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Free speech: One poke over the line?

I have a serious question. Where is the line drawn between protected speech and incendiary, threatening, outrageous unprotected speech in this country? This is an issue I have always struggled with, partly because I was raised to speak with consideration for others and to be responsible for what I’ve said. I don’t always succeed, but I am having a serious struggle for what I’m seeing pass as free speech today.

Here are three examples, all from articles I’ve stumbled across in the past three days.

A call for a ‘bloody battle’ with ‘Obama the Nazi’

At the town halls, we saw lots of signs and hysteria trying to turn our president into Hitler incarnate. At the Glenn Beck ‘March on Washington’ earlier this month, there was even more hysteria from people ‘wanting their country back’ which then played into this weekend’s “How to Take Back America Conference” workshop on “how to recognize living under Nazis & Communists.” Think Progress reports that the workshop poked over a line of recognition into a suggestion for action from Kitty Werthmann. Werthmann is a director of the South Dakota Eagle Forum. The SD Eagle Forum is a branch of Phyllis Schafly’s larger organization. According to their most recent 990 filing (PDF opens in new window), the stated purpose of the Eagle Forum is as follows:


What a nice statement. Too bad their stated purpose on their web site doesn’t square with their stated non-profit purpose. But I digress. The real question for me is whether someone paid on the public dime (via the non-profit status of this organization) has a First Amendment right to say this:

If we had our guns, we would have fought a bloody battle. So, keep your guns, and buy more guns, and buy ammunition. […] Take back America. Don’t let them take the country into Socialism. And I refer again, Hitler’s party was National Socialism. […] And that’s what we are having here right now, which is bordering on Marxism.

That sounds to me like sedition. Maybe even treason. Is that protected by the First Amendment?

I am asking a serious question. To me, standing up in public and calling for people to stockpile guns and ammunition against our current government is far beyond protected speech.

Newsmax columnist John Perry suggests a military coup “to resolve the ‘Obama problem’ might be a possibility…

Keep in mind, this comes from a journalist. His column is not presented as an opinion column, though I believe it is.

Imagine a bloodless coup to restore and defend the Constitution through an interim administration that would do the serious business of governing and defending the nation. Skilled, military-trained, nation-builders would replace accountability-challenged, radical-left commissars. Having bonded with his twin teleprompters, the president would be detailed for ceremonial speech-making.

Military intervention is what Obama’s exponentially accelerating agenda for “fundamental change” toward a Marxist state is inviting upon America. A coup is not an ideal option, but Obama’s radical ideal is not acceptable or reversible.

Unthinkable? Then think up an alternative, non-violent solution to the Obama problem. Just don’t shrug and say, “We can always worry about that later.”

I suppose there is something to be said for the fact that he called for it to be bloodless. But again, this strikes me as extraordinary hyperbole to solve the problem Perry sees: A President elected by an overwhelming majority who doesn’t agree with him?

Is Perry’s suggestion protected speech, too? And if it is, is it responsible?

I suppose I should mention that Richard Mellon Scaife has a minority stake in NewsMax Media, Inc. the parent company of NewsMax, and Christopher Ruddy (editor) has received funding for an anti-Clinton smear book from Joseph Farah of World Net Daily. Or perhaps that doesn’t matter, because surely these folks are fine, upstanding patriotic Americans.

A Facebook poll posing this question: Should President Obama be killed?

This came to my attention via my friends over at The Political Carnival, and has gotten a lot of traction in the past couple of days on the major media outlets.

I hate that anyone thought it was a good idea to ask this question as a poll question. I completely agree with GottaLaff’s decision to notify the Secret Service. I trust that they will deal with this person as they see fit. I think all of us have a duty to report threats, no matter how crazy and no matter who they are against, because it is simply not okay to “kill” those with whom one disagrees. Period. It’s not okay.

However, I do agree with Mark “Rizzn” Hopkins and Popehat about this one: It’s ugly, reportable, and shouldn’t have been done, but it still looks like protected speech. The creator of the poll did not call for the President to be killed, but posed a question about whether he should be. Whether or not that’s unthinkable, I don’t believe that it’s cause for huge fines of Facebook, blame to be placed on the creator of the poll, or legislative action. I do believe that we have the duty as citizens to bring issues like this to the attention of the authorities and then step back and let them handle it.

Of the three examples I’ve given here, the Facebook poll is the mildest one, yet it has gotten the most attention. Do we seriously live in a country that protects the right of people to prepare for ‘bloody insurrections’? More fundamentally, what the hell have these folks lost? Do they not have their homes, their jobs, their health insurance? If so, they’ve got 2 more than I do.

The mere fact that they are permitted to say the incredibly irresponsible, incendiary, and violent things they say puts the lie to the claim that anything has been taken away.

I don’t know if all of these cross a line legally or not. To me, they cross a line morally. They tell me my vote doesn’t count. They tell me I am not as worthy a citizen as they. They threaten the votes of the majority in this country, and over what? They haven’t lost a damned thing.

Finally, one last thought for the so-called Christians who promote this trash. The Bible I read calls for me to pray for the leaders of the church and the country. Whether I liked it or not, I offered a prayer for the safety of President Bush every single day because I believe (and still do) that as the elected leader of our country, I was called to do so.

Where are your prayers for our President, Christians? Are you just selective about when you follow what the Bible says? If so, I strongly suggest you revisit your theology, because where I come from, a selective application of biblical principles has a name: hypocrisy.

I’ll be interested to hear thoughts on what others think about whether this is freedom of speech or abuse of free speech. Leave a comment.

Update: NY Times has a must-read editorial comparing the efforts of the right here to the efforts of the right in Israel, shortly before Rabin’s assassination. Also, concern expressed by a senior citizen who has seen where speech like this can lead.

Update #2: Newsmax has scrubbed the Perry column from their site. The cached version can still be found in its entirety here. H/T Crooks & Liars

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