Free speech is something most Americans take for granted. We don’t necessarily agree with what someone is saying or approve of their language, but generally speaking, we respect free speech. Free speech is under attack in America from a number of directions. Some of them are very subtle and seem almost logical, and some are totally obvious. Both need to be dealt with quickly and openly.
As I have stated in previous articles, I am reading Stephen Coughlin’s book Catastrophic Failure, which is about the dangers America faces at the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood and other related groups. The book talks about the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the human rights movement in the United Nations. The book explains that the OIC definition of human rights includes the provision that these rights have to be in compliance with Sharia Law. This means that any negative statements about Islam are not considered acceptable free speech, but are punishable by law and may result in the death penalty. The goal of the OIC is to bring non-Muslim countries under Sharia Law–in America that means ending the First Amendment right of free speech. We saw the OIC in action recently when Pamela Geller was condemned for a “Draw Mohammed” contest in Texas which resulted in violence. She was blamed for the violence–not the people who committed the violence. This was an attempt to turn public opinion away from the idea that all free speech is protected. There is nothing in our Constitution that protects us from being offended. However, the First Amendment does protect our right of free speech. The press response to what happened in Texas was a very subtle attack on free speech. It needs to be exposed and countered.
A more obvious attack on free speech was initiated by the U.S. Government recently against “Reason Magazine.” Reason posted an article yesterday telling the story.
The article gives the background of the attack on free speech:
For the past two weeks, Reason, a magazine dedicated to “Free Minds and Free Markets,” has been barred by an order from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York from speaking publicly about a grand jury subpoena that court sent to Reason.com.
The subpoena demanded the records of six people who left hyperbolic comments at the website about the federal judge who oversaw the controversial conviction of Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht. Shortly after the subpoena was issued, the government issued a gag order prohibiting Reason not only from discussing the matter but even acknowledging the existence of the subpoena or the gag order itself. As a wide variety of media outlets have noted, such actions on the part of the government are not only fundamentally misguided and misdirected, they have a tangible chilling effect on free expression by commenters and publications alike.
Yesterday, after preparing an extensive legal brief, Reason asked the US Attorney’s Office to join with it in asking that the gag order – now moot and clearly an unconstitutional prior restraint – be lifted. This morning, the US Attorney’s Office asked the Court to vacate the order, which it did. We are free to tell the story for the first time.
The article at Reason further reports:
Regardless of the legal details, the growing government demand for user data and our own experience with court-enforced silence on a self-evidently ridiculous investigation raise important questions about free speech and the abuse of power.
Reason’s unmoderated comment space is rare among comparable publications and has, over the years, developed into a forum that is by turns exciting, intellectually advanced, outlandish, cringe-inducing, and more foul-mouthed than any locker room this side of the Crab Nebula. It is something to be celebrated as a voluntary community that can be engaged or ignored as the spirit moves you (we say that as writers whose work and physical shortcomings rarely escape unscathed from any thread). However trollish many of our commenters can be, they have created a sphere of free speech that delivers on one of the great promises of the Internet, which is unbridled expression, dialogue, and argument.
We took risks by creating an autonomous zone in which our readers are left to their own devices. Some of the risk is reputational—how many other serious outlets allow anonymous commenters to run riot as we do? Some of the risk is legal, as in the current situation.
One further note about anonymity in our comment threads. Commenting on our site requires registration using a working email address (which is hidden from public view unless a commenter chooses to have it displayed). We also log IP addresses. We do both of these things in order to fight spammers and trolls–people who have shown enormous determination in their efforts to disrupt the discussion.
Our commenters are generally a tech-savvy bunch. It is likely that those who have a desire for a very high degree of anonymity are taking control of that themselves, using anonymous email addresses and tools to prevent us from logging IPs connected to them.
But Reason.com is not the dark web. Many of our regular commenters voluntarily display either personal website information or their email addresses. In fact, three of the six commenters subject to this very subpoena voluntarily displayed public links to personal blogs at Blogger as part of their comments, one of which further links to a Google+ page. Raising the question: How can the government view these so-called “threats” as so nefarious when people posted them in such a non-anonymous fashion?
Please follow the link above to read the entire article. It is an amazing saga of an out-of-control government trying to conceal the fact that it is out of control. Thank you, editors of Reason for standing up to this threat.