<< They Don't Return to Work for Mother Teresa | Main | Blog Scan >>


Free Speech for All -- Except Ann Coulter

| 6 Comments

The kiddie porn defense bar tells us that obscenity law threatens the First Amendment.  Thus, it would seem, we're all in danger of being muzzled unless we give a pass to people who want to sell pictures of children being forced into sexual encounters with animals.

I have yet, however, to hear any member of the civil liberties industry rise up against the actual attack on free speech that happened yesterday at the University of Ottawa.  Here's how the MSNBC story starts:

Coulter speech canceled after protesters' threats
Ottawa University talk off amid fears for safety of right-wing pundit

Ann Coulter supports resolute law enforcement and the death penalty.  She has other strident and controversial views on social issues, and I am neither endorsing nor denouncing them here.  That's not what this post is about.  It's about the censorship-by-intimidation practices that some on the Left undertake when they shed the civil liberties tutu and don the Political Correctness police mufti that fits them so much better.

A question:  When will others of us who support the death penalty in academic debates be accused of racist "hate speech" and threatened with getting beaten up?  Or, as happend to Ms. Coulter, also threatened  --  by university officials, no less  --  with criminal prosecution?  

Here's the MSNBC story:

OTTAWA - A protest by hundreds of students led organizers to cancel a Tuesday night speech by American conservative commentator Ann Coulter at the University of Ottawa.

A spokesman for the organizers said Coulter was advised against appearing after about 2,000 "threatening" students crowded the entrance to Marion Hall, posing a security threat.

"It would be physically dangerous for Ann Coulter to proceed with this event," said conservative political activist Ezra Levant inside the hall.

"This is an embarrassing day for the University of Ottawa and their student body . . . who chose to silence her through threats and intimidation."

A protest organizer, international studies student Mike Fancie, said he was pleased they were able to stop Coulter from speaking.

"What Ann Coulter is practicing is not free speech, it's hate speech," he said. "She's targeted the Jews, she's targeted the Muslims, she's targeted Canadians, homosexuals, women, almost everybody you could imagine."

Canadians?

"This has never happened before," she told the newspaper. "I go to the best schools, Harvard, the Ivy League and those kids are too intellectually proud" to threaten speakers.

Levant blamed the bedlam on university academic vice-president Francois Houle, who had written Coulter to warn her that Canadian laws make provisions for hate speech.

"Promoting hatred against any identifiable group would not only be considered inappropriate, but could in fact lead to criminal charges," he warned her in the letter, which Coulter quickly leaked to the media.

The university has refused to comment since. Levant said Houle's advice to Coulter had emboldened students to block her appearance.

For a university academic vice-president to effectively threaten a conservative speaker with prosecution tells you just how far it's gone.  This when, not long ago, Hofstra Law School invited Lynne Stewart  --  the "civil rights" lawyer convicted of providing material support to terrorists (i.e., tantamount to treason) -- to be part of the faculty in a seminar on legal ethics.

That's not a misprint.  The civil liberties industry picks lint off its sleeve as one law school dean threatens a controversial pro-law enforcement speaker with jail, while another law school dean invites a convicted facilitator of terrorists to educate the students about ethics.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is where we are.

6 Comments

Just a few observations, for what it's probably worth (i.e., nothing).

1) This happened in Canada, correct? Last I checked, the First Amendment doesn't apply there.

2) Calling Ann Coulter "a controversial pro-law enforcement speaker" is, at least to me, a bit like calling Adolph Hitler "a controversial pro-German nationalist." Coulter is not known because of her "pro-law enforcement" views. She is known because she is a vitriol-spewing hate-monger who will say anything, even if demonstrably false, in order to sell a book. And talk about an enemy of free speech -- she's on record as saying she wished that the terrorists on 9/11 had flown into the New York Times building instead of the World Trade Center. Where was the right-wing outrage when she made THAT horrifying statement? That's the kind of crap she's known for, not her support for the death penalty. (For that matter, I'm sure Hitler supported the death penalty also, but I don't think that means other pro-death-penalty folks should have jumped to his defense.)

3) This post is off-topic for this blog, and irrelevant to criminal justice issues IMO.

Silencing conservative speakers has been a routine occurrence in American Universities notwithstanding precious first amendment rights.

I can not think of an instance where the ACLU has defended those rights which is Bill's point.


Of course, it is demonstrably unfair to compare Coulter to Hitler--particularly on one hyperbolic, off-hand remark. I trust that notablogger was engaging in hyperbole as well.

And in other news, "notablogger" wrote that Jonathan Swift should be banned from libraries because he advocates the eating of children.

notablogger --

1. Canada and the United States share a free speech tradition. If you think they should turn away from that tradition, you will be in a lonely place -- except perhaps for Iran, where those not mouthing The Received Wisdom are also threatened with beatings (and other unpleasant experiences such as murder).

P.S. I don't know Canadian law, but I would be very surprised if Canadian constitutional jurisprudence does not confer free speech protection essentially identical to that found in the First Amendment.

2. Ann Coulter is in fact a strong and prominent proponent of the death penalty.

3. Your observation that "Hitler supported the death penalty also" is exactly the sort of McCarthyite smear that, unfortunately, death penalty proponents have become used to hearing. It is not the same as, but it inspires, the sort of thuggish behavior to which Ms. Coulter was subjected, and which notably you do not criticize.

4. You do not determine what is off-topic for this blog, and if you did, your determination would be incorrect. Threatened mob violence, an ominous warning of criminal prosecution for "inappropriate" speech, and the proper response to terrorist war crimes are all criminal law topics.

5. It used to be a commonplace among the noblest of civil libertarians that the more the speech and the speaker were detested, the more important it was to see to their protection. Is that no longer the case?

Wow, could everyone miss my point by a wider margin?

I urge you to click the link below, which includes a story regarding the cancellation of Coulter's speech AND several links to videos where Coulter has made public comments about, among other things, Jews, "faggots," and other highly enlightening topics, and then keep trying to convince me she is not an extremist hate-monger:

http://www.nowpublic.com/world/ann-coulter-quotes-coulters-controversial-comments-video-2595423.html

My point is that comparing Coulter to someone who is otherwise an actually rational human speaking out in favor of the death penalty is an apples/oranges comparison. Coulter is not known for her "pro-law-enforcement" or pro-death penalty views. She is known for precisely the kinds of statements captured in the video clips above. In other words, she is an extremist who purposefully foments exactly the kind of reaction she got from the Canadian university in this particular instance, because it helps her sell more of her terrible books and ups the fees she can charge for her speaking engagements.

Furthermore, I think it is totally valid to point out that this happened in another country that, while it may have a free-speech "tradition," still does not have the First Amendment, and therefore, comparing what happens to an extremist in another country to what might happen to rational people espousing a defensible viewpoint in this country is a totally false comparison. I realize that Canada is not Iran. However, this is still another apples/oranges comparison and I believe it is valid to point that out.

Lastly, I qualified my "off topic" remark with "IMO," which means "in my opinion." Thanks for pointing out it isn't for me to decide. However, as I have pointed out before, I turn to this blog several times a week for relevant information on legal issues related to the courts and criminal justice, particularly on the death penalty, and it seems that the blog is increasingly turning into a hard-right political forum. A post about Ann Coulter having a speaking gig cancelled at a Canadian university sure seems of that ilk, and thus off topic to me, again, IMO.

notablogger --

Thank you for your two posts. They add to the debate. And it is largely my point that ADDING to a debate rather than effectively silencing a potential debater is what learning is about. This is especially so in a university setting. In the days when I was a college student, using the threat of mob violence to prevent a speech, no matter how offensive, was unthinkable. But that was in the decade after McCarthy, when people remembered more clearly what domestic fascism felt like.

Let me address some of your points.

First, I'm not going to try to convince you that Ms. Coulter isn't "an extremist hate-monger." That it because (1) a discussion of that topic actually WOULD take the blog far from its intended focus, and (2) one may assume arguendo, without conceding, that Ms. Coulter is exactly that and STILL believe that it's both wrong and dangerous to civil liberties to prevent her from speaking, and still more so to achieve said prevention by physical force.

As I noted at the end of my first response to you, it used to be a commonplace among the noblest of civil libertarians that the more the speech and the speaker were detested, the more important it was to see to their protection. If that is no longer the case, then we have lost something of great value, and something I would think you in particular would cherish.

You say that Coulter "is known for precisely the kinds of statements captured in the video clips above. In other words, she is an extremist who purposefully foments exactly the kind of reaction she got from the Canadian university in this particular instance..."

In the days of yore, the White Citizen's Council would say that these blacks ("blacks" was not the word they used) marching in our town are "purposely fomenting exactly the kind of reaction" they got, i.e., getting beaten up or threatened with getting beaten up. This was the Council's excuse for physically menacing behavior -- We Wuz Provoked!!!

The correct answer, then and now, is that in a civil society dedicated to the free exchange of ideas however appalling one may find them, violence and the threat thereof are off the table. It doesn't matter how awful the ideas are or how dreadful the speaker is. Censorship by menacing simply is not acceptable.

It is true that Canada does not have our First Amendment. It has the analog in its Second Amendment (or, more precisely, Section Two of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which provides that, "Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: ... (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press...").

Apparently this provision has been given an expansive reading (although, again, I am no expert in Canadian law). In R. v. Zundel (1992), the Canadian Supreme Court struck down a provision in the Criminal Code that prohibited publication of false information or news, stating that it violated section 2(b) of the Charter.

I would thus respectfully suggest that comparing our First Amendment to the Canadian Charter's Section Two is not a comparison of apples and oranges. It's more like a comparison of Macintosh apples to Red Delicious apples. But for however that may be, the more important point is that when the country that most resembles the United States in its English common law heritage and more broadly in its traditions of tolerance -- when that country has mobs shutting down speech at its universities, that is a wake up call to us.

Finally, let me address your point that you come to this blog for legal info, particularly about the death penalty, and that what you view as recent, more politics-oriented posts (those being mine, although you were too polite to say so directly), have diluted its quality.

When I saw the MSNBC story about this Canadian episode with Coulter, the first thing that came to mind was Kent's recent debate in England on the death penalty. As you know, being a death penalty proponent, those on our side are not infrequently accused of racism. Abolitionists point out the the DP is used "disproportionately" against blacks, and that we support it to "keep blacks in their place." (This is insulting nonsense, of course, but that's what they say. Just read the comments on Doug Berman's sentencing blog for a week or so).

To this mindset, debating in favor of the DP can be looked upon as racist hate speech, because it "targets minorities" and could make some debate attendees "feel unwelcome." I therefore wondered if those of us who appear at university campuses to speak in favor of the DP, in this country or in others (as Kent did), could find themselves on the wrong end of an angry mob, or, even more bizarrely, at the wrong end of a criminal prosecution, which the University of Ottawa not-too-subtley threatened against Ms. Coulter.

The DP is politically popular, and justly so, but it is NOT popular in academia, and the on-campus PC police seem to have forgotten what free speech means. The Coulter episode happened in Canada, but it's coming soon to a campus near you, and it's coming to a broader array of topics (e.g., the crack/powder ratio, also attacked as a racist pogrom) than you might think.

Am I sure this will happen? No. Is there a realistic possibility it will happen. You bet.

You are probably too young to remember what it was like in the McCarthy era. But I remember it, and I don't want it back, whether it's warning signs come from Ottawa or Olympia.


Leave a comment