Earlier today, Rep, Doug Collins (R-GA) appeared on the show to discuss the progress of the budget and what the successful return to normal order in the 114th Congress will mean for Republicans this year and next. The conversation then turned to religious freedom, involving cases of two military chaplains under pressure for sticking with the tenets of their faith. Collins, himself a former military chaplain and Baptist minister, argues that the cases are part of a pattern of so-called tolerance advocates demanding not tolerance but forced submission. That prompted an exchange about the nature of the First Amendment and the attack it’s sustaining from the Obama administration. It’s an exchange worth noting in its own post:
EM: Well, not only that, but it’s about controlling speech, it’s about controlling debate. It’s about delegitimizing people from their religious expression but also their First Amendment speech expression as well.
COLLINS: Oh, exactly! Look, like I said earlier, the most “tolerant” people in the world are the most blazing intolerant people that I have ever met when you say something that they don’t like. And when I say that I have a faith, that I say that there is — I think from my professional faith background and my personal faith background — if I believe that there is a certain pathway to heaven and that is the choice that my Scripture teaches me is the only way, when I say that, people call me closed-minded and bigoted. I’m sorry, I’m not forcing my belief on you. If you’d like to know about my faith I’ll tell you about my faith. But for these folks who are so quote-tolerant to be intolerant just really flies in the face of the First Amendment. Frankly, they ought to be ashamed of themselves.
EM: Well, I think you’re right. I completely agree with you on this, and I would even extend that by saying that the use of the language of “bigotry,” in this case, is very telling. This is an attempt to force a “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment which does not exist. I just got into this on Twitter yesterday with Chris Cuomo, who’s an attorney and a journalist at CNN, who is claiming that there is a “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment, where “hate speech” is not protected. That is — first off, it’s completely false. It’s utterly false. Secondly, and you think a lawyer would know that, but secondly, this is an attempt to redefine speech. You have free speech as long as you are part of the groupthink. I mean, I don’t know if it’s impulse, I don’t know if it’s conscious desire, but what it is basically is an attempt to shut down dissent — which is the antithesis of what the First Amendment was supposed to be about, both in terms of speech and religion.
COLLINS: What you just said is what is amazing to me from a [garbled] is the only reason you have the First Amendment is for speech that many others may find despicable. You would not have to have a freedom of speech for something everybody likes, or for what everybody agrees with. The very reason you have the amendment in itself is to protect those minority points of view however unagreeable or disagreeable we may find. And as long as those don’t border the laws of slander and libel, I mean, this is why they exist.
For him to actually say there are exceptions — I mean, if he wants to say you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater is your exception to the First Amendment, or if you incite someone to “go kill that person,” which we all know from law school that these are the things that are not allowed — but to say there’s a “hate speech” exception? I mean, the very reason, whether I agree with it or not of somebody’s speech, is that the protection is there because it is not agreeable or it is not in vogue with the current political class. That’s why the amendment is there.
Later in the conversation, we discussed the case of Sister Diana Momeka, who has been barred from entry into the US because the Obama administration has listed her as an internally displaced person in Iraq. However, Sister Diana was scheduled to participate in a forum with other IDP-listed Iraqis, but Sister Diana was the only Christian. The others were given visas and can enter, but the Obama administration won’t budge on Sister Diana.
This led Rep. Collins to finish up with a broadside against the White House on their interpretation of constitutional rights:
COLLINS: Again, the most tolerant in the world, when it comes to something they don’t like, are the most intolerant in the world. And we’ve seen this over and over again, but when you cross the line of the very tenets of why this country was formed, why the very tenets of why we are here, what they ran from to get to here for the protection of their religious speech, the protection of their religious expression, the protection of their speech in general. And we have an administration led by supposedly a constitutional law professor — I would love to have had that class, because you wouldn’t have had to study, because the Constitution wasn’t discussed, especially some of the First Amendment — it is amazing, and very frustrating. I can laugh about it, I can yell about it, but the bottom line, what we have here is an administration, especially through the State Department and others, that has basically been very sad when they don’t have this basic understanding.
Don’t have it, and don’t want to have it. I’ve linked my column at The Fiscal Times once already today, but it’s worth adding this excerpt to the conversation again:
One does not have to be a free-speech absolutist to know that the First Amendment protects speech critical of religions, its historical figures, or its current leaders. Yet a Pew poll taken in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre showed only 60 percent of Americans offering support for that position, while 28 percent said that it should explicitly be forbidden. Another poll taken in 2014 by the First Amendment Center showed that only 53 percent of Americans supported the right to speak publicly in ways that might offend other religious groups, and less than half said speech that offends racial sensibilities should be protected.
It’s one thing, though, for the general public to remain uninformed about the First Amendment and its reach, or perhaps more generously, to disagree with its broad freedom. It’s another when journalists start arguing that government curbs on speech should be considered, or already exist. This week, we have seen multiple examples of either benign ignorance or worse from the people we would expect to have the most at stake in supporting free speech. …
Who would get to decide what constitutes “provocative” speech that cannot be exercised? Who decides which opinions are “hate” and cannot bear the light of day?
The answer appears to be the cultural elite who keep getting free speech wrong – and not just in the media. We have seen political correctness expand into stultifying speech codes on college campuses, pushed by progressive groups and enabled by administrators that have made a mockery out of higher education. That cone of silence has begun to extend into politics in general, ironically as more and more activists demand “conversations” on controversial topics but then demand that the opposing side be silenced or forced into byzantine processes to avoid “triggers.”
All of this amounts to an attempt to control the political sphere by either silencing dissent or demonizing it as “bullying,” “bigoted,” and worse. The same applies in other First Amendment freedoms as well, especially the freedom of religious expression. The same pattern holds when people wish to live their faith in the entirety of their lives. Whether it comes from the government in contraception mandates or forced participation in same-sex marriage events, the media and political elites have decided that the liberty guaranteed in plain English in the Constitution no longer applies – as long as they can redefine the language to suit their purposes.
So far, the most tenacious pushback to this trend has been conducted by GamerGate. The rest of the country had better wake up to the threat soon.
Update: Not necessarily connected but definitely a must-read from Erik Wemple, the Washington Post’s media critic, “The week that cable news failed free expression“:
In January, terrorists carried out a massacre of the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine, a publication that had compiled a record of depicting Muhammad in satirical ways. The attack, per force, elevated the newsworthiness of those cartoons: There was no way to fully understand the alleged motivations of the attackers without sampling the drawings that had placed a target on the magazine.
Yet the American media folded into a crouch of cowardice and rationalization. The Associated Press’s statement said it would “refrain from moving deliberately provocative images.” The major networks stayed away from the pictures, and the cable networks followed suit, for the most part, with Fox News showing glimpses here and there. CNN said it was withholding the images as a measure to protect its personnel in overseas hotspots. (In the immediate aftermath of the attack, The Washington Post’s news side didn’t traffic in the images, though the editorial side published one on its op-ed page.)
At the time, those decisions appeared isolated to the news event at hand. They now loom as something far more significant. A judgment has emerged that preaches compliance with the notion that this particular form of expression means you’re asking for it. That viewpoint has trickled down from the bosses of these news organizations into the coverage, as Geller has discovered. Once the media draws a line, it’s tough to undraw.
Especially when it suits other purposes.