress speech to placate Wal-Mart.

The problem is that billboard ownership is so concentrated. Ideally, a billboard company could refuse an ad and the sponsor could just ask dozens of other billboard companies serving that area.

We’d have more free speech if the big billboard companies were broken up such that there were a variety of owners along each highway.

Regarding the billboard calling Bush “Our Leader,” which Clear Channel ran, there is more information at Move Left.

1 Comment

Flag Flap Flummoxes Washingtonians

Posted by Amanda Toering
December 15, 2005 @ 2:35 pm
Filed under: Free Speech?, Confederate flag

From Washington state’s Olympian:

A white Black Hills High School student flew a Confederate flag from his truck as he drove onto the campus Wednesday, prompting a verbal dispute with at least three black students, school officials said.

The black students ultimately removed the flag from the boy’s truck, school officials said.

There was no physical fight, but the incident sparked concerns from parents of some of the black students who see the event as evidence of ongoing racial tensions at the school.

Students aren’t allowed to display or wear clothing depicting the Confederate flag at school because it’s highly disruptive, Black Hills Principal Jim Hainer said.

School officials are in the midst of investigating what transpired and did not take immediate disciplinary action against any of the students, Hainer said.

School officials plan to meet with the involved students and their parents, after a two-week winter break, to discuss the matter and determine what steps to take next, he said.

“It’s not an issue we take lightly,” said Hainer, describing the students involved as “good kids who are on opposite ends of a problem.”

Black Hills officials did not release the names of any students involved. But The Olympian was able to confirm the names of students involved through interviews with students and parents.

According to school officials and students:
Wade Martin, who is white, arrived at school Wednesday morning with a Confederate flag flying atop a pole sticking out of a hole in the bed of his pickup. Seniors Kevin Johnson, 18, and Dominic Lewis, 17, and junior Aba Adjepong, 16 — who all are black — approached Martin and asked him to take down the flag because they thought it was disrespectful.

A fourth black student also might have approached Martin’s vehicle, but school officials were uncertain about the total number Wednesday afternoon.

Eventually, one or two of the students removed the flag.


Utah Senator Wants to Outlaw Gay Support Groups

Posted by Amanda Toering
December 15, 2005 @ 2:31 pm
Filed under: Right Watch, Schools, Free Speech?

From the Deseret Morning News:

Two months after a gay-straight alliance club started meeting at Provo High, a state senator said he plans to run a bill in the 2006 Legislature that would prohibit such clubs in Utah’s public high schools.

Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, already taking on the public school establishment with legislation to require schools to teach a religion-based alternative to the theory of evolution, is now aiming at high school gay-straight alliances as well. His effort is backed by the conservative Utah Eagle Forum.

“I’m concerned about gay clubs,” Buttars said Wednesday, a day after opening a bill file regarding extra-curricular clubs. Buttars said his goal is to ban gay student associations from meeting on public school property.

“In my mind, if you are in the chess club, what do you talk about? Chess,” Buttars said. “If you are in the dance club, what do you talk about? Dance. If you are in a gay club, what do you talk about? I just don’t believe members of sexual orientation clubs should be sanctioned by the public schools — what they are talking about even a part of the public schools. They should not be allowed to have that on school property at all. It’s just wrong.” […]

“Oh, that silly Sen. Buttars,” said Dani Eyer, executive director of the Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. “What would we do without him? He just doesn’t have a nuanced concept of constitutionally mandated fairness and freedoms.” […]

In 1995, a group of East High students asked to form a gay-straight alliance, resulting in a firestorm of debate over homosexuality. The Salt Lake City Board of Education responded by eliminating all non-curriculum clubs, a move that took out groups including Young Republicans and Students Against Drunk Driving.

Students protested. The Legislature held a special session to discuss club restrictions. National headlines and lawsuits ensued. The district won one federal lawsuit challenging club policy. But in a second, a judge ruled it must allow People Respecting Important Social Movements (PRISM), which students wanted to create to discuss issues affecting the gay community, until the lawsuit was resolved.

The school board in 2000 allowed all clubs to meet either as curriculum-related “school clubs” or extracurricular “student clubs,” essentially ending the fight.

The article continues, at length.


Washington High School Students Sue Over First Amendment Rights

Posted by Amanda Toering
December 15, 2005 @ 1:24 pm
Filed under: Schools, Free Speech?, Free Press

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

The co-editors of the student newspaper at Everett High School sued the school district Wednesday, claiming officials are violating their free-speech rights by demanding to review editions of the paper before distribution.

The editors, Sara Michelle Eccleston and Claire Marie Lueneburg, argued in their lawsuit that since 1989 the paper, the Kodak, has served as a public forum for students, with no content oversight by school administrators, and that as such, the district’s ability to demand editorial control is severely limited.

But district spokeswoman Gay Campbell said there has been consistent school oversight of the newspaper, and that the district has an explicit policy allowing prepublication review.

“We’ve complied with the law in every way,” she said. “We’re sorry the students have decided to take this course of action.”

Mitch Cogdill, the students’ lawyer, said the root of the controversy is that the Kodak reported on the hiring of the high school’s new principal, Catherine Matthews, who took over this fall. Matthews was the third choice of the students on the hiring committee, and the Kodak ran articles suggesting their voice was ignored.

In October, Matthews told the Kodak staff that the paper couldn’t be published unless she approved it in advance. She also objected to the masthead, which identified the Kodak as a “student forum,” the lawsuit said.

Eccleston, 17, and Lueneburg, 18, refused to submit to prepublication review. They appealed to the superintendent and the school board, to no avail.

“No principal had asked to review it before, even though it is provided for in the policy,” Lueneburg said Wednesday. “All of our options were kind of used up.”

The Student Press Law Center provides this explanation of school administrators’ right to censorship (or lack thereof):

Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, the 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision, gave public high school officials greater authority to censor some school-sponsored student publications if they chose to do so. But the ruling doesn’t apply to publications that have been opened as “public forums for student expression.” It also requires school officials to demonstrate some reasonable educational justification before they can censor anything. In addition, some states (currently Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas and Massachusetts) have passed laws that give students much stronger free expression protection than Hazelwood. Other states are considering such laws.


FCC Commissioner: Fight Indecency with More Legislation!

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 15, 2005 @ 10:11 am
Filed under: FCC, Free Speech, Cable/Satellite, Opinion, TV

A big trend in entertainment for the past few years has been increased options and control for consumers.

« Recent developments »

Families with children who subscribe to Comcast Digital Cable, for example, can use “parental locks” to block out specific programs. They can also block all programs with a certain rating.

For people who choose not to subscribe to cable or satellite at all, there are more options:

* Entire seasons of certain TV shows are available in DVD sets, not long after they aired.

* People can rent DVDs both in person and over the internet (via NetFlix and other services).

* Some TV shows can be legally downloaded over the internet.

« The near future »

Some cable providers will voluntarily offer a family tier as early as March 2006 (the details are unclear, but depending on how it’s implemented it may be valuable to some families).

Other cable providers, such as Cablevision and AT&T, may voluntarily offer a la carte programming.

« What this means »

All this suggests that now is a good time for Congress to be hands-off regarding TV content.

But an FCC commissioner doesn’t see things that way:

FCC member Michael Copps is urging Congress to move forward with measures that would curtail sexually explicit and violent material on cable TV. Appearing before a Senate Commerce Committee hearing that is considering his reappointment to the commission, Copps, a Democrat, appeared decidedly unimpressed with Monday’s proposal by several cable companies, including the two largest, Time Warner and Comcast, that they provide a “family tier” of cable channels. “We’ve got to define what a family tier is. We’ve got to figure out how much it’s going to cost,” Copps told the Senate panel. “I don’t think we’re anywhere near the point where we can say we don’t need legislation. … Let’s keep pushing. … We got a long way to go.”

If Copps means that Congress needs to pass legislation defining a “family tier,” he is wrong. The cable companies offering a family tier will define it by what channels they offer and how. Congress should focus on other things in the near future as the cable TV industry develops.

« Action »

Please tell your Senators and Congressperson to vote against any indecency bill that should come up for a vote. Free speech is more important than regulation.

There is Congressional contact information at


Military Spying on Civilians in US

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 14, 2005 @ 10:03 pm
Filed under: Government, Free Speech?

The US military is spying on opponents of the Iraq War. This includes a Quaker group in Lake Worth, Florida, dubiously labelled a “threat.”

People should be able to exercise their First Amendment rights without fear of ending up in a government or military database.

A video of a report by Lisa Meyers from Countdown with Keith Olbermann is at the blog Crooks and Liars.

A transcript is available at the MSNBC website.

Previous SpeakSpeak article: “US Military Spying in America.”


Hillary Clinton Blames the Victim

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 12, 2005 @ 9:16 am
Filed under: Free Speech, Government, Flag Burning

Suppose a protester burns an American flag and is punched by an upset onlooker.

Hillary Clinton wants the the person who was punched to be punished “by up to a year in jail and a $100,000 fine.”

Hillary Clinton’s values are upside-down. This is a despicable inversion of the norms of civilized behavior.

Civilization is based on tolerance, but Hillary Clinton would glorify intolerance with this disgusting statute.

From the St. Petersburg (FL) Times:

The measure she has co-sponsored along with Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, is the Flag Protection Act of 2005. One provision would make it a crime punishable by up to a year in jail and a $100,000 fine, to burn an American flag of “any size” if a person knows that it is “likely to produce imminent violence or a breach of the peace.”

The crime is not the act of burning the flag (since old and tattered flags are burned regularly by veteran groups) but to burn a flag in criticism of the American government when someone is nearby who cannot control his impulses. This gives remarkable power to those in our society who resort to violence in response to disturbing speech and messages.

The Democratic Party doesn’t need another candidate who lacks the backbone to take a clear, principled stand, and it certainly doesn’t need a candidate who doesn’t believe in the First Amendment.

Marches led by Martin Luther King, Jr., were often met with violence. Under Hillary Clinton’s logic, that means his marches should have been illegal.


“Now Is One of Your Last Chances to Hear Him Bleeped”

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 11, 2005 @ 7:06 pm
Filed under: Action, FCC, Free Speech, Cable/Satellite, Government, TV, Indecency, Radio, Howard

This title is the slogan that cable channel Comedy Central is using to advertise Howard Stern’s interview with Jon Stewart on Tuesday’s “The Daily Show.”

Comedian Howard Stern is moving from broadcast radio, in which indecency is illegal, to satellite radio, where it’s legal to say almost anything.

Indecency is vaguely defined as “language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community broadcast standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities.”

Please let your Congressperson and Senators know that you DON’T want indecency regulations applied to satellite radio (or satellite television or cable television). In other words, please ask Congress to maintain free speech on those systems.

You can find contact information for Congress at


UK Peace Activist Convicted

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 8, 2005 @ 9:46 pm
Filed under: Free Speech?, Courts, Howard

A woman was arrested and convicted for reading — in a public square in London — the names of British soldiers killed in Iraq.

From the BBC website:

Maya Anne Evans, 25, a vegan cook from Hastings, (UK) was found guilty of breaching Section 132 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act.

The UK has made it illegal to have an unauthorized protest of any size within a kilometer of the Parliament building.

From the UK Mirror:

[She] was found guilty of breaching a one kilometre exclusion zone for unauthorised protests around Westminster.

She had been arrested in October as she read out names of 97 British soldiers who died in Iraq.

She said: “I just think it’s a shame you can’t voice your freedom of speech any more.”

Who really committed a “serious organised crime?” Maya Anne Evans or Prime Minister Tony Blair? The latter misled the UK into a war with hype about WMDs.

Read more: “War is a racket.


British Student Suspended for Wearing Cross Necklace

Posted by Amanda Toering
December 8, 2005 @ 11:45 am
Filed under: Free Speech?

A 16-year-old British girl was suspended from her school for wearing a cross on a chain around her neck.

From the Post Chronicle:

A student of the Sinfin Community School in Derby, she was told by the school’s deputy headmaster, Howard Jones, to remove the crucifix around her neck. After her refusal, trouble began.

Jones allegedly talked to the girl for nearly 30 minutes, trying to persuade her to take off the crucifix. However, the pupil, firm in her resolve, did not waver and continued to wear it. It was then that Jones decided to give the girl a one-day suspension as a “last resort,” saying that Sam violated the school’s jewelry policy.

Students of other faiths, particularly the Sikh faith, have not been forbidden from wearing jewelry that expresses their religious affiliations.

Proselytizing in the hallways is one thing, and is something a school district has a legitimate interest in prohibiting.

A subtle, personal expression of faith involving an inanimate, however, has no business being regulated by school officials.


Rep. Walt “Freedom Fries” Jones Hands Out Free Speech Award

Posted by Amanda Toering
December 6, 2005 @ 12:29 pm
Filed under: Free Speech?

US Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC) has given a “free speech” award to a Duke University Republican group.

From the Duke Chronicle:

Rep. Walter Jones made his annual trip to Duke to honor Jordan Selleck, president of College Republicans at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for his efforts fighting liberal bias on campus.

Jones, R-N.C., spoke Monday night at the College Republicans meeting in Von Canon B, where he presented the Walter B. Jones Campus Defender Award. The award, created in 2004, is named after Jones to honor his support for the freedom of speech of conservative groups, said John Plecnik, a third-year Duke law student who developed the award with Jones.

“Congressman Jones is without a doubt the leader of freedom of speech on campuses, both in North Carolina and the nation,” Plecnik said. “He so embodied the principles of free speech that we wanted to create a permanent link between him and Duke College Republicans.”

Jones said liberal bias in classrooms has been a serious problem.

“For a number of years, at both the state and national level, I’ve been hearing complaints from students about how certain professors have not been tolerant of their views,” Jones said.

He was at the forefront of an investigation into academic freedom at UNC in 2003. There, during a lecture, an English professor asked students to discuss why heterosexual males felt uncomfortable around homosexuals. A student replied that he believed homosexuality was immoral based on the Bible. After the class ended, the professor sent out an e-mail to the class roster publicly rebuking the student for his comments.

“When I heard this had happened, I was outraged,” Jones said. “The classroom should be a place where people can share their opinions.”

Walt Jones is perhaps best known for spearheading the idiotic “freedom fries” campaign.

His doling out “free speech” awards makes about as much sense as would the Janet Reno Fashion Award.

1 Comment

Texas Cheerleader Kicked Off Squad for Vulgar Blog Post

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 5, 2005 @ 3:01 pm
Filed under: Free Speech, Government

From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

Many schools investigate student blogs only after someone complains, area school officials said.

That’s what happened in the Birdville High School cheerleader’s case.

The student asked that her name not be used…

The problem started Nov. 12 when several friends were at the cheerleader’s house. One of the students went onto the cheerleader’s blog and wrote a disparaging comment about the cheerleader as a joke, the girl said.

She said she found the comment the next day and wrote back, “Thanks, I love y’all.”

Her response was intended as sarcasm, she said.

Someone anonymously printed out the cheerleader’s blog and placed the papers in a school office mailbox, Birdville officials said. A cheerleading coach viewed the student’s response as an endorsement of vulgar language, school officials said, and removed her from the cheerleading squad Nov. 16.

School officials said the language violates a clause in the conduct code for cheerleaders. A portion of the agreement for cheerleaders says they are expected to “exhibit high moral standards.”

…The cheerleader’s mother, Kristin Larson of North Richland Hills, is trying to get her daughter back on the squad. “My thinking is that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime,” said Larson.

The article doesn’t describe the vulgar post that caused the controversy — which is problematic, since that post is central to the story.

Anyway, there are at least three problems with the school’s decision to punish the cheerleader:

The First Amendment issue of a public school punishing a girl for a blog she maintains privately. The vagueness of using “moral standards” as the reason for punishing the girl (the US Supreme Court has stuck down laws for being “unconstitutionally vague”). And the sexism issue: Would a football player be suspended for similar vulgar language?


Test Your First Amendment Expertise

Posted by Amanda Toering
December 1, 2005 @ 12:12 pm
Filed under: Free Speech

Think you’re a free speech hotshot?

Take the First Amendment Quiz at the Student Press Law Center’s site and find out for sure.

(I’m embarrassed to say that I got two wrong.)

1 Comment

Writers’ Thoughts on Pending British Hate Speech Law

Posted by Chris Zammarelli
November 22, 2005 @ 5:30 am
Filed under: Free Speech, Government, Ban It!, Religion

The Guardian published excerpts on Saturday from Freedom Is No Offence, a book by English PEN. (You can find out more about English PEN on their About page.)

The excerpted pieces, by Salman Rushdie, Philip Hensher, Monica Ali, and Philip Pullman, discuss possible legislation in Great Britain to outlaw hate speech by religious groups.


ACLU Sues Over Ejection of Audience Members at Bush Speech

Posted by Eric Jaffa
November 21, 2005 @ 6:31 pm
Filed under: Government, Free Speech?

Would you want to hear George W. Bush speak about Social Security?

I wouldn’t, but people who want to should be able to.

Even if they arrive in a car with a bumper sticker that reads, “No more blood for oil.”

ACLU attorney Chris Hansen said the suit is being filed because “the government should not be in the business of silencing Americans who are perceived to be critical of certain policy decisions.”

President Bush came to Denver March 21 to speak about Social Security at the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum. Alex Young, 26, Leslie Weise, 39, and Karen Bauer, 38, say they were ejected from the event even though they had done nothing disruptive. Young and Weise are suing.

All three had tickets to the public event, which was sponsored by the White House and paid for by taxpayers.

The man who forced them to leave was wearing a radio earpiece and a lapel pin that functioned as a security badge. The three say he was identified to them as working for the Secret Service.

He was investigated for possible charges of impersonating a Secret Service agent, but the U.S. attorney in Denver declined to prosecute, saying the man never identified himself as a federal officer.


The suit is being filed not against the White House, which could claim governmental immunity, but against the individuals involved. They include (Michael Casper, a building manager in the General Services Administration in Denver), Jay Bob Klinkerman — the head of the Colorado Federation of Young Republicans who has admitted to stopping Weise and Bauer at the gate — and five unknown persons involved in the decision to eject the trio. The ACLU hopes to identify them later.

If you’d like to support the ACLU, visit their website.


Reasons Bloggers Should Support the Electronic Frontier Foundation

Posted by Eric Jaffa
November 21, 2005 @ 6:52 am
Filed under: Free Speech, Government, Courts

EFF argues for civil liberties in court, and “EFF Needs Your Support in the Fight for Bloggers’ Rights!


AP Reports on Violence Portrayed on TV

Posted by Eric Jaffa
November 20, 2005 @ 1:13 pm
Filed under: Right Watch, PTC, FCC, Free Speech?, TV

David Bauder of the Associated Press writes:

The body count in prime-time television these days rivals that of a war zone. The popularity of CBS’ “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” its spinoffs, imitators and other crime or supernatural shows has made network TV home to an astonishing amount of blood ‘n’ guts, which has attracted little notice due to a preoccupation with sex.

During the last week of September, there were 63 dead bodies visible during prime time on the six broadcast networks. That’s up sharply from the 27 bodies counted during the same week in 2004.

This year, channel surfers in that one week could spot:

— The lead character in Fox’s “Bones” discovering a badly decomposed body hanging in a tree, crows picking on the remains. The maggot-covered head falls off and lands in Bones’ hands.

— A man preparing dinner on the WB’s “Supernatural” when his sink suddenly fills with water. He reaches in and something grabs him, pulls his head in the water and drowns him.

The Parents Television Council, headed by Brent Bozell, supplied those statistics:

The prime-time body count was compiled, after a request from The Associated Press, by the Parents Television Council, a watchdog group that keeps tapes of network programming.

Yet the PTC, which frequently files complaints with the Federal Communications Commission about network fare, admits that its focus has primarily been on sex, not gore. One reason is that there’s no government agency concerned with these issues, said Melissa Caldwell, the PTC’s research director.

The council prefers to steer advertisers away from programming it disapproves of, but hasn’t started any campaign against a broadcaster for violent content this season. The closest it came was a protest this month about an episode of CBS’ “NCIS” where a stripper had her throat cut, primarily because it was shown before 9 p.m.

Americans “seem to have more of a taste for violence, unfortunately, so it’s a little bit more difficult to get people worked up over it,” Caldwell said.

My advice to Melissa Caldwell: Try to get people worked up over free speech, over protecting their right to decide what to watch and what not to watch, without government interference.


News from Rhode Island: Complaints and More Complaints, Appeals and More Appeals

Posted by Amanda Toering
November 17, 2005 @ 11:29 am
Filed under: Schools, Free Speech?

A Rhode Island school district is in the middle of a messy battle over a nationally released Hollywood film that was written by a couple of locals.

In 2001, Barrington, RI, local Jon Land and high school senior Jon Thies co-wrote the screenplay for Dirty Deeds, a film that IMDB describes as “an American Pie-like teen comedy.” The film was released earlier this year. Land, who volunteers at a local middle school, showed parts of Dirty Deeds to eighth graders participating in a screenwriting class. All the students’ parents had signed permission slips for the screening.

After the screening, two locals (whose kids apparently weren’t in the class) filed complaints with the school board over the viewing of the film. The school board took a rather ominous action. Says East Bay RI, “A school department review panel decided to ban the film from all Barrington schools forever.”

A former member of the school board has appealed that eternal ban.

Roni Phipps, who served on the school committee from 1988 to 1996, filed her appeal on Thursday, Nov. 10. It stated: “I respectfully appeal the decision recommended by the school department review panel and passed on by the superintendent to the school committee to ban the movie ‘Dirty Deeds’ from being shown in the Barrington public schools. Parents have the right to opt out of an activity for their children, but the schools should not ban/censor those activities which are appropriate and valuable learning experiences.”

One of the original complainants, however, has filed an “appeal” to the decision on his own complaint. Richard Gamache, via the appeal process, has demanded that the school board state whether volunteer Jon Land should also be banned from schools forever.

There’s much more, including a timeline of events, in the Bristol Phoenix.


British Pols Fail to Quash Bad-Mouthing Books

Posted by Amanda Toering
November 17, 2005 @ 11:05 am
Filed under: CensorWorld, Free Speech

In the wake of former US Ambassador Sir Christopher Meyer’s scathing DC Confidential, some British politicians have attempted to block the publication of books critical of the UK’s government.

The attempt didn’t fly — disappointed bureaucrats have found no legal way to block the release of such books.

From The Times of London:

“There have been many books by diplomats in the past, submitted in the usual way, cleared and so on, and I am sure that will continue,” said Sir Michael Jay, the Permanent Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

“But it is not so much the question of book or no book. It is a question of the kind of book that can damage the relationship between ministers and officials and therefore the conduct of business.”

DC Confidential, Sir Christopher’s account of his time as Britain’s envoy to Washington, upset the Government with embarrassing details about the Prime Minister and the shortcomings of several of his ministers, whom Sir Christopher dismissed as political “pygmies”.

After publication of the book Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, criticised Sir Christopher and said that he should consider his position as head of Press Complaints Commission.

A legal loophole seems to have allowed Sir Christopher to publish and others may follow. A book called The Cost of War, which is about the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, by Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the former British envoy to the United Nations and Tony Blair’s representative to Baghdad, is currently with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Sir Michael suggested that it could eventually be cleared for publication if some changes were agreed.

Sir Michael wrote to all Britain’s ambassadors and high commissioners abroad last week, emphasising the importance of “trust and confidence” between ministers and diplomats. “If we don’t do that, then everybody loses,” he said. “We lose as diplomats because ministers do not consult us and involve us. Ministers lose because they do not get the advice that they need and, I believe, we should give them.

“And the conduct of foreign policy loses because you do not have that relationship between ministers, diplomats and ambassadors that I believe is crucially important for our interests.”

Rather than dwelling on the shortcomings of British diplomacy, Sir Michael said that we should be encouraged by the successes of Britain’s dual presidency of the G8 group of wealthy nations and the European Union.

In other words: Accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative. Latch on to the affirmative. Don’t mess with Mr. In-Between.

1 Comment

Teacher Forced to Resign Over R-Rated Film

Posted by Chris Zammarelli
November 17, 2005 @ 9:46 am
Filed under: CensorWorld, Free Speech, Schools

The Gwinnett County (GA) Public Schools forced Ed Youngblood, a teacher for 37 years at South Gwinnett High School, to resign after he showed the movie Elizabeth without permission. (Elizabeth starred Cate Blanchett as Queen Liz the First; her performance won her an Oscar nomination.)

According to the November 16 edition of Studio Briefing, the R-rated movie was shown in an advanced British literature class for seniors. Youngblood said he was given just five minutes to decide whether to resign or face being fired by the school board.

Youngblood’s students and parents in the community are organizing support for the instructor, who was teaching part-time at the school this year. Senior Kyle Tait told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (sub req’d), “Our motto at South Gwinnett High School is ‘First comes learning.’ If ‘First comes learning’ is true, why do you get rid of the guy who holds that motto the best?”

School board spokesperson Sloan Roach said (sub req’d) the school had received complaints about the film being shown in class. She told the Gwinnett Daily Post, “Mr. Youngblood did not ask for a local review of the film prior to showing it, nor did he allow parents the option of opting their students out of the viewing.”

Previously, the school board forced out two special-ed teachers for showing History of the World, Part 1 in class.

Youngblood noted that this was the second time he’s shown his students Elizabeth, which was nominated for seven Oscars. He said, “I didn’t think about it being R-rated. It’s such a good movie.”


Dick Cheney Thinks SpeakSpeak Is “Dishonest” and “Reprehensible”

Posted by Amanda Toering
November 16, 2005 @ 10:58 pm
Filed under: Free Speech?

Do you have problems with the Iraq War like SpeakSpeak does? If so, the Vice-President (whose top aide has been indicted) has a few things to say to you.

From Reuters:

In the sharpest White House attack yet on critics of the Iraq war, Vice President Dick Cheney said on Wednesday that accusations the Bush administration manipulated intelligence to justify the war were a “dishonest and reprehensible” political ploy.

Cheney called Democrats “opportunists” who were peddling “cynical and pernicious falsehoods” to gain political advantage while U.S. soldiers died in Iraq.

Democrats cried foul but President George W. Bush, at a news conference in Kyongju,
South Korea, defended Cheney. He said it was “patriotic as heck” to disagree with him but that Democrats were irresponsible for accusing him of misleading Americans about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

“What bothers me is when people are irresponsibly using their positions and playing politics. That’s exactly what is taking place in America,” he said.

Beautiful rhetoric.

Speak up, speak out — use the First Amendment — and you’re “reprehensible.”



Howard Stern and Oprah Winfrey

Posted by Eric Jaffa
November 15, 2005 @ 6:44 pm
Filed under: FCC, CensorWorld, Free Speech, Government, Indecency, Howard

From a live chat with Washington Post reporter Frank Ahrens:

Wheaton, MD: Why would the FCC attack Howard Stern but not Oprah, for having the exact same content?

Frank Ahrens: It’s about context AND content.

If Oprah says, “today, parents, we’re going to talk about what your kids are doing sexually so you will know what’s going on,” the FCC says that’s different from Howard Stern saying, “today, we’re going to talk about what kids are doing sexually so lots of people will listen to my show.”

For instance, if a local morning deejay drops the f-bomb on his show in a joke, that’s likely going to get an indecency fine. If an NPR station plays an FBI wiretap of a mobster cursing, that probably will not get an FCC fine.

The answer was challenged later in the chat, sarcastically:

Columbia, MD: This is why my generation doesn’t take the FCC seriously:

The holy Oprah talks about tossed salads on her talk show. She’s only doing it to inform, to educate. What a saint. Thank you, Oprah, for giving an explicit, graphic definition of a rainbow party during the day in front of my children so that I may educate them never to do that.

The evil Howard Stern is only doing it for ratings. Of course everyone knows this, so we don’t allow our children to listen to his show. But let’s fine him for doing what we already know he does.

Oprah is an educator. Howard Stern is a scumbag. You’re all a bunch of hypocrites.

Frank Ahrens: Passionately stated. Thanks.

This questioner may be implying that comedians (George Carlin, Howard Stern) deserve as much freedom of speech as people who aren’t funny.

For anyone who wants a definition of those sexual terms: tossed salad, rainbow party.


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