September 30, 2009

The Atheist Blogroll

It seems that I have been added to The Atheist Blogroll. You can see the blogroll in my left sidebar. The Atheist blogroll is a community building service provided free of charge to Atheist bloggers from around the world. I'm proud to be added. If you would like to join, you can visit Mojoey at Deep Thoughts for more information.

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Blasphemy

Today is International Blasphemy Day.


Blasphemy is defined as the contemptuous use of religious symbols or names. The crime, known in British Common Law as blasphemous libel, remains enshrined in the constitutions of a variety of western nations. The origin of the term is linguistic, found in the Greek blasphemia, which translates to mean, “profane speech or evil slander.” This found its first use in common law around the year 1230, in the Ancrene Riwle (the “Rule for Nuns,” or “Rule of Anchoresses”). In this document, blasphemy meant “to utter impious or profane words” and was usually followed by the words “against,” or “upon”.


There is a distinction made between blasphemy and profanity, on the grounds that the former is intentional while the latter simply habitual. Simple cursing would be categorized as profanity, but practicing devil worship or “that old black magic” might qualify as blasphemy. The distinction is not easily determined and never absolute, but many publishers and writers have faced the court over the years for their writings. The seriousness of blasphemy as an offense has declined with worldwide secularization and the blending of cultures.


In earlier years the charge of blasphemy was deadly serious, but the church overdid it. Over the ensuing centuries, and with much misuse, the word eventually came to mean simply “abuse,” losing much of the original power.


Then in 1755, Dr. Samuel Johnson, in his Dictionary of the English Language, defined blasphemy as “… an offering of some indignity, or injury, unto God himself, either by words or writing.” This is the definition that has since been used when prosecuting blasphemers. As Great Britain in the days of Dr. Johnson was a Christian monarchy, the category in English Law of Blasphemous Libel referred to the crime committed if a person insults, offends, or vilifies God, Christ, or the Christian religion. Blasphemous libel in a state where Christianity was considered to be part of the law itself, became construed as sedition.


Since the days of Johnson’s dictionary, blasphemy laws have been invoked irregularly, with interesting peaks and valleys. In 1811 Shelley published the notorious pamphlet, The Necessity of Atheism. While this did not lead to a prosecution, he was kicked out of Oxford. In 1952 much the same happened to Mark Boxer, editor of the Cambridge literary magazine Granta , for publishing a poem beginning “God, God, the silly sod.” However, in 1882 a charge was made and a case brought against a publisher for distributing cartoons ridiculing Christianity.


More recently there have been two controversial cases. The first, in 1977, was the first such private prosecution brought under common law in Great Brittan for fifty years. Self-proclaimed moral crusader, Mary Whitehouse brought the complaint against the editor of UK Gay News for the publication of an allegedly blasphemous poem, by James Kirkup. The poem, titled The Love That Dares to Speak it's Name (Careful. Potentially offensive link), portrayed Jesus as a promiscuous homosexual. Whitehouse won the case. The editor was fined £500 (US $ 800) and sentenced to a year and a half behind bars. Further, the court ruled that the poem could not be printed by any publication in Great Brittan.


The editor’s defense attorney, John Mortimer, in an article appearing in The Spectator (April 21, 1990), related that, “at the trial it was ruled that we could call not evidence on the poem’s literary merit.” So it would seem that, under British common law, blasphemers are treated far more harshly than even pornographers.


Interestingly, in 1989 an attempt to invoke the same law against author Salman Rushdie’s for his controversial novel The Satanic Verses, failed on the grounds that the blasphemy law covers only Christianity.


The Irish constitution also contains a blasphemy clause, but there is only one case taken under this article, Corway -v- Independent Newspapers, (1999), for an editorial cartoon published in the Sunday Independent. The court, in rejecting the claim, ruled that it was impossible to say “of what the offence of blasphemy consists”. The exact constitutional requirement for the blasphemy bar, as stated in Article 40 of the Irish constitution, defines the term as “The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent material is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.” As you can see, there is no definition for any of the terms


Since then, the Irish Justice Minister has proposed a new section for insertion into a proposed Defamation Bill, stating: “A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €100,000.” He further describes "blasphemous matter" as something “that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion; and he or she intends, by the publication of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.” The defamation law passed with no debate on the blasphemy section, and now the organization Atheist Ireland plans some sort of response.


Notice that Mr. Irish Justice Minister included “any religion” in his language. So I wonder, if I were to tell the waiter at the Italian restaurant in Dublin something to the effect of “these meatballs suck,” could that land me in the slammer for defaming the Flying Spaghetti Monster?


So today is Blasphemy Day. Celebrate by cursing the deity of your choice, and be glad you live in the United States of America, where (for now, at least) such an act is protected by the supreme law of the land.


UPDATE: Looks like there is a really good thesis on this topic already posted to the WWW. Good reading.

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September 29, 2009

You make the call

UPDATES at the end...

One must wonder how this writer, who has been on the staff for two previous Democrat administrations, could actually spout such drivel.

So you make the call. Is this freedom of expression, or is it treason?

Keep in mind that Newsmax Media is not really known for being fair and balance, like FOX News.

(H/T)

UPDATE: It appears that Newsmax has ceased allowing the link to John Perry's polemic. The link above is redirected to the Newsmax.com front page. Luckily though, the enterprising Jamie found it in Google's cache and grabbed a screen shot.

UPDATE 2: Rick Moran over at Right Wing Nuthouse does a swimming job of roasting Perry and his insane ideas.

UPDATE 3: Larisa Alexandrovna brings back memories of the assassination John Kennedy, and the full-page advertisement, paid for by the John Birch Society, appearing in the Dallas Morning News that morning.

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September 27, 2009

Why does god need money for faith healing?

The Minnesota Independent ran an interesting story a few days ago. It seems everybody’s favorite Minnesota politician, Michelle Bachmann, has been instrumental in steering $2.4 million in tax money to her favorite charity, Minnesota Teen Challenge. The money, $2,388,947 to be more accurate, is to support “evangelical” drug treatment programs.


Since I’ve ragged on Michelle a good bit I’ll leave her alone for now and dwell on the facility that received the taxpayer’s money. Here is how Alex Luchenitser, senior litigation counsel for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, sees the program.


Teen Challenge is a program that should not be receiving state money,” he said. “It requires people who participate to convert to Christianity.”


If that is correct, then I fail to see how state support of the facility is legal. Minnesota has a growing atheist community who pay state taxes. I feel certain there are also a goodly portion of the population who have religious beliefs other than Christianity. To require tax money be spent on Christian conversion violates the Establishment Clause.

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A thousand strong

Mojoey’s Atheist/Agnostic blogroll is at 999… poised on the brink of 1,000. This is significant is so many ways. As Hemant says over on The Friendly Atheist,


“Say what you will about the quality of some of the blogs on that list, but it’s one barometer of the growth of the atheist blogosphere over the past few years. It tells the world that there are more and more people offering opinions against the idea of theism — and it’s constantly growing in quality and quantity.”


So a hat tip to Joey for doing all the work involved in keeping the blogroll rolling.


You can scroll down to find the blogroll on my left sidebar. If you are a free thinker you will enjoy randomly selecting a new blog to read.

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September 25, 2009

They're right... you know



Nothing more to say.
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A most interesting development

WBTV, Charlotte, NC

The organizers of a local music festival have made a controversial decision to give the money raised by their event to an organization promoting evolution and atheism. The Charlotte Pop Fest '09 is a music festival taking place in Charlotte's Myers Park area this weekend. The event features some well-known local and national bands.

Last year, proceeds from the Pop Fest went to an international children's charity. The proceeds from this year's Charlotte Pop Fest will be going to the Richard Dawkins Foundation. Dawkins is one of the best known evolutionists in the world and is also an atheist who wrote a book called The God Delusion.

Pop Fest organizer James Deem says what he's trying to do is raise awareness for "science and science education."


North Carolina? Really? There really is hope. Now lets try Texas next.

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September 24, 2009

National Affairs

We have a new conservative magazine. National Affairs, which published its maiden issue the first of this month. It is being trumpeted as the intellectual successor to Irving Kristol’s Public Affairs magazine. That rag ceased publication in 2005 following Kristol’s retirement as the last of the original editors. Kristol died just a few days ago, and long since departed were former editors and contributors to the publication, Nathan Glazer, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Daniel Bell and William F. Buckley.


The loss of Public Affairs was an ominous sign, but with the advent of National Affairs, the original, true conservative movement has some hope for a return to fundamentals, based not in the anti-intellectualism championed by the “value voters” of today’s Republican party, but the former highbrow intellectualism of the early movement.


The right is in sad need right now of a little intellectualism. We can hope… and we will wait and see.

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September 23, 2009

Why you can call the President names and get away with it

The freedom of expression being enjoyed today by the various right wingnuts was not a pleasure always enjoyed by American citizens. As recently as the middle of last century, calling any elected official such names as “socialist,” “fascist,” or ”Nazi” could have been grounds for a liable judgment… or worse.


This story has roots in the 1955 Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott (remember Rosa Parks?). In response to the Montgomery political machine’s actions, both during and after the decision in Browder V. Gayle, four black ministers decided to seek help and funding for the cause of segregation. They composed and paid for an advertisement to be placed in the New York Times, critical of a recalcitrant south. Montgomery elected officials responded by suing the four, including Martin Luther King and Ralph Abernathy, for defamation. The first of these actions, awarded by a state court and resulting in a $500,000 judgment against the Times, was later overturned by the Supreme Court.


In New York Times v. Sullivan (1960), SCOTUS ruled the existing common law of defamation of public officials violated free speech guarantees. The Warren Court held a citizen's right to criticize government officials to be of such tremendous importance in a free society that we could accommodate it only by tolerance of such criticism, even though the charges might eventually be determined to contain incorrect allegations.


In Sullivan, SCOTUS eliminated common law presumption of falsity and malice, and laid the burden of proof on the plaintiff to show that, at the time the defamatory statements were made, the defendant either knew them to be false, or showed reckless disregard as to the veracity of the statements. In other words, the onus was on the plaintiff to prove first that he was harmed, and secondly that the defendant did it on purpose. Until this ruling, only the harm provision required proof.


The social and political context of the times certainly influenced their decision. The source of the alleged defamation was an editorial advertisement placed in the New York Times, titled "Heed Their Rising Voices". Without naming names, the advertisement pointed caustically to the ongoing segregation dominating southern states, in spite of many court rulings prohibiting the practice. Some very prominent, well-respected individuals lent their name to the advertisement, including one of the leading names in fairness and desegregation of the time; Eleanor Roosevelt.


The advertisement detailed grievances, described abuses, and asked for financial support for the desegregation cause. Justice Brennan described the group sponsoring the advertisement as one "whose existence and objectives are matters of the highest public interest and concern." Justice Black described the controversial heart of the suit as “[O]ne of the acute and highly emotional issues in this country.” Black further described the efforts of many people, public officials included, who continued to enforce racial segregation in public schools and other public places, “despite our several holdings that such a state practice is forbidden by the Fourteenth Amendment.”


Plaintiff Sullivan, a white elected commissioner from Montgomery, Alabama, in claiming that he was personally injured by the advertisement, had several hurdles that he failed to clear. The advertisement did not mention him by name. Only 35 copies of the offending publication were circulated in that city, and only 394 in the entire state. The original trial that found the Times liable took place in a segregated courtroom, in Montgomery, before a white judge and all-white jury.


In overturning the verdict, SCOTUS viewed the libel action as a very serious attack not only on 1A freedoms, but on the desegregation of the southern states. In Justice Black’s words, the Court was concerned that a large damage award would threaten "an American press virile enough to publish unpopular views on public affairs and bold enough to criticize the conduct of public officials."


SCOTUS was further concerned because another libel verdict of $500,000 had already been awarded against the Times to another Montgomery elected official who was making the same claims as Sullivan, and 11 other libel suits arising out of the same advertisement were pending.


However, probably the greatest motivating factor for this radical change to previously sacrosanct common law was a judicial view to the effect that the statements of public officials, coming "within the outer perimeter of their duties" were privileged unless actual malice was proved.


The rationale behind this privilege, originating in Barr v. Matteo (1959), was that the threat of damage suits would "dampen the ardor of all but the most resolute, or the most irresponsible, in the unflinching discharge of their duties," SCOTUS, in the Sullivan decision, decided that parallel considerations supported protection for critics of the government and of elected officials.


Thus honest citizens may protest the actions of the government or any elected official, so long as they do not intentionally lie, or act with reckless disregard of the harm they may cause.


For the full history of this landmark case, please read New York Times Co. V. Sullivan Forty Years Later: Retrospective, Perspective , by W. Wat Hopkins.

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September 22, 2009

Separation remains mythical in Texas

A local atheist is taking umbrage with his city council for insisting on reciting an Xtian prayer in public meetings. They wouldn't respect his atheism even on the day he was to be presented a civic award, so he's called in some help.
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Edward Kimmel... not exactly who you thought he was

Our friend Edward Kimmel, the fellow who strolled through the D.C Mall 9/12 rally (to the great chagrin of some of those present) while carrying a banner reading, PUBLIC OPTION NOW, has been interviewed by Michael Tuck, of Walden Media’s Miami Examiner.com. He has an interesting story to tell.


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Don’t cuss at the toilet…

Obscenity

Derived from the Greek word for "filth," the narrow, legal definition for obscenity is framed to cover written or visual material, speech and behavior that are not protected by provisions of the First Amendment. While pornography is often considered to be obscene, obscenity is not necessarily pornographic. Then we have "Indecency," which is a broader term encompassing material that some may find objectionable, but which still enjoys some measure of Constitutional protection.

Profanity, it seems, can be either obscene or indecent, depending on circumstances and individual perception. The origins of the term have roots in religion, with the original meaning referring to blasphemy. Blasphemy is defined as an offensive attack on religion or religious figures. In times of old, blasphemy was grounds for execution.

Although blasphemy has maintained a religious reference, the definition of profanity has evolved to include vulgar expressions with rude, generally sexual overtones. Whether language is obscene or simply indecent is relative, and in most cases, obscenity is protected free speech while indecency, often, is not. In this country, blasphemy is classified as obscene, but not indecent, and is almost never chargable.

The line between obscenity and indecency

That which is deemed obscene by one culture or segment of society may merely be rude elsewhere. The ancient Indians had the Kama Sutra, and Greece produced artistic depictions of sexual acts on ancient pottery. While perfectly acceptable in their time and culture, neither was considered appropriate for polite Victorian society. In 1711 the government of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts enacted laws banning of "wicked, profane, impure, filthy and obscene material," yet did not define any of those terms. Enforcement was relative to the sensibilities of individual judges.

More than a century passed before the courts attempted to define the terminology and fully address the question of the tolerable obscene vs. the indecent obscene. In Commonwealth v. Sharpless (1815), a shopkeeper was convicted of displaying the picture of a nude couple in a provocative pose for profit, thus injecting a capitalistic spin to the debate. There was no law on the books at the time to prevent the display, so the defendant appealed. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court didn’t let the lack of written law dissuade them. They agreed with prosecutors that the depiction was “lewd and obscene,” and that obscenity was a violation of common law. The conviction was therefore upheld.

Then in 1821, Massachusetts convicted two merchants for selling copies of the book Fannie Hill, a fictional memoir of a prostitute that was both quite legal and enormously popular in England at the time.

The federal government got into the act in 1843, with Congress passing legislation to regulate the sale of some particularly spicy French postcards. Colonial morals, it seems, were more sensitive than in the old country.

In 1873 Congress passed the Comstock Act, named after former postal inspector and anti-porn crusader Anthony Comstock, who was the founder of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. Violations of the act were based for the first time on solid definitions. These definitions were considered overbroad, and challenges to the act started almost immediately. Puritan morals were firmly entrenched, so most challenges were unsuccessful.

It wasn’t until the 1957 case, Roth v. United States, that SCOTUS offered its definition of obscenity. Justice Brennan, writing for the majority, stated that the perception of obscenity was relative, and depended on "whether to the average person, applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole appeals to the prurient interests," but mitigated that by requiring that the material must be "utterly without redeeming social value."

In Kingsley International Pictures v. Regents of the State of New York, (1959) SCOTUS further sharpened its definition, finding that there could be no such thing as "ideological obscenity."

Then in Ginzburg v. United States, (1966) the Warren Court, with Justice Brennan again writing for the majority, stated that "the conduct of the defendant is the central issue, not the obscenity of a book or picture." That same year SCOTUS vindicated Fanny Hill, by declaring that the novel was not obscene. Three years later, in Stanley v. Georgia, it was the Warren Court again defining law by declaring that "the mere private possession of obscene matter cannot constitutionally be held a crime." The times, it seems, were changing.

Until the 1960’s, all of this has dealt with obscene writings and displays; those items we would call pornography. There had been no legal discussion to that point of the legality or illegality of profanity.

Then came Lenny Bruce

"What does it mean to be found obscene in New York? This is the most sophisticated city in the country....If anyone is the first person to be found obscene in New York, he must feel utterly depraved." -- Lenny Bruce, following his 1964 arrest for obscenity, in New York City.

Comedian Lenny Bruce would test America's tolerance of obscene language. In 1962, Bruce was arrested in San Francisco and charged with violating California’s obscenity laws. He had used the term “cocksucker” in a routine while performing at a nightclub. In his trial, Bruce was represented by noted First Amendment lawyer Albert Bendich. Following a long, dramatic trial in which many expert witnesses were called, Bruce was acquitted.

California, it seems, was prudish in those dayse and wasn’t willing to easily give up. Bruce was arrested only a few weeks later following a performance at West Hollywood's Troubadour Club. Two weeks later, Illinois got into the act. Following a Chicago appearance, Bruce was arrested on similar charges. And then California had him yet again following a Los Angeles show. Bruce beat all of the California charges, but in Chicago he was convicted and sentenced to a year in prison. This conviction would be appealed.

The reputation preceded him while travelling to London for a show, as British authorities denied Bruce entry, “for the public good,” arrested him at the airport and promptly deported him back to the States. Later that same year, California took another shot.

Lenny Bruce, it seems, had become a rather unpopular man. Recognizing this fact, he decided that there was only one place left that appreciated his brand of comedy; New York City.

On April Fool’s Day, 1964, Lenny Bruce found out just how wrong he was. Following a show at the Greenwich Village Cafe Au Go Go, Bruce was arrested by plain clothes officers masquerading as bar patrons, for violating New York state’s obscenity laws. New York Penal Code, section 1140-A, prohibited "obscene, indecent, immoral, and impure dram, play, exhibition, and entertainment...which would tend to the corruption of the morals of youth and others."

A three-judge panel, voting two to one, found Lenny Bruce guilty as charged. The court ruled that Bruce's act "appealed to prurient interest," was "patently offensive to the average person in the community," and lacked "redeeming social importance." He was sentenced to four months of hard labor. He appealed, but On August 3, 1966, before SCOTUS heard the case, Bruce died of a morphine overdose.

Vague language and confusing intent

As part of his defense, Lenny Bruce argued the vagueness of the obscenity statutes. This has been the concern of constitutional scholars for decades, both in writing law, and in litigation. Poorly defined statutes would often lead to overturned convictions. In Bruce v. New York it did not affect the outcome, but in many modern obscenity cases, that argument worked quite well.

In Cohen v. California, a 19-year-old expressing opposition to the Vietnam War by wearing a jacket with the logo "FUCK THE DRAFT. STOP THE WAR" was charged under a California statute that prohibits "maliciously and willfully disturb[ing] the peace and quiet of any neighborhood or person [by] offensive conduct." He was found guilty and sentenced to 30 days in jail. In overturning the conviction, SCOTUS noted that the profane word on the jacket was not directed at a particular individual and aroused no violent reaction.

In 2002 the Michigan Court of Appeals heard an anti-profanity case; People v. Boomer, otherwise known as the case of the cussing canoeist.

Timothy Boomer was canoeing Michigan’s Rifle River when he struck a rock, and the canoe overturned. His cussing was loud enough that a police officer claimed to have heard him a quarter-mile away, and a family in a fishing boat nearby was so appalled that they left the area. Boomer was cited for violating a century old law that criminalized the use of profane language in front of women and children.

The Michigan Court of Appeals tossed the conviction and overturned the law. “[A]llowing a prosecution where one utters ‘insulting’ language could possibly subject a vast percentage of the populace to a misdemeanor conviction.” The court further stated that the law violated the First Amendment guarantees, and that it would be “difficult to conceive of a statute that would be more vague.”

Then comes a true case of potty mouth, where an off-duty Scranton, Pennsylvania cop filed obscenity charges on a neighbor because she was cussing at an overflowing toilet. The cop was offended by the language, and now Scranton will be paying out the nose for an improper arrest.

Conclusion

Taken at face value, obscene or profane language is almost never a criminal form of speech. Generally, gestures are also protected. The cases mentioned here are only representative samplings of the hundreds tried before U.S. courts. Context seems to make all the difference as to whether the language is protected, and it seems most cases filed stem from offended sensibilities and not actual violations of law. The failure of law enforcement to properly interpret statutes, and of prosecutors difficulty in making weakly defined laws stick have led to numerous reversals.

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September 17, 2009

RIP Dan

NOTE: This is a long post, but the message is important. I hope you will read to the end.


Freedom of Expression: Can I flip off the cops?


Certainly you can, and in many cases you’ll get away with it.


Is it wise to offer a middle finger salute to a cop?


Well...


What about burning a U.S. flag as a means of protest?


Again… might be legal – might be protected – but maybe not.


Both questions have constitutional overtones, and a good bit of precedent. Even repugnant speech, action or gesture may be protected by first amendment guarantees. Lets take a look at some historic cases.


The eye of the beholder


Probably the most dramatic result of flipping the bird at the wrong people, in the wrong place and at the wrong time happened May 4, 1970. Some who were there suggested that the use of such gestures was one of the possible triggers for the still shocking massacre at Ohio’s Kent State University. Four young lives were snuffed out on a public college campus at the hand of the state, for the crime of protesting the war in Viet Nam.


To paraphrase FDR, the day will live in infamy.


Kent State is, to be certain, an extreme example, but there have been hundreds of similar though less dramatic events incited by the unwise use of the middle finger. In most cases, the action has been ruled to be protected under 1A.


In 1987 the Brennan court struck down a Houston, TX obscenity ordinance in City of Houston v. Hill on the basis that the ordinance was overbroad. In this and many subsequent cases, the writers of law failed to fully define words such as “gesture.”


Also in 1987, a Logan City, AZ police officer responded to such a gesture by arresting Ralph Duran and tossing him in the pokey. Duran V. Logan City made it to the 9th circuit before it was overturned. Judge Alex Kozinski still calls this “the finger case.”


Writing for the three judge panel, Kozinski remarked, “while police, no less than anyone else, may resent having obscene words and gestures directed at them, they may not exercise the awesome power at their disposal to punish individuals for conduct that is not merely lawful, but protected by the First Amendment.”


Much more recently, 1A failed to help Thomas Dube, who had flipped off a game warden andwas issued a citation under a state law that reads in part, “A person is guilty of disorderly conduct if he knowingly accosts, insults, taunts or challenges any person with offensive, derisive … gestures or other physical conduct, that would in fact have a direct tendency to cause a violent response by an ordinary person in the situation of the person … insulted, taunted or challenged.


Dube was never tried, but sued the warden claiming denial of 1A rights, and on Jan. 13 of this year, in Dube v. Boyer, U.S. Magistrate Margaret J. Kravchuk determined that, due to his overall behavior, Dube’s constitutional claims lacked merit. This case proves that 1A is not a blanket defense, and that the middle finger salute is not always a good idea.


Flag desecration


The first laws banning flag desecration started appearing late in the 19th century, but not in response to any sort of protest. What was perceived to be commercial and political misuse was, it seems, disturbing certain individuals.


Political parties of the time were printing ballots with little flags next to the names of candidates of their choice. The flag desecration bill sponsors couldn’t get Congress to act, so they started passing state laws. By 1932 every state had a flag desecration law.


Although it wasn’t tried as a 1A case, two Nebraska businessmen were the first to be charged and convicted of flag desecration, when in 1907 that state tried them on charges of using the representation of the Stars and Stripes on beer cans.



First Amendment guarantees


It was in a flag case before SCOTUS that we first heard the words, “freedom of expression.” In West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, ruling that children cold not be compelled to salute the flag, Justice Robert Jackson wrote, “The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One's right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.”


1968 saw the first documented flag burned as a form of protest, and just like Kent State, it was related to Viet Nam. Congress responded with the first federal flag desecration statute.


The first prosecution under a flag burning statute came a year later in New York. The case also resulted in the first overturning of such laws. In the 1969 Street v. New York, Justice Harlan observed "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us."


The next several years would see a few other similar cases, all with similar outcomes. In the 1972 Smith v. Goguen, Massachusetts was overturned for convicting a protestor for wearing a flag on the seat of his pants. In the 1974 Spence v. Washington, another protestor overlaid a flag with a peace sign.


In Spence, for the first time, the Court clearly stated that protest involving the physical use (desecration) of the flag could be a form of protected expression.


The Republican National Convention, Dallas, TX, August 20 – 24, 1984


Ronald Reagan was not popular with the radical left wingnuts. The convention nominated him for a second term, and the natives weren’t happy.


On Wednesday of that week, Gregory Lee “Joey” Johnson, a member of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade, set fire to a U.S. flag as a group of protestors chanted encouragement. Dallas police arrested Johnson and hauled him away rather unceremoniously. The right-wingers were enraged and a noisy stink was raised all the way to the jail, which was just across Main Street from where the ashes of the flag still smoldered.


The story is still available in the archives of the Dallas Morning News, and in multiple repositories on the WWW. Johnson’s conviction was overturned in 1989. As it should have, SCOTUS determined that Johnson’s act was a form of symbolic speech, subject to protection under 1A.


That was the big story as far as the media and the public were concerned, but there was another, much more interesting story that went almost unnoticed.


Standing in the crowd that hot, August day was a 57-year-old veteran of World War II and the Korean conflict; a 1953 West Point graduate.


Dan Walker would have celebrated his 82nd birthday Saturday, but he died Wednesday. Dan is the reason for this story.


Patriotism


The intent of the framers of our constitution should be honored, even if it offends the majority. This is the job of SCOTUS… to ensure the citizens of this country never lose the protections crafted and so carefully documented in that most sacred document.


However repugnant, I must agree that the burning of a flag in protest must fall under the protections offered by 1A.


… but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Apparently, Dan didn't like it either.


After Johnson was hauled off, and the shouting crowds trailed away, Dan quietly walked over to the still smoldering ashes of the burned flag. Some who watched have said he saluted, but he wasn’t in uniform so I kind of doubt that, and it doesn’t matter anyway. It was what he did next that mattered.


Dan got down on his knees and carefully scraped the ashes of the burned flag into a pile, then took that which once was the symbol of our free nation to his home, and according to proper flag etiquette, Dan buried Old Glory in his yard.


Dan’s quiet act of patriotism didn’t go completely unnoticed. It took a while, but he was identified, found and honored. The Army presented Dan with their highest civilian honor, the Distinguished Civilian Service Medal. In a later interview with his hometown Fort Worth Star Telegram, Dan demurred at the suggestion he had done something special, saying “I didn’t want someone sweeping it up with a broom and putting it in an ashcan.”


Greg Johnson and his merry band of idiots got most of the press that day, and our constitution protected him for his act of stupidity. I sometimes wonder if Johnson regrets his actions, or if he ever feels grateful for our constitution… the same constitution that kept him out of prison… the same constitution Dan Walker served to protect.


These days a lot of folks want to pound their chests and shout slogans... carry signs with stupid slogans and ignorant accusations... call themselves patriots. Johnson probably thought his was a patriotic act that day too.


Dan Walker is a lesson for them all... if they would only pay attention.

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September 16, 2009

Limbaugh proves his idiocy once again

A kid endures 11 minutes of hell, and all Limbaugh can do is blame Obama. When will this idiot's audience finally see just how evil the dude is?
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The bike...

... with all trailer trash accessories installed.


... except the really slick bluetooth Sirrus satellite radio/telephone/bike-to-bike intercom module that I'll be mounting in the left saddlebag this weekend. Gotta love wireless stuff.

In May I'm taking her to D.C. for the law enforcement week rally. Anyone want to tag along?
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Birthers lose...

Again.

Now... can we move on?
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Won't that be a breath of fresh air...

Kay Bailey Hutchison, our senior senator and now a 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary candidate says she won't be an embarrassment to the Lone Star state.

"I don't flap my arms, I don't make wild statements, I don't talk about secession, I will not embarrass Texas nationally."

That will be a refreshing change of pace, but I may still vote for Kinky.
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The way it should be?

A comment on a previous post made reference to the violence seen at some recent political events. Of course this was someone I consider to be pretty far right wing (a friend, by the way, who takes sadistic pleasure in rattling my cage). His comment blamed the violence on the left.

Go figure... right?

Well, my take on it was a bit different and I couldn't find any real evidence that would convict either side. I'm sure there will be some evidence come to light, but I didn't see it in any of the videos I watched... and I watched a bunch of 'em.

However, in diggiging through all that You Tube stuff I did find a video of a town hall meeting, held Sept. 12th in Union City, CA., by Rep. Pete Stark (D. CA).

Stark, who chairs the Ways and Means health subpanel, rather emphatically demonstrated that there are limits to what he will take from angry constituents. So the meeting was maybe a little testy, but overall it maintained a reasonable tone.



As you see, there were folks from both sides of the healthcare debate voicing opinions in reasonable voices, and Stark addressed each in turn. This was shot by an admitted tea partier, who inserted some comments into the video, but even those were level and polite.

Isn't it nice when people can exchange ideas without a bunch of shoving and shouting... don't you wish everyone behaved this way?

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September 15, 2009

Corruption

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has released its annual 15 Most Corrupt Member of Congress report. Eight D's and seven R's.

Whew! No Texans on the list.
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September 14, 2009

Speaking of cajones

The teabaggers weren't amused...



58-year-old Edward Kimmel of Takoma Park, Md. won't be needing to borrow Hillary's... Would that we had politicians with so much sand in their britches.

Barry Goldwater never knew where his conservative movement was heading...

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