What’s Wrong with the World

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What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

Who says touchy immigrants don't change anything?

Here's the short version of this story: In Mechanicsburg, PA, some atheists did a Halloween parade. Being the touchy-feeling, sensitive sort of people atheists are, they had all sorts of nifty costumes including a "zombie Pope" and a "zombie Mohammed." While marching along, they passed a Muslim man who says that a) he didn't know that it was legal in America to portray Mohammad and b) he thought that he needed to show his little 9-year-old son that he believed in defending Mohammad. So he grabbed the atheist dressed up as the zombie Mohammad and tried to wrench off a sign that he had around his neck, partly choking him in the process. People in the crowd called 911 and both the atheist and the Muslim went looking for a cop. The Muslim was apparently under the impression that he was in England (perhaps he missed which side of the Atlantic he was on) and wanted to report the atheist for insulting Islam with his costume and sign. The atheist, of course, wanted to report the assault. The policeman questioned both and then charged the Muslim with harassment.

Now, there's gotta be some crime, if only a relatively minor one, that you get charged with if you jump a person marching in a parade and tear a sign off his neck. Whether "harassment" was the ideal crime to charge the Muslim with in this case I don't presume to say. Would assault and disorderly conduct have been better? But whatever. There has to be something. Because otherwise, if people marching in parades with signs that offend Muslims can just be grabbed and have their signs wrenched away with impunity, there's an end to a rather important aspect of free speech in America--you know, the aspect that involves being able to hold a sign on a public street making a statement that someone else might not like. Hey, just wait until the pro-aborts get hold of that idea! They could just take care of those pro-life picketers in two finger snaps. As long as they don't actually beat them up, no problem, right? The signs are "offensive" to them.

This should have been an open and shut case. But Judge Mark Martin threw the case out, with a lecture to...the atheist victim of the assault! All about how he looked like a "doofus" for implying that Mohammad was ever a zombie. (Methinks the judge doesn't grok Halloween. One of my Facebook friends dressed up as a zombie Abraham Lincoln. Also, nobody thinks the zombie Pope meant that the atheists think the Pope is believed to have...Oh, never mind.) The judge also saw fit to talk about all his years in a Muslim country (in our military, I might add) and about how seriously the Muslims take this sort of stuff and how one could be killed for insulting Mohammad in a Muslim country. Um, yes, judge, but we aren't in a Muslim country. You know? He also implied that the atheist's costume, etc., were outside the bounds of the First Amendment. Who knew? Do something offensive to Muslims, you're outside the First Amendment, bucko. Maybe the judge thinks the Muslim should have been able to get the atheist arrested, after all. The Muslim's lawyer solemnly tells us that the atheist was the "antagonist," and he obviously thinks, with some reason, that the judge agreed with him.

I hold no brief for the wonderfulness of nasty atheists being jerks. But this is not a good precedent. There is, like it or not, something to be said for the freedom to be a bit of a jerk. We absolutely cannot declare open season on people who offend Muslims, and we absolutely cannot start calling those who offend Muslims the "antagonists" as an argument for letting Muslims use physical force against them.

We have a couple of additional factors at work here that deserve special note: First of all, where did Judge Martin pick up his odd ideas? In the military. The military, where day in, day out our servicemen are being taught to defer ad infinitum to the sensibilities of Muslims. This is an unexpected and unwelcome effect of our efforts in foreign lands: We PC-train a military man. He comes back to the U.S. and becomes a judge, and he then thinks everybody in the U.S. also has to refrain from offending Muslims. He can't even seem to adjust to being back on American soil with freedom of speech and all that jazz. Second, if we didn't have all these super-touchy Muslim immigrants around pushing the envelope, we would be less likely to keep giving in to them. Can you imagine a ruling like this coming down fifty years ago? Neither can I.

My impression is that the atheist's only recourse against the Muslim is a civil suit. That, even if successful, would leave Judge Martin happily issuing his Islam-compliant orders from the bench.

Which raises another interesting legal question: Imagine a scenario in which judges dismissed charges against, say, whites who attacked blacks and lectured the blacks on needing to be less uppity and more sensitive. Surely there must be some 14th amendment recourse at some point. Talk about "nor deny to any person the equal protection of the laws." Is there any way that can be brought home to judges? What if Judge Martin and his ilk took this still farther and started doing it systematically. Is impeachment the only route? I'm not a big fan of the 14th amendment, but it seems to me that there should be some sort of case here where ordinary laws against assault or harassment are not applied because the judge dislikes the ideas of the victim.

Comments (83)

The dictatorship of Islam meets the dictatorship of relativism and Islam wins even though the stopped clock happened to be in the right. Interesting.

There is, like it or not, something to be said for the freedom to be a bit of a jerk.

What's to be said for it? Specifically, what's to be said for the freedom to obnoxiously, intentionally offend people, particularly in a way that has little content beyond the offense? And is there anything at all to be said for having a physical response to someone obnoxiously, intentionally offending you in such a way?

I absolutely agree that some kind of blanket "no one can say anything someone takes as offensive" move would be ludicrous for obvious, exploitable reasons. I am far less inclined to agree with a claim that amounts to "any offensive act must be tolerated and protected because acting like a tremendous jerk is sacrosanct".

And is there anything at all to be said for having a physical response

Ah, obfuscating language. Where would our liberal press and liberal commentators be without it? Sort of like the passive voice: "A man was shot today in Millersburg..."

"Having a physical response." Is that sort of like sneezing? Or even feeling rather sick to one's stomach?

No, jumping the guy and half-choking him while wrenching off his sign is not "having a physical response."

And if there is such a thing as the rule of law, then, "His sign was insulting to Islam and the Prophet Mohammad" cannot _possibly_ be a sufficient ground for making it A-okay to do that. Period. Even though presumably his sign _was_ insulting to Islam and the Prophet Mohammad.

Lydia,

"Having a physical response." Is that sort of like sneezing? Or even feeling rather sick to one's stomach?

I wasn't trying to 'nice up' what happened to the atheist. I was just trying to speak in broad language. But you're absolutely right to call me out on that - it sounded weaselly. Unintentionally so, I assure you.

Is there something to be said for punching someone in the face for going too far in their intentionally offending and goading you?

There. Better?

And if there is such a thing as the rule of law, then, "His sign was insulting to Islam and the Prophet Mohammad" cannot _possibly_ be a sufficient ground for making it A-okay to do that. Period. Even though presumably his sign _was_ insulting to Islam and the Prophet Mohammad.

Alright, so you say in this specific situation, no way. However, the sign wasn't just insulting to Islam or the Prophet Mohammed, but muslim believers as well. I doubt that changes anything.

But I asked a broad question: is there anything to be said for knocking around someone who intentionally, obnoxiously offends another? Is all intentional, obnoxious offense, so long as it remains purely verbal, A-OK and must be tolerated, even defended? If not, can I see some examples where you say it would be acceptable to start swinging?

And again, you said there's something to be said for the freedom to be a bit of a jerk. I asked, "What's to be said for it? Specifically, what's to be said for the freedom to obnoxiously, intentionally offend people, particularly in a way that has little content beyond the offense?"

I think we need to make a lot of distinctions, here. Suppose that your name is Joe Smith and that someone comes and marches around outside your house with a sign that says, "Joe Smith is a pedophile." Now, supposing the statement to be false and made without evidence, etc., etc., we have an issue with things like slander. And you have recourse. But not punching the person in the nose. You might start by asking an officer to have a chat with him. If that doesn't work, you get a court order telling him he has to stop marching around with this slanderous sign. And you also sue the bejabbers out of him.

Or take the issue of tort law and the personal, individual insults (not the infamous slogan about who God hates) against the dead soldiers and families of dead soldiers promulgated on signs and web sites by Westboro Baptist. I thought Justice Alito (I believe it was) did a good job discussing the way that these personal, individual attacks did not fall under the usual ambit of First Amendment protected speech but rather under a previously recognized tort. The other justices disagreed with him. I'm inclined to agree with the dissent, _not_ because the statements were in some general sense "insulting" nor even insulting to members of a group (say, people in the military), as the atheist's sign would be deemed by extension "insulting to Muslims," but because of their individualized nature--the statements were, by name, directed *to* specific individuals with deliberate intent to harass those individuals. To my mind, Alito's argument made a good case that they were similar to, say, harassing anonymous letter writing to individuals.

But, again, even there, the recourse was suing Westboro civilly under tort law, not getting together a crowd of infuriated friends of the deceased and punching their lights out, nor even grabbing and destroying their signs.

No, we definitely should not just have a category of "insulting language" that includes being generally insulting towards a religion or religious group. That's a bad direction to go. And we definitely shouldn't allow any such category to be an excuse for assault.

So, does this mean that now pro-choice people can attack sign holding pro-lifers because they are being antagonized? Great!

Well, it's a bad precedent but so far only from one judge in Mechanicsburg, PA. But I think the _type_ of precedent could certainly be used by pro-choicers, and that's why I brought it up in the main post.

It's a logical thing. Suppose that one were carrying a sign outside a clinic that said, "Abortion = murdering a child." Now, look at the logic used by commentator "Crude" above. We may take it, understandably, that such a sign is insulting to an abortionist. After all, if abortion equals murdering a child, and he's an abortionist, then this means that he is a child murderer, even though he isn't named anywhere on the sign. So if one can assault somebody who is carrying a sign that is *by implication* insulting to members of the group one belongs to, then presumably the abortionist has a right to march outside the clinic and assault the pro-lifer.

Who knows what ol' Judge Martin would say about that. Probably we'd only find out if we knew more about how Judge Martin feels about abortion, abortionists, and pro-lifers. If anything is evident from this case it is that the judge was not being even remotely impartial. Hence we have the rule of men, not of laws--the arbitrary situation in which a judge just makes it up as he goes along, sometimes choosing to blame the victim, sometimes blaming the perpetrator, depending on his own biases.

Lydia,

Suppose that your name is Joe Smith and that someone comes and marches around outside your house with a sign that says, "Joe Smith is a pedophile." Now, supposing the statement to be false and made without evidence, etc., etc., we have an issue with things like slander. And you have recourse. But not punching the person in the nose.

And here we disagree. At the very least, I don't think this is a clear-cut case of "no, it would be wrong and unacceptable to punch this guy's lights out". If Joe Smith responded that way, in the conditions you outlined, I would have no complaint with him. And I'd say that if anyone should be penalized, it should be the man with the sign.

Modify the case slightly. The sign now reads "Joe Smith's son is a pedophile". Back to the falsity and the lack of evidence. If Joe Smith walked outside and saw this sign, and proceeded to deck the sign-holder, how many years in prison do you think he should get? 5? 1, perhaps? 90 days?

I will not pretend that this question doesn't get extremely complicated, or that it doesn't run risk of abuse. I can easily imagine the reply of "whatever I dislike also happens to offend me, so I have the right to demand its removal or to remove it myself". Just as, to use an extreme example, killing in self-defense can at times involve complicated concepts and lines in the sand, and there's always the yokel who processes the general idea as "I can shoot anyone who looks at me funny."

No, we definitely should not just have a category of "insulting language" that includes being generally insulting towards a religion or religious group. That's a bad direction to go. And we definitely shouldn't allow any such category to be an excuse for assault.

Why is it a bad direction to go? That's what I'd like to hear. You can't possibly be telling me "because intentionally acting like a humongous jackass is sacrosanct". Maybe you'd say it's because the potential for abuse of this kind of thing is just too great, and/or it can be used to squelch legitimate ideas that deserve public discussion. I can't blame you, to a degree, seeing what's done with "Hate Speech" laws at home and abroad. But I'd like to have the reason and rationale spelled out here.

Lydia,

Hence we have the rule of men, not of laws--the arbitrary situation in which a judge just makes it up as he goes along, sometimes choosing to blame the victim, sometimes blaming the perpetrator, depending on his own biases.

While I am no fan at all of judicial activism, the is one thing to be said for judges: ideally, one reason for their having discretionary powers is because not every situation that ends up in court can be so neatly delineated in a legal sense. Hence talk of following "the letter of the law, but not the spirit".

Suppose that one were carrying a sign outside a clinic that said, "Abortion = murdering a child." Now, look at the logic used by commentator "Crude" above. We may take it, understandably, that such a sign is insulting to an abortionist. After all, if abortion equals murdering a child, and he's an abortionist, then this means that he is a child murderer, even though he isn't named anywhere on the sign.

And as I freely admit, the idea that offense can justify a punch in the face leads right away to these kinds of complications, where suddenly anything a person dislikes or is offended by becomes grounds for a punch, or legal action. I'm under no delusion that this is all neat and clear-cut.

At the same time, I think there's a difference between making an argument or holding an opinion that others may reject or find repulsive, and doing something largely or wholly for the purpose of offending people or riling them up. Do I really have to make the wild claim here that sometimes, in fact many times, people do things just to mock or denigrate them or try to offend them, rather than doing so in the course of making an intellectual claim or argument?

Is all intentional, obnoxious offense, so long as it remains purely verbal, A-OK and must be tolerated, even defended? If not, can I see some examples where you say it would be acceptable to start swinging?

Crude, something can be wrong without the law speaking to it.

Something can be offensive, without being illegal.

Sometimes we can "do something about" offensive things, without
asking the law to do them.

Sometimes we can respond effectively to offensiveness, without a punch in the nose.

Sometimes we can go about it the civilized way.

Sometimes we can walk right up to someone and tell them right to their face: "what you are doing is extremely offensive to my religion and I don't want my child to have to see that, why don't you take your offensiveness elsewhere."

Sometimes, when effective stoppers don't seem available, we can even try the Christian way and turn the other cheek (obviously, that's going to be a stretch for a devout Muslim. More shame to Islam, then, isn't it?)

Freedom from legal penalties for being offensive isn't the same as freedom from social consequences.

Admittedly, there are such things under the law as "fighting words" standards. Unless the judge was relying explicitly on something like that, it sounds to me like he hasn't a clue about what rule of law really means. And I seriously doubt that "fighting words" standards encompass the sort of thing that Lydia described. It's really sad, and often despicable, to see what judges choose to wrap their itty bitty minds around instead of just employing common sense.

Tony,

My basic response to most of your replies here are best summed up with: No duh.

Really? Sometimes something can be wrong without it being illegal? What a concept! But if we're pointing out the obvious, I'm willing to play.

Did you know, Tony, that sometimes something that is wrong should be illegal?

Are you aware that there are times when it's entirely permissible - even morally obligatory - to stop someone from doing what they're doing?

Has it crossed your mind that sometimes, when one person offends another and the offending person is socked in the head, they are the ones who are ultimately at fault?

Did you know that sometimes "the civilized way" is not a proper response, or that sometimes "the civilized way" is just another word for situational cowardice?

Sometimes, when effective stoppers don't seem available, we can even try the Christian way and turn the other cheek (obviously, that's going to be a stretch for a devout Muslim. More shame to Islam, then, isn't it?)

Two men walk outside one day. Two see men holding signs accusing their sons - falsely, and without evidence - of being pedophiles.

Man A says, "Gracious, that's offensive. But while I object to what you say, sir, I'll defend to your death the right to say it!" and ignores them.

Man B says, "Take down the sign, or I'm decking you." The sign does not come down. The sign-holder is decked.

Which man is more shameful?

Freedom from legal penalties for being offensive isn't the same as freedom from social consequences.

And if there are no social consequences? What if there are mostly social rewards? What if the fact that there are no social consequences and that there are social rewards is due in part to everyone feigning how civilized they are and being tolerant of themselves and their neighbors being mocked and offended?

Again, one _does_ have recourse against slander--whether against oneself or one's son.

Look, Cr., if you're trying to get me to give a lengthy argument against hate speech laws, I'm just not going to take the time. And, no, it isn't a matter of their being "abused." I consider that the laws we *have right now* in America against slander and direct, personal harassment are pretty much sufficient. Probably the Westboro precedent should be overturned regarding the direct, personal, individual harassment discussed by Alito. But we do not *need* an additional law that says, or entails, "If you're marching in a parade and you dress up as a zombie Pope just to be a jackass and annoy and insult Catholics, some Catholic guy has a right to deck you, or else you should at least be arrested." It would be a stupid law, and I'm not going to say it would be a stupid law just because it could be "abused." I'm going to say that even insulting and unintellectual criticism of a religion is not the kind of thing that should be illegal, and a fortiori is not the kind of thing that should be grounds for permissible assault. (Nor, by the way, need it be subsidized by government! Hence, I'm perfectly fine with, in fact I endorse, the NEA not sponsoring a work of "art" featuring a zombie Pope, a zombie Mohammad, or a dung-covered Virgin Mary. And that's not censorship.)

By the way, since when is a Halloween parade a highly intellectual affair, anyway?

And if there are no social consequences? What if there are mostly social rewards? What if the fact that there are no social consequences and that there are social rewards is due in part to everyone feigning how civilized they are and being tolerant of themselves and their neighbors being mocked and offended?

What do you mean "no social consequences"? YOU are the one responsible for making sure there ARE social consequences. If you make them happen, then there are social consequences. Intelligent, rational, human, legal, and unpleasant for the other fellow.

Oh, you mean that not everybody in the neighborhood goes along and supports you, helping make stronger social consequences. Awwwww, that's toooo baaaad. What makes you special, that you get all your wishes out of society? Isn't that what everybody complains about when votes don't go their way? That's part of life. Work harder next time.

Man A says, "Gracious, that's offensive. But while I object to what you say, sir, I'll defend to your death the right to say it!" and ignores them.

Oh, yes, of course, that's the only legal option you have. You are not only obliged to support his "right" to tell lies, but to be milquetoast doing it. Be sure to wring your hands while saying that. Wait, I am having trouble locating which law says that...

Lydia, as regards your point about the military, my experience accords perfectly with what you say. I did a security-related Master's degree at what is considered a very conservative program. Obviously we always had several ex-military men enrolled at any given time, and my experience of them was that they were, by far, the most PC-whipped people in the program. I was once lectured, without humor, by an Air Force vet that "women are a protected group," and that therefore I had no business saying anything which might offend them, in any setting, even an academic one. He had the glazed look and spoke with the mechanical, rote cadence of a man quoting a policy he had learned from continuous repetition. No longer in the military, he was incapable of turning off his "training" and accepting that this is, you know, America.

Now I'm in the defense contracting world, and I can tell you, it's astounding just how reflexively military types have been conditioned to cringe before minority sensitivities. When men are being required to wear fake breasts to improve their empathy for female recruits, you're looking at an organization so sick that I would never contemplate allowing my son to sign up for it voluntarily. If nothing else, being in the military will mean he has to teach himself to suppress actively all his indignation, all his basic common sense, everything normal that comes to his mind. Before long he comes to expect the same from others, and I've little doubt that the judge in this case has exactly that expectation, to the point that he no longer acknowledges any law, neither man's nor God's, protecting a man's right to say what he thinks.

Lydia,

Again, one _does_ have recourse against slander--whether against oneself or one's son.

Inadequate recourse, and not every offense is slanderous in the legal sense of the term. "Fighting words" were brought up in the context of this conversation, which seems more appropriate than talk of libel. But then we're right back to the conversation I think is important: discussing what should and shouldn't constitute "fighting words".

Look, Cr., if you're trying to get me to give a lengthy argument against hate speech laws, I'm just not going to take the time

No need, I think they're pretty idiotic and I don't defend them. In fact I think they are, certainly as enforced and intended, emblematic of the problems that come into play when the question of reasonable limits to speech come up. Emblematic in the sense that they show the sort of obnoxious, bad laws that can be passed in the name of 'tolerance' or 'diversity' or whatever. Likewise, I don't defend idiocy like pulling out a gun and shooting someone because a person called them a name.

But the fact that bad laws can be passed on this front doesn't mean that we should embrace the frankly absurd notion that any intentional offense and goading is sacrosanct, and never merits a punch in the head.

I'm going to say that even insulting and unintellectual criticism of a religion is not the kind of thing that should be illegal, and a fortiori is not the kind of thing that should be grounds for permissible assault.

And I'm going to say that there are reasonable limits to the sort of insult and offense a given individual can direct at another individual or group, and that once the line is crossed it's entirely justifiable that someone socks them. I'll up the ante and say that, in the case of the man wielding a sign saying "Joe Smith's son is a pedophile" in the situation mentioned, failure to rip up that sign and (if necessary) sock the sign-holder one is a case of moral failure.

By the way, since when is a Halloween parade a highly intellectual affair, anyway?

Since when does the fact that something isn't a highly intellectual affair provide justification for engaging in acts intended to grievously offend people or rile them up?

By the way, I keep asking this regarding 'something to be said for the freedom to be a bit of a jerk': "What's to be said for it? Specifically, what's to be said for the freedom to obnoxiously, intentionally offend people, particularly in a way that has little content beyond the offense?" So far, if there's anything to be said for it, it's apparently not being said here.

Tony,

What do you mean "no social consequences"? YOU are the one responsible for making sure there ARE social consequences.

By socking the person in the head and having a judge let me get away with it? Glad we agree, Tony m'boy.

Oh, yes, of course, that's the only legal option you have.

We're arguing over what legal options should be available, not what the legal options currently are. I know these involve some complicated concepts, Tony - maybe even some difficult words for you - but if you have any trouble with them I'm sure Lydia will be willing to walk you through the tougher ones.

And apparently it's not the only legal option available anyway. Case in point, a certain muslim in Pennsylvania. Score one for the social consequences, my man! And as for your complaints about the outcome - suck it up. ;)

Lydia, you referred to 'slander' in one of your statements above. Slander in western civilization refers to the spoken word and 'libel' to the written word. Of course, in America and under the rule of law there is recourse if you are slandered and or libeled. And truth would be a bar to guilt. However, in Islam, slander is doing or saying anything that the hearer does not want to hear or in the case of the man in the parade wearing a costume 'defaming' Muhammad, doing something that offends the Muslim. Truth has nothing to do with it. The muslims actions clearly comport with his understanding of Sharia law but they go strictly against America's rule of law. My judgement is to strip this judge's law license and forbid him from practicing law again. That is, unless you prefer living under Sharia law. The two legal systems are diametrically opposed. We either stop this kind of nonsense now or live with it forever and, we become subjugated to Islam where there will be no Constitution, rule of law, freedom or liberty. There are many on the left who like what Islam has to offer in its authoritarianism but I am afraid when the left gets down the road and want to share power with Islam, they will not like what they see, for at the end of the road is dhimmitude for those of us still left alive.

I know these involve some complicated concepts, Tony - maybe even some difficult words for you - but if you have any trouble with them I'm sure Lydia will be willing to walk you through the tougher ones.

I'd be willing to bet Tony could spot you several IQ points. Plus he's a contributor here, and you aren't even a particularly valued commentator. Bag the personal insults, pronto.

And apparently it's not the only legal option available anyway. Case in point, a certain muslim in Pennsylvania.

No, I'd call this a fairly self-evident case of "judge nullification of the law." The idea that Muslims can jump people and tear off/up insulting-to-Islam signs _legally_ is, shall we say, a novel one. I doubt very much that Judge Martin's view is correct as to the meaning either of Pennsylvania law or the laws of other states.

Sage, thanks for your insights. Chilling, but what I feared. Conservatives really need to rethink their support for having young men join the current U.S. military. It's been taken over by the virus of liberal brain-washing and is now a factory for propagating the same. And a big and effective factory, too. A gigantic federal jobs program cum social experiment, which should frighten any conservative's hair grey.

We're arguing over what legal options should be available, not what the legal options currently are.

Well, you are going on and on about "should", but you have yet to, y'know, actual MAKE an argument that the legal room for response should be larger. You just sort of forgot that your point needs an argument to support it.

Freedom of speech means the freedom to say things that express your mind even if it doesn't agree with what is in someone else's mind. The law provides for that. If you want to say that what this guy did exceeds what the law ought to allow for, maybe by violating freedom of speech principles, make the argument. Or, if it did not violate those principles, you need to establish just what it is that makes it right for the offended Muslim to smack the guy instead of the entire range of _other options_. The mere fact that the costume offended, doesn't actually argue anything at all. We knew someone was offended - the Muslim told us that much.

Unless you would like to accept that the offended costume wearer ALSO had the right to smack the Muslim back because he was offended at the Muslim's expressive manners, and to use a brick while he was at it. Not to mention real self-defense, like breaking the Muslim's arm.

Lydia,

I'd be willing to bet Tony could spot you several IQ points.

I'm all in favor of generosity, Lydia, but be reasonable. If he spots me several, he'll be in the negatives. ;)

I'm kidding of course. I like what most of Tony has to say, and think he's usually reasonable. And you, for that matter. But... oh, more below.

Plus he's a contributor here, and you aren't even a particularly valued commentator. Bag the personal insults, pronto.

Nah, I'll continue to dish out what Tony chooses to offer, and do it better than him in the process. If he wants a civil conversation, I'll gladly give it to him; I didn't start in with the obnoxious lecturing and mockery. But if he wants to insult and mock, I'll repay in kind - and do it better than he can manage. If the rule here is "Admins can mock commenters, but they're quite the faberge eggs and cannot suffer mockery in return", pull whatever administrative act you're threatening to - you'll need to before long, if the hypocrisy stays. I won't even complain, since it's your place and your rules. Though it will put a nice spin on the whole 'There's something to be said for the freedom to be a jerk' line. A line I still see zero defense of, by the way.

No, I'd call this a fairly self-evident case of "judge nullification of the law." The idea that Muslims can jump people and tear off/up insulting-to-Islam signs _legally_ is, shall we say, a novel one.

Except that what constitutes "fighting words" is a nebulous thing, and subject to revision - and it certainly seems like a case can be made that it's applicable in this situation. You may be right that ultimately the judge will have been found to have ruled inappropriately, at which point my line - barring persuasive arguments to the contrary - will be the same: the law should be changed.

Tony,

Well, you are going on and on about "should", but you have yet to, y'know, actual MAKE an argument that the legal room for response should be larger. You just sort of forgot that your point needs an argument to support it.

Uh, I've been making arguments here. I've also been asking for justifications of claims about the value of being a jerk, among other things. They haven't been forthcoming. Apparently it's all supposed to be self-evident.

Freedom of speech means the freedom to say things that express your mind even if it doesn't agree with what is in someone else's mind.

Should it include the freedom to say things expressly to mock, insult and goad, with practically zero intellectual content on offer besides? Is there some kind of sanctified value to being a jerk?

The problem is the line about 'the freedom to express your mind even if others disagree' sounds quite reasonable in the abstract - but in specific cases it stops being so clear. You have no right to yell 'fire' in a crowded theatre. There are 'fighting words', limited as they are. And maybe, just maybe, trying to goad and insult people with little intellectual content beyond the insult isn't sacrosanct.

CS Lewis observes in Reflections on Psalms that the modern Westerners are not up for rioting and wonders if this development is not an unmixed blessing. He brings it up under a discussion of conniving. The people that do not resist attacks against Religion and Family connive in the attack.

In uncivilized Third World they would not take refuge in First Amendment and Private Property but would simply tear off and destroy a pornographic or blasphemous hoardings.

Crude, you seem to be assuming that to

say things expressly to mock, insult and goad, with practically zero intellectual content on offer besides

constitutes the meaning of "fighting words". I think that you need to back that up. What does the state of law and/or jurisprudence mean by "fighting words", and what are the constraints on it, and why were those constraints put on it. And if you don't think that current understanding and the constraints make sense, establish why they don't. See, I don't think that doing what the above jerk did constitutes fighting words - either in the current legal framework, or in any adjusted legal approach that truly improves the state of society.

The fact that someone took offense and got enraged enough to strike out isn't a sufficient basis for claiming "them's fighting words". It takes (and ought to take) more than that. And the fact that a Halloween costume was a zombie Mohammed doesn't, to my mind, arise to the level of "expressly to mock, insult, and goad" in any significant degree at all. There has to be a minimum bar of intensity, and a Halloween costume just ain't there. Or, do you not grok Halloween either.

And you have recourse. But not punching the person in the nose. You might start by asking an officer to have a chat with him. If that doesn't work, you get a court order telling him he has to stop marching around with this slanderous sign. And you also sue the bejabbers out of him.

This is why we need to reinstate the common law legal defense of provocation where if your actions would provoke a reasonable person to violence, they have partial or complete legal immunity if in a fit of rage they assault you. No need to waste the court's time with allowing some petty little piece of white trash get treated civilly when knocking his head off would be a far more efficient way of resolving it.

I actually laughed my ass off when I read this case because it's about time that a Muslim finally put a liberal atheist in his place and showed them a little taste of what Islam is really about.

CS Lewis observes in Reflections on Psalms that the modern Westerners are not up for rioting and wonders if this development is not an unmixed blessing. He brings it up under a discussion of conniving.

Amen, Gian. Many Westerners console themselves that they are too civilized for this. Consider that even Lydia cannot see that any legal system which would allow the prosecution of a man who physically assaulted a man who slandered him as a pedophile is inherently unjust and inhumane. We've reached a point where "the good people" are so civilized that they cannot even fathom lashing out with forceful, righteous indignation and not backing down or feeling guilty about it when it's called for.

Should it include the freedom to say things expressly to mock, insult and goad, with practically zero intellectual content on offer besides? Is there some kind of sanctified value to being a jerk?

Considering the Supreme Court held up the right of the Westboro folks to continue their protests at funerals, I think legally, the answer is yes. Now, I consider Westboro to be closer to or actually fighting words due to the location and timing. However, if they were marching in some parade, I don't think that is the same thing. The latter isn't timed or located at a "sensitive" time and is a general public statement. (With muslims though, every time seems to be a sensitive time.)

Some idiot atheist marching in a parade is not the same as that same idiot showing up at a muslim funeral. The content doesn't matter as long as it is not publicly indecent. If you legally get the restrictions you want, you end up with no free speech because then it devolves into either the most offended running things or only select groups being held to the law.

None of this means we can't say that what the atheists did was stupid. Of course, under your reasoning, they could claim we were mocking them and seek legal recourse.

By the way, does the fact that the judge is a Muslim add anything interesting to the picture? Like, maybe he quite specifically THINKS that sharia law ought to be the law of the land, and that he has the RIGHT AND OBLIGATION to start imposing it on his own nickel, even if it wasn't voted on democratically? From what the judge said, he clearly thinks that the immigrant's customs from another country and culture ought to define what an American can say and do on an American street, and he clearly didn't make even an attempt to apply American law to the case even for rules of evidence.

What's sad is that it is virtually certain the state won't attempt to take this to an appeals level and get the judge's idiotic actions thrown out.

The judge claims to be Lutheran.
http://jonathanturley.org/2012/02/26/judge-in-zombie-mohammed-case-responds/

This story certainly has legs. As you might imagine, the public is only getting the version of the story put out by the “victim” (the atheist). Many, many gross misrepresentations. Among them: I’m a Muslim, and that’s why I dismissed the harassment charge (Fact: if anyone cares, I’m actually Lutheran, and have been for at least 41 years).

Similar to this, Lydia and Tony, is when a speaker who is invited to speak at an event is shouted down by activists. Why should the recourse the audience has be to only go through the state rather than grab the "activists" and literally throw them out forcefully? Or if in the case of someone with connections like Jan Brewer who was recently shouted down by OWS protesters, why not let the security detail use force to shut down their protest which is disrupting a lawful activity?

It seems to me that we need a multi-layered defense of civilization. It works for network security and would work for society in general. You start by giving the common man some reasonable freedom to control "@$$hole behavior" in front of him that is harassing or shutting down a lawful activity.

It should also be noted that freedom of speech is freedom from censorship by the state and nothing more.

I actually agree with Mike T's position to some measure. Civil society must permit decent people, acting on their own intiative, to put anti-social and disruptive people in their place. Our current tendancy, which is to always "let the authorities and the legal system handle it", puts the power of disruption and intimidation into the hands of uncivil and indecent people. Such people can always immediately get the results they want while the justifiable social blowback is always deferred. Thus, the miscreants and jerks can be as nasty and anti-social as they want to be and the decent majority always has to sit back and take it.

Further, there is a real difference between free speech and outright provocation. And in a saner time it would be understood that certain kinds of provocation are beyond the pale, and might just earn you a broken nose that nobody will pity you for suffering. I'm not sure the halloween costume fits the bill, but I have certainly seen offensive behaviors by atheists that would have justified some degree of mild physical harm that did not lead to permanent injury.

I think earlier generations understood this, and they understood that if you want to be a certain kind of anti-social jerk then you risk getting socked by somebody. As long as people get to flagrantly violate the boundaries of decency with impunity, they will continue to coarsen and destroy the bonds of civil society as they filthy-up our public spaces.

And it isn't just atheists; in an ideal society, decent people would be permitted to rough-up the cretins from the Westboro Baptist cult too.

I decided from what I'd read that it was possible that the judge was using some kind of partial phrase when he said something like, "I'm a Muslim, that offends me," to mean "If I am a Muslim, that would offend me." I believe the line is actually on the audio, so the judge doesn't have much right to be annoyed that people took it literally. But because a question was raised at Volokh about what he meant, I didn't report it as his actually being a Muslim in the main post.

What Sage says above confirms my suspicion that his having been a military man in a Muslim country is just about as good for this purpose as his actually being a Muslim.

Mike T, of course security officers can evict disorderly persons who are interrupting a scheduled talk. That's why they're _security officers_. They have a special role to allow the scheduled event to proceed in an orderly fashion. The implication, rather, of "ordinary people need to be able to do something" would be that there should be a free-for-all in which the people who want to hear the speaker just fight it out with the activists who don't want the speaker to speak. In fact, if we abandon the idea of procedure and the rule of law, this favors the disruptive protestors! If what the speaker is trying to say is sufficiently "bad" or "insulting" from their perspective, they should be able to grab _him_ and throw _him_ out.

The security detail represents the property owners. In throwing out the disruptive activists they are just acting as bouncers. That's all within normal, well understood concepts of property, behavior, and social roles.

By the way, to clarify: I'm guessing that there are criminal as well as civil sanctions for direct, _individual_, personal harassment directed at a named person. I see no problem with having such sanctions--criminal as well as civil. If someone were calling up my phone and leaving repeated obscene personal insults on my answering machine, for example, the law ought to have something to say about that.

I'm not a free speech absolutist. There are all kinds of things that the law does penalize, and some others (such as pornography) that it should penalize and doesn't. Slander, defamation, personal harassment, pornography, threats. Walking in a parade dressed up as zombie Mohammad with a sign that says something insulting about Islam (I'm not even sure what it said, but let's suppose it said, "Mohammad was a pedophile") doesn't even begin to fall into any of them. Nor should it.

Cr. keeps asking what's to be said for the freedom to be something of a jerk. Here's what's to be said for it: A government that starts micromanaging whether I "spoke rudely in a way that would be insulting to members of a religion" is ipso facto a tyrannical government. If that category, when it falls into none of the other categories described, isn't the kind of thing that may be wrong but definitely should not be illegal, I don't know what is. Maybe eating too many Macdonald's french fries and thus committing gluttony? But I suppose liberals would like to make that illegal as well...

A couple of points after listening to the trial recording:

1. This might not have been so bad had the judge lectured the defendant that having you religion offended is not a reason to accost someone in the middle of a parade or call the police.

2. Per the police officer, the defendant admitted to physical contact with the atheist.

3. The lecture about Islam was completely out of line.

4. If the muslim is just a legal resident, he and his family needs to be deported as they obviously don't understand freedom.

5. The atheist is a jerk.

6. How is accosting someone, even without physical contact, in the middle of a parade not harassement.

7. It would be easier to accept the "I'm a muslim" statement as a mis-statement if he hadn't waxed poetic for five minutes on the culture and religion of Islam.

This is one of those things that typically gets resolved by going to the parade organizers who then tell groups they can't have religious content in their costumes. It's definitely not a "fighting words" situation, except obviously to a muslim.

The implication, rather, of "ordinary people need to be able to do something" would be that there should be a free-for-all in which the people who want to hear the speaker just fight it out with the activists who don't want the speaker to speak. In fact, if we abandon the idea of procedure and the rule of law, this favors the disruptive protestors! If what the speaker is trying to say is sufficiently "bad" or "insulting" from their perspective, they should be able to grab _him_ and throw _him_ out.

Hardly. I am advocating a legal regime where you can stop people from disrupting a peaceful assembly. That wouldn't apply here. Note: it would actually help us fight the left because it would give left-wing peaceful protesters a legal green light to beat the ever lovin crap out of anyone behaving like a black bloc protester.

The security detail represents the property owners.

Not always the case, and even so, it's far from clear in most jurisdictions that they have any authority to do more than make a lot of noise as they call the police. In most states, you cannot legally "take the law into your own hands" by grabbing a truly disruptive person by the shirt and escorting them to the door of your own house, let alone at a public venue.

To be perfectly clear about this, I was outraged until I realized all the Muslim did was tear off his sign. I wasn't outraged at all when a Catholic activist destroyed a public print of Piss Christ. I am not a free speech or property rights absolutist in the sense that I lump such acts under de minimis non curat preator.

I'm not even sure what it said, but let's suppose it said, "Mohammad was a pedophile"

You could argue that this is a factually true statement as Aisha was well below the age that even pagan Arabs considered appropriate for marriage and consummation of the marriage. Therefore whatever offensiveness it has is inherently mitigated by the fact that it is undeniably factually true. Granted, I'm not sure it would be the public's interest to publicly sanction and protect someone who wishes to wear that sign through a Muslim neighborhood. No cop should die protecting you while you are deliberately trying to get a rise out of someone.

Chris is talking good sense and saving me the trouble of saying all those sensible things.

By the way, Mike: The Muslim claims he thought it was illegal to portray Mohammad. My recollection is that the atheist also claims he grabbed the (fake) beard. In other words, it wasn't even just the sign. He was trying to prevent him from representing Mohammad.

But frankly, if we're going to let people go around deciding which signs are too offensive or going too far and tearing them off of people's necks, or even out of their hands, we have a problem.

The funny impression I get from you is that it isn't even the content of the sign that is causing you to support the Muslim. You just actually _like_ the idea that private people should be able to go around using force to prevent people from displaying signs, using their own judgement as to what signs should be allowed, and you're supporting that in this case even if it turns out that you agree with the sign. I suppose one could say that's "principled," in a strange, anarchic way...

In most states, you cannot legally "take the law into your own hands" by grabbing a truly disruptive person by the shirt and escorting them to the door of your own house, let alone at a public venue.

But there are limits to that, Mike. Yes, you do have the right in some cases. If the security personnel are trying to prevent free for all from starting, they certainly do have a right to suppress disruptive actions that are about to lead to a civil disturbance of physical mayhem - as does any citizen. You don't have to be a policeman to do that. Bouncers do that every day. The point is, though, that the right to take action in these cases revolves around the right to PROTECT free speech, and to promote safety. Neither one

of these objectives was served by our Muslim visitor, not even remotely. He was aimed directly against these objectives.

I'm a bit surprised that no one has yet brought up Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire. I'm no legal scholar, but it seems to be one of the main Supreme Court cases concerning "fighting words" and the First Amendment.

To be perfectly clear about this, I was outraged until I realized all the Muslim did was tear off his sign. I wasn't outraged at all when a Catholic activist destroyed a public print of Piss Christ. I am not a free speech or property rights absolutist in the sense that I lump such acts under de minimis non curat preator.

Mike, the atheist was not acting in a harassing manner or preventing lawful behavior. Had the muslim booed or hurled insults at the marchers from the sidewalk, that would have been fine. Once he walked into the parade (I bet there is a city ordinance against that) and at a minimum harassed the marcher he was committing those acts which you said the common man should be able to correct on his own. If the atheist and several other marchers had dragged the muslim off the street and back to the sidewalk, that meets the criteria you laid out.

The funny impression I get from you is that it isn't even the content of the sign that is causing you to support the Muslim. You just actually _like_ the idea that private people should be able to go around using force to prevent people from displaying signs, using their own judgement as to what signs should be allowed, and you're supporting that in this case even if it turns out that you agree with the sign. I suppose one could say that's "principled," in a strange, anarchic way...

I am undecided as to how to balance the various social factors involved. I see at least a few factors at play here:

1) Society needs mechanisms to restrain @$$holes.
2) Society needs freedom of speech.
3) Society needs a government that usually stays out until things get serious.

My general disposition toward jerks is that they quite literally deserve the abuse they seek out unless the abuse is disproportionate. I see proportionality between the atheist's behavior which was intended to cause a rise out of Muslims and the response. Note: the Muslim didn't attempt to beat him up over it. IMO, it's a case of two jerks being jerks without meaningful physical harm to limb or property, therefore I am dubious that it is a valid use of tax funds to prosecute the Muslim.

I think you'll note that I've been careful here to limit this ambivalence toward signs that a reasonable person would say are intended to cause a rise out of someone. I am still open two to things here as far as state involvement:

1) Civil arbitration for restoration of damaged property.
2) A legal right to fight off the person who is attempting to suppress the jerk's speech.

I think there is room for experimentation on decentralized methods of controlling offensive speech based on making foreseeable, unnecessary provocation something which the state considers de minimis as long as the retaliation is minor. In other words, the state says that if you are going to be an @$$hole and someone else wants to be one toward you, the state is leaving you to suffer your fate unless they go too far.

Tony,

constitutes the meaning of "fighting words". I think that you need to back that up.

The basic concept of 'fighting words' and the dispute that can arise from it is my focus. I already agreed that it's entirely possible that courts will regard 'fighting words' as something wholly other, and that one can, in fact, mock and offend purely to rile people, with little intellectual substance beyond that. At which point I'll disagree with what does, legally, constitute 'fighting words' and argue the view should be expanded/changed.

Mike T,

This is why we need to reinstate the common law legal defense of provocation where if your actions would provoke a reasonable person to violence, they have partial or complete legal immunity if in a fit of rage they assault you. No need to waste the court's time with allowing some petty little piece of white trash get treated civilly when knocking his head off would be a far more efficient way of resolving it.

I actually laughed my ass off when I read this case because it's about time that a Muslim finally put a liberal atheist in his place and showed them a little taste of what Islam is really about.

Agreed on the first part, though I realize the complexity of that subject. And on the second part, agreed again. Finally! Someone who says the obvious - an atheist getting shoved around because their attempt to offend and mock someone worked and resulted in a stronger response than 'I'll write about this on my blog!', is actually pretty funny.

Chris,

Considering the Supreme Court held up the right of the Westboro folks to continue their protests at funerals, I think legally, the answer is yes. Now, I consider Westboro to be closer to or actually fighting words due to the location and timing. However, if they were marching in some parade, I don't think that is the same thing. The latter isn't timed or located at a "sensitive" time and is a general public statement. (With muslims though, every time seems to be a sensitive time.)

As I've said with Tony, what is legally the case-in-fact isn't my concern here - if the SCOTUS decides that X is illegal, my reply will just be (in this case) that X should be legal, and that either the SCOTUS is wrong or that law should be changed so the SCOTUS would have to find that X is legal.

And of course, I'm not limiting this to muslims. I don't think they're a special, delicate people uniquely deserving of the right to reply to goading and offense when pressed. But what can I say - a muslim is the one who made the move in this case.

If you legally get the restrictions you want, you end up with no free speech because then it devolves into either the most offended running things or only select groups being held to the law.

No, we don't. Because as I've stressed, I recognize that the idea of there being limits to offensiveness and goading is extraordinarily complicated and fraught with dangers - and I have at no point pretended that I have some unique Solomon's Wisdom level solution to these things. It's a messy problem and I know it. I also happen to not think that 'muslims need to behave better, everyone has the right to be a complete ass without fear of immediate physical repercussion, end of story' is the most obviously reasonable solution. In fact I see it as a failure to take seriously the entire line of questioning, just as much as 'hate speech should be outlawed, we shouldn't promote hate' is not nearly as simple or even as desirable as the single sentence would have people believe.

Put another way: I think we should value certain kinds of 'offense' over others. An apologist giving an argument why Mohammed could not be God's prophet would offend the hell out of a muslim, I have no doubt, but I'd defend that speech. An atheist explaining why he thinks God does not exist, or why he thinks the Old Testament God is a horrible tyrant, is something I'd defend despite disagreeing with him deeply. Someone running around yelling, 'Christ was a pedophile, durrhurrhurr, suck it Christfags!'? Yeah, for some reason I don't consider this to be as worthy of defense as the other two examples. If that person ends up censored, or even smacked, I'm not prepared to shed any patriotic or theological tears.

Lydia,

Cr. keeps asking what's to be said for the freedom to be something of a jerk. Here's what's to be said for it: A government that starts micromanaging whether I "spoke rudely in a way that would be insulting to members of a religion" is ipso facto a tyrannical government.

Do you think that all criticisms of a religion constitute jerk behavior? I've seen plenty of criticisms of Islam on this site - do you all think you were being jerks? I think not, clearly. Does my saying something, and someone claiming to take offense from it, suffice to make me a jerk? Again, clearly not. It's entirely possible someone is being way too thin-skinned, or worse, feigning offense to shut me up.

But when someone is intentionally goading, trying their damndest to offend and insult first and foremost - or even exclusively - because they don't like some people and want to offend them or piss them off? That, I think, is more reasonably called 'being a jerk'. And I think trying to defend the freedom of being a jerk by recasting the claim into 'the freedom to say something that may, under some possible circumstance, offend someone' is to quietly sacrifice the jerk claim.

I will absolutely grant that getting the government involved with regulating this kind of speech is fraught with peril. I will happily concede that the question of how to decide what speech is or isn't worth regarding as offensive to the point where someone's justified in throwing a punch is extremely difficult and messy.

But I'll also say that offending people just to offend them, riling them up because you simply dislike them, isn't some holy and sacred right. I think it's absurd to clutch a flag and regard such behavior as quintessential 'free speech' every bit as much as it is to grant the same treatment to hardcore porn. And if at the end of the day the defense is, "Well look, 'speech' of the sort meant purely to deeply offend or rile people is toxic and ideally should be banned, but if the government gets involved I think it just creates more trouble and danger than it's worth", that will be a defense that concedes an essential point I'm making, matched with the claim that it's just impractical to regulate. But it damn well won't be mounting a defense of jerk behavior because darnit, jerks are an important resource we should cherish.

Granted, I will agree that this case was unfair under the current legal regime since it goes without saying that had this been a non-Muslim perpetrator, the judge would have thrown the book at him. If the judge were similarly inclined to not prosecute a Catholic who punched the atheist for showing the Virgin Mary as a whore or something like that, I'd be sympathetic to the judge. Since we all know that's not the case, I do agree he's in the wrong.

As I said, freedom of speech means what the state can do to stop you, not how far the state is willing to protect you from the consequences of your speech.

Lydia and Tony,

BTW, provocation was outlawed in Australia as a defense because it was "too effective" at punishing cheating spouses caught in flagrante. The Australian courts generally agreed with the spouse charged with murder that "if you caught your spouse in bed with a lover, and had a gun handy, you too might shoot them dead in a fit of rage." Yeah, the feminists didn't like that. It had a habit of putting a real dampener on adultery in the more conservative areas of Australia--which is a real no no to liberals.

Lydia writes:

The Muslim was apparently under the impression that he was in England (perhaps he missed which side of the Atlantic he was on) and wanted to report the atheist for insulting Islam with his costume and sign.

This little farce does play as though it was performed in an English 'street theatre'.

I still hope that despite 'judicial activism', the Constitution of the United States will prove impervious to Muslim attempts to trespass against free speech. Maybe I'm being a bit naive here?

Let's also be perfectly clear here about the Constitution's role. The Constitution was amended with the 14th in a way that applied rules that were intended for the national government to municipalities as small as 100 people. The founders did not give us a Constitution that in any way limited the states in their ability to regulate speech or religion; state religions still existed until about 1830 something.

The same amendment that require the state to give this atheist due process and protection for his offensive speech that he knew was unnecessarily provocative is the same one that makes it a crime for a public school official to conduct an official prayer, let alone one in Jesus' name. So don't think you aren't giving up something at the same time you are getting something here.

Mike T,

BTW, provocation was outlawed in Australia as a defense because it was "too effective" at punishing cheating spouses caught in flagrante. The Australian courts generally agreed with the spouse charged with murder that "if you caught your spouse in bed with a lover, and had a gun handy, you too might shoot them dead in a fit of rage."

How uncivilized! What sort of barbarian resorts to violence, or even the threat of violence, when faced with such flagrant infidelity? We're Americans. We respect freedom of speech and the freedom to pursue happiness. If some troglodyte thinks the response to finding a spouse in bed with a lover is violence, then we need to ship them back to wherever they came from because clearly they aren't suitable for life in America.

*bzzrzt*

Woah, sorry, my sarcasm machine busted on that one.

But yeah, sadly I suspect that that too will be regarded as completely unreasonable - beating up (or worse) someone in bed with a spouse is unthinkable, as clearly rational sorts would simply remove themselves from the situation and launch a lawsuit. Or maybe even that is an overreaction. Strongly worded letter of disappointment! That's the solution!

Mike, now you're shifting the goalposts. We haven't been debating the Incorporation Doctrine. We have been debating based on the current state of the law. Now I assume PA has some sort of free speech clause in their constitution. Either way this is a free speech issue whether you take it from a Federal, State, or general freedom level.

Again, are you saying that the defendant was right in his actions? And how do you square them with interfering with a legal activity, in a public venue?

Chris,

#1 I was responding to Alex WRT "the Constitution will survive this."

#2 I am not commenting on the morality of the defendant's decisions, but if you want my opinion, I think the defendant and "victim" deserve each other.

#3 There is a legal doctrine called de minimis non curat praetor that explains it quite nicely. "The praetor (authority figure) does not concern himself with trivial things." An example of it would be a cop refusing to arrest two little boys who are beating each other up, rather than separate them and hand them over to their parents. It's a time-honored and very important legal concept that is the foundation of civil discretionary authority. Another example would be a prosecutor refusing to prosecute a cop who responds to two drunks brawling by giving them both a few good whacks with his night stick and then sends them on their way.

There are many things which fall under legal behavior that are not things which the state should concern itself with if you get hurt doing. As I hinted above, adultery is one of them. If your wife catches you in bed with another woman and kills you, you may have a legal right in 50 states to screw your mistress, but it doesn't mean it's in society's interest to sentence your wife to more than "time already served" for wasting you.

The state must balance the enforcement of the law with the public interest. It's often not worth the state's resources to enforce the law because the public benefit is lower than the public cost. I see that at play when someone who goes around acting offensively finally has his path cross with someone willing to sock him a good one.

And since studies show most Americans commit about 3 felonies a day by accident, since the federal legal code now has more than 4,200 misdemeanors and felonies explicitly labeled by name (not counting the myriad ways you can be prosecuted for violating regulatory law), I would suggest that defending the enforcement of the law because it's the law and that's fair is not a good idea if for no other reason than the feds could probably find at least one good reason to send even Lydia and Tony to prison under that enforcement regime.

* "good reason" -- if they look hard enough, there's at least one law they can twist into saying you broke.

Mike, I think you are conflating the problems facing the police and the prosecutors with the obligation of the judge. Sure, a cop can refuse to let a petty "assault" go without hauling anyone to jail. And of course a prosecutor can refuse to waste the state's money on a trial of something petty. But if the case is brought to trial, the judge has to hear it enough to find out whether there is evidence of a law being broken. (Refusing to admit evidence doesn't count). If he finds that the case was petty and trivial and he SHOULDN'T have had to hear it because it should not have been brought to him, he has plenty of resources available to him OTHER than making a travesty of the law. For instance, he can fine the guy 10 cents. Or punish him with 30 seconds in jail. C'mon, there's plenty of creative options. And he can make the prosecutor fully aware of the stupidity of trying such trivial cases without telling someone that they did nothing wrong when they violated the law.

Look, there are lots of better ways of behaving than this stupid jerk of an atheist. But poking fun at a public (religious) leader in a Holloween costume just isn't "fighting words". Let me make this perfectly clear: Muslims don't think Mohammed is God. They don't think he is holiness itself. They don't like it when people have images of him, but they DON'T get to impose that preference on us Americans. Having an image of Mohammed here in America ISN'T fighting words, and that's all there is to it. Presenting an image of a zombie Mohammed is disrespectful of Mohammed's "unique" position in a religion, but IT AIN'T fighting words either.

I am fine with the idea that people ought to have options for dealing with jerks than calling the police. But we do, you just be creative. And I don't mean an assault that simply takes the place of a police response.

Tony said: "Presenting an image of a zombie Mohammed is disrespectful of Mohammed's "unique" position in a religion, but IT AIN'T fighting words either."

What about Mohammed as a human being who once lived? Is it fair to mock another human being, irrespective of his social position, irrespective of whether he is among the living or dead (especially if he is dead--since he can't respond), especially that the one who is mocking in this case never even knew this person or had contact with him? Suppose I mocked your great-grandmother, would that be decent or good? Is it also fair for me to be mocked in a public place, where surely my right not to be mocked is violated by your right to say anything you wish to say? Surely that means that I would have to avoid public places in order to avoid suffering emotional discomfort. The one person gets to have a good time, the other has to avoid the public space or feel discomfort. Thoughts? Thank you.

Tony,

I don't agree that a judge has to do any of those things. A judge can and should simply throw out the case when it reaches a certain point. As I said, I am not in favor of what he did here because he wouldn't have done it for another religious group. However, if a Christian vandalized Sensation or Piss Christ, I would be in the judge throwing out that case as well. More so, actually, as I think Christianity should more fundamentally protected by our culture than any other religion.

As I said, I don't think what this guy did to the atheist was particularly noteworthy. I don't see why the state should have taken it on any more than it should have, say, when two drunks are duking it out and a cop can get them separated without arresting them. I am not entirely sure I agree with you that this atheist's actions should fall outside of the realm of fighting words since he clearly intended to provoke to anger any Muslim who saw him.

I am not entirely sure I agree with you that this atheist's actions should fall outside of the realm of fighting words since he clearly intended to provoke to anger any Muslim who saw him.

That right there is a _huge_ problem. We should squelch right here and now any idea that we should expand the category of unprotected "fighting words" to include any words "intended to provoke anger." _Think_ what that means, Mike! Remember the cartoonist who had to go into hiding because she suggested an "everybody draw Mohammad day"? I believe her initial cartoon involved labeling some innocuous object like a toaster as "Mohammad" just to make fun of the silly taboo on portraying Mohammad.

It is _perfectly legitimate_ and even salutary in America for us to be able deliberately to break the absurd taboos that Mohammadans want to set up for us, to tweak their noses, as it were, because their crazy rules are themselves oppressive and offensive. It's a method of asserting "I do not submit." Indeed, "I do not submit" T-shirts might well be said to be "intended to provoke anger" in Muslims. Tant pis.

Or, again, consider pro-life signs. Not everybody takes the "winning hearts and minds" approach. There are different legitimate approaches to the debate. If somebody walks around with a sign that says, "Abortionists are murderers!" and a drawing of a partial-birth abortion, that is highly likely to provoke anger in any abortionist who sees it, and it can even understandably be said to be _intended_ to provoke that anger.

Turning "that is intended to make the members of such-and-such a group angry" into "that is fighting words and is not protected First Amendment speech" is a terrible, terrible idea.

A few things:

1) This Muslim did not commit true violence, unless I missed something. He damaged an offensive sign and tore at a beard. Even in the most conservative parts of the South, the Muslim would have gotten likely 50 hours of community service and time served on "jerks are a waste of our time and money" grounds. There is a reason why Piss Christ and Sensation were shown in NYC and not the South; Southerners likely would have responded as forcefully against them as this Muslim man did to the atheist.

2) The average Muslim who responded to the cartoons wanted to maim or murder the cartoonist. I think that's axiomatically outside of the realm of de minimis violations of the law like two jerks scuffling over words that may or may not be fighting words.

3) I think it would do wonders to promote civility if people who make a sport of being a jerk couldn't count on the state rushing forcefully to their aid if they get into a mess of their own making.

4) Most of you are making a mountain out of a mole hill here. This is just one crackpot Pennsylvania judge who may end up with a Section 1983 lawsuit on his hands from the ACLU before it's all said and done since he quite clearly violated the atheist's due process rights (on paper) by discriminating in favor of Muslim sensibilities here (since he wouldn't similarly defend other religions, it's clear cut discrimination).

As for me, I'm more inclined to watch this with not so subtle schadenfreude and amusement as the liberals and Muslims start realizing that that old Arab maxim about friends is a crock of camel excrement. Seriously, Lydia, you're a Christian. Nothing you do through the secular courts will delay the inevitable persecution of Christians. You can, however, take schadenfreude from watching the Muslims and libtards go at it (and hopefully neutralize each other).

Lydia,

It is _perfectly legitimate_ and even salutary in America for us to be able deliberately to break the absurd taboos that Mohammadans want to set up for us, to tweak their noses, as it were, because their crazy rules are themselves oppressive and offensive.

And offensive? Ahh, the irony.

No, Lydia. It's not 'perfectly legitimate' to be a jerk, much less salutary. Legal questions aside, this kind of thinking is pretty despicable and part of what's tearing this country down. The idea that flat out mockery and trying to personally rile people up is somehow "legitimate or salutary" is inane, right up there with claims that covering hardcore porn with first amendment arguments is not only right, but somehow even more important to protect than thoughtful or attempted-intellectual speech.

Yes, I get it. You dislike "Mohammadans" and really enjoy pissing them off. Somehow, you consider this to be occupying a pinnacle of intellectual worth. Why, you're just like that brilliant, daring do-good PZ Myers, stealing consecrated hosts to desecrate. Catholic teaching is oppressive and offensive after all. What PZ Myers did isn't merely legitimate, but salutary! Bald eagles sitting on American flags wrapped around the Statue of Liberty shed tears of pride at such acts.

Hey, I've got one for you Lydia: start collecting funds to make a hardcore porn starring a character playing as Mohammed. A gay porn, even. Go around at your church raising money for this and say that it's not only legitimate, but necessary and praiseworthy - why, it's part of the Christian mission to do this! Think of how offended some muslims will be! That justifies the act.

And then, on What's Wrong With the World, write articles marveling at how modern discourse is such a cesspool, and wonder how it ever reached a point where people mostly mock and insult each other rather than reason. Wonder why the culture has gone into the toilet. Surely you played no role!

I don't think this discussion is about whether there can ever be a justification for mocking people on account of their religious beliefs etc. No reasonable person would argue any such thing.

The fundamental concern here is about the imposition of undesirable changes in American culture (and in the interpretation of American law) in order to accommodate the hypersensitivity of Muslims.

Crude, pornography is evil. Portraying Mohammad as a toaster is not.

What part of that don't you understand?

See, truth matters. And saying, "I do not submit to Islam" is one way to defend it.

The fundamental concern here is about the imposition of undesirable changes in American culture (and in the interpretation of American law) in order to accommodate the hypersensitivity of Muslims.

I don't agree that the fundamental concern here is that simple because this Muslim actually acted in a way I would defend a Christian for behaving if he did something like throw a rock at Piss Christ and destroyed it. To be blunt, Lydia and Tony, I would completely reject punishing a Christian who destroyed something with no serious artistic or rhetorical value that existed only to desecrate Christianity. I don't find what this atheist did to be even remotely serious speech anymore than if a bunch of skinheads marched through a hasidic neighborhood dressed as zombie Holocaust victims. I think the hasidic Jews would be well within their right to raise Hell and even possibly punch the lights out of a few of them.

PC acquiescence to Muslim hypersensitivity is one thing. That was on display when a bunch of Muslims went "ZOMG TEH PROPHET IZ MOKED GIT UR GUNZ ABDULLAH ITZ JIHAD TIME RAWWWWRRRR" This guy? I'm not so sure about. Frankly, since this is a state decision, I don't see any big issues since it cannot set precedent on its own across the country unless it's federalized and the SCOTUS has a collective aneurysm. This to me is like using the habit of some poor blacks to use jury nullification in defense of blatantly guilty black criminals as an argument against jury nullification on principle; the outcome is pretty damn isolated either way.

Part of the reason for the difference here, Lydia, is that I see the law as existing primarily to keep the peace, not even to "protect individual rights" as many conservatives and libertarians believe. I have no problem with the state bluntly refusing to protect someone's rights because they exercised them in a way that is contrary to a well-ordered society. Frankly, if a white man wore a sign through Harlem that said "I hate n#%^&*ds and every black b#$%^ needs a white baby daddy," I would consider it a waste of public funds investigating the case if he were killed in broad daylight unless someone delivered the case to the police on a silver platter.

Lydia,

Crude, pornography is evil. Portraying Mohammad as a toaster is not.

And I'm saying your celebrated method of dealing with muslims in this case is utterly indistinguishable from PZ Myers' antics, which I think are clearly deplorable. Just because you're offending muslims, and just because you don't like muslims - hell, just because some/many muslims behave rottenly, does not sanctify your desire to be a tremendous jerk. Nor do I have to acquiesce to outrageous muslim demands to make the point I'm making.

No, Lydia, it's not just that pornography is wrong. Make the pornography entirely animated if you want, and it changes nothing. This kind of crap is part of the problem. Part of "What's Wrong With the World". When you're reasoning like PZ Myers, I suggest it's time to pause and ask yourself if maybe you've made a wrong turn somewhere.

Mike T is talking perfect sense. Some actions merit, or at the very least justify, a punch in the head. We should be neither surprised nor offended when that happens, and it's not just a muslim issue. Neither of us are saying that Islam should never, ever be criticized, or that every scream of "I'm offended!" is justified. But there clearly are lines that civilized, intelligent people shouldn't cross, and if they are crossed and someone ends up with a fist in the face, the "victim" doesn't deserve much sympathy.

I don't have to be a PC liberal angsting for hate speech codes to value some speech over others, or to fail to shed a tear for an atheist who gets his sign torn off and costume ripped because his desire to be a purely obnoxious jackass worked better than he intended.

And I'm saying your celebrated method of dealing with muslims in this case is utterly indistinguishable from PZ Myers' antics, which I think are clearly deplorable.

Well, it is distinguishable, because Myers is trying to desecrate a consecrated Host, and I'm not. Moreover, I don't think what he did should be _illegal_. And, finally, what he did was obsessive in a way that drawing a cartoon of Mohammad as a toaster isn't. Sorry you won't agree, but since it doesn't affect, or shouldn't affect, legality anyway, I suppose you shouldn't worry too much about it.


Nor do I have to acquiesce to outrageous muslim demands to make the point I'm making.

Actually, one of the outrageous Muslim demands _just is_ that you not portray Mohammad. So in telling us that we shouldn't do that because we'd be jerks if we did, you _are_ acquiescing in an outrageous Muslim demand.


Make the pornography entirely animated if you want, and it changes nothing.

Wow, you're _really_ morally confused. Um, yeah, animated pornography is still _wrong_. Very, seriously wrong. As in, evil. You're darn' tootin', animation changes nothing. You're just more right than you realize.


I don't have to be a PC liberal angsting for hate speech codes to value some speech over others,

Actually, whether you realize it or not, the very things you are seeking--laws that outlaw and justify a "punch in the head" (if someone should happen to decide to deliver one) for insulting a religion in an otherwise contentless way--are so much like hate speech codes vis a vis religion that the distinction is not visible to the naked eye.

A couple of years ago Richard Dawkins, with support from the British Humanist Association, launched an atheist advertising campaign with the message, "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life". This slogan appeared on buses in London and in many other cities throughout Britain for about a month.

Some Christians (the Methodists for example) welcomed the campaign because, they said, it might get people thinking about God etc. As far as I know, the slogan provoked no violence and very little hostile comment even from 'religious fundamentalists'.

There's one thing you can be absolutely certain of - at least in Britain - that Dawkins would not have been allowed to word the slogan in this way, "There's probably no Allah. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life".

Such pandering to Muslim sensibilities in a nominally Christian society, is what some people find worrying. Isn't something similar at issue in this discussion?

Such pandering to Muslim sensibilities in a nominally Christian society, is what some people find worrying. Isn't something similar at issue in this discussion?

The difference here is that the judge refused to enforce a law to protect the atheist rather than enforcing a law to put the atheist in jail. In Britain, the atheist would have gotten his ass kicked (instead of a minor scuffle) by the Muslim and then gotten in trouble with the law himself for provoking the ass kicking.

Now if the Muslim had actually savagely beaten him, it would be a different story.

Lydia and Tony,

Would you support the prosecution of a Catholic who threw paint on the Sensation exhibit?

What about Mohammed as a human being who once lived? Is it fair to mock another human being, irrespective of his social position,

Have any of you looked up the meaning of "fighting words" and looked at what the concept entails? It doesn't mean "he made me mad, so I had a right to take a poke at him". In the first instance - the clearest sort of example - fighting words means a DIRECT incitement to fight because it is either a threat or a taunt specifically about fighting: "I am going to mop the floor with you, buddy", or "you won't stand up to me like a man because you are damn wimp, that's what you are." Clearly, throwing those kinds of words at someone is a kind of verbal act of violence, or perhaps I should say a verbal act of pre-violence, but in either case getting the response of a fist to the gut is legitimately proportional to the words: the words are about violence.

[In Street v. New York] the Court again noted that fighting words must present an actual threat of immediate violence, not merely offensive content.

In the second instance, fighting words means, derivatively, the kind of thing that you expect someone to respond violently to, because they are directed at him personally, and are of such a nature as everyone is aware of their volatility.

[In Cohen v. California, the Court said] "personally abusive epithets which, when addressed to the ordinary citizen, are, as a matter of common knowledge, inherently likely to provoke violent reactions." The Court reasoned that because Cohen's statement was not an insult directed toward a particular individual, it could not be regulated as fighting words.

The point is that fighting words are words that make YOU fight because they pertain to YOU and bear on violence either threatened, offered, implied, or are _themselves_ verbal 'violence'.

Comments (or costumes) about your leader are not personal. Sorry, they don't cut it.

In order for a punch in the nose to be a proper response from you, the private citizen, it needs to be BOTH proportionate to the offense, AND compatible with the common good. Most of the time it has trouble meeting either test. Normally, an offense carried by words is not proportionate to a response of causing physical pain, particularly physical striking that has a decent chance of causing (a) a broken nose, (b) lost teeth, or other damage that can potentially result in permanent problems. Those aren't proportionate, unless the offense is so bad as to permanently damage your social standing in the community, for example.

Likewise, the punch in the nose needs to be a response that sits well with the common good. It used to be the case that "gentlemen" squared off and had duels of honor over "words exchanged" that were considered unacceptable. But civil society has long since realized that this doesn't serve the common good. For one thing, the idiots felt that "honor" required them to settle such matters over words hurled in the heat of passion, that they never really meant for real. And there are a host of other reasons the practice was suppressed.

Also, giving a punch in the nose to someone who has offended you almost ALWAYS escalates into a much more rowdy affair. Nobody who has been punched is in a state to say to himself "well, I can see that he had sufficient reason to strike out at me, so I will just suck it up and walk away." It doesn't happen. So the end result typically is not A giving offense and B giving a punch, it is either the stronger or the better armed walking away from someone physically damaged - whomever that is. Justice isn't served in that fashion. The common good isn't served in that fashion.

Generally, violent _reprisal_ isn't for individuals, it is left to the state. (Yes, when the state won't step in and refuses to do it's job, there's a place for private individuals to step in.)

Would you support the prosecution of a Catholic who threw paint on the Sensation exhibit?

Mike, throwing paint on an exhibit isn't violence. So it's not the same problem at all. I would endorse the public authorities shutting the exhibit down for indecency and obscenity, and I would endorse throwing epithets like "coward" at any public authority who had the power to shut it down and refused to. I would also endorse more creative alternatives, like taking photos of patrons (as they pass on the sidewalk and photo-shopping them into mimic exhibits and putting the photos up on the sidewalk for them to see when they come out.

Mike, I'm pleased to say that I haven't looked up the exhibit you mention and don't plan to do so. Based on Tony's response, I would guess it is obscene. See my remarks above about pornography. In that case, it should be shut down in an orderly fashion.

I also endorse Tony's comment making a distinction between action against a person (and, yeah, contra what you've said I think grabbing somebody and partially tearing his costume off plus partially choking him while taking his sign off _isn't_ just the same as doing something to property with nary a human being involved) and throwing paint on property.

I would add this, though: In a society where obscene displays are permitted and where destruction of property laws are therefore applied to them, a judge has to decide whether he wants to be a judge under those circs. He can't just creatively on an ad hoc basis use his power as a judge to nullify laws against destruction of property. He either needs to quit, recuse himself in a given case, or apply the law.

Well, it is distinguishable, because Myers is trying to desecrate a consecrated Host, and I'm not.

Please. Myers would use the exact same excuse as you are here. "I'm protesting the inanity of Catholics taking this seriously by my acts!" Actually, he's being a colossal, goading jerk, and little else. As would anyone who would make moves just to intentionally, expressly piss off muslims in ways that even reasonable muslims would be justifiably pissed over.

By the way, can a muslim ever be *justifiably* pissed or offended?

Actually, one of the outrageous Muslim demands _just is_ that you not portray Mohammad. So in telling us that we shouldn't do that because we'd be jerks if we did, you _are_ acquiescing in an outrageous Muslim demand.

"Well, it is distinguishable," because we're talking about depicting Mohammed in insulting ways for the purpose of mockery and offense, because apparently that's how one should be 'standing up to the muslims' - not even mere portrayal of Mohammed. Again, go ahead and channel PZ Myers here. "It's just a cracker. Why should anyone care if I 'desecrate' a cracker? I'm taking a stand against crazy Catholics by doing what I'm doing!"

What I'm acquiescing to is civility. Some muslims would be outraged and offended by someone advancing an argument that Mohammed was not God's prophet, or even that Mohammed engaged in immoral acts. I'd defend that and say yes, come hell or highwater, that's where a stand should be taken. No, I don't feel much of a need to defend "Lydia and PZ Myers' Piss-off-muslims Comedy Hour" or whatever you think is just so damn important about jerk-behavior.

Wow, you're _really_ morally confused. Um, yeah, animated pornography is still _wrong_. Very, seriously wrong. As in, evil. You're darn' tootin', animation changes nothing. You're just more right than you realize.

Lady, I'm not only more right than I realize, I'm more right than you realize. ;)

Actually, whether you realize it or not, the very things you are seeking--laws that outlaw and justify a "punch in the head" (if someone should happen to decide to deliver one) for insulting a religion in an otherwise contentless way--are so much like hate speech codes vis a vis religion that the distinction is not visible to the naked eye.

Yes, at the end of the day - even if I think plenty of things muslims could and would find 'offensive' are A-OK - I am saying there's a certain reasonable line that shouldn't be crossed, and that line has to deal with offending people over their religious beliefs, purposefully, and with little content other than 'durrhurr take that muzzlems, **** you and your beliefs'. I think there's a tremendous gulf between what I want, and what these 'hate speech codes' enforce and what they were intended to enforce. But there's a line connecting me to that there, however thin, and I won't be able to shake it.

And, whether you realize it or not, you are behaving like a mirror image of PZ Myers, and the rest of the Cult of Gnu, in endorsing mockery and deep offense as some means to an end.

Hey, I have another idea for you: why not 'Blasphemy Day'. You can hold it every year! Encourage people to go on youtube and mock/insult muslims generally, Mohammed particularly, in way after way. This is a very Christian thing to do, and not at all reminiscent of deplorable atheist behavior.

Why even bring up animated pornography if you understood what I meant about pornography being evil and portrayal of Mohammad as a toaster not being evil? If you understood, you wouldn't have brought that up, because you would have known that I didn't mean that it is evil *only if and when* it involves live people rather than drawings/animation.

Look, I'm getting a little tired of your over-the-top comments.

I've already said that what Myers did shouldn't be illegal, though I'd add as a caveat to that that there might be some legal aspect to the theft of the host under false pretenses that I haven't thought of. Other than that, though, not illegal. I'd be very happy with people's being allowed not to sell him food. By the way, I'm very big on ostracism. Generally I'm pretty happy with removing a variety of "you have to serve everybody who comes through the door" laws and allowing something of a free-for-all there. It would open up all sorts of new and creative ways to show disapproval for jerk-hood. I wouldn't extend it everywhere--for example, if you have some government-brokered concession to provide taxi services at an airport, that could be a case where you really do have to take on whoever is next in line. But if a lot of "public accommodations" laws disappeared tomorrow and Muslims could refuse to wait on me and I could run a store that wouldn't serve young men who came in wearing their jeans around their ankles and everybody could refuse to serve PZ Myers, you wouldn't find me crying. It's clean, non-violent, and passive. While such laws remain, they should be applied even-handedly, but we needn't actually have them in the first place.

Moreover, I'm afraid that if you can't see that the whole sequence of what Myers did is obsessive in a way that a Halloween costume or an "everybody draw Mohammad day" isn't, I can't help you.

Alright, Lydia. I can be bombastic - hell, I can be a bit of a jerk. I think what I said was warranted here, certainly provoked, but I will consciously make an effort to dial it back.

Let's continue.

I've already said that what Myers did shouldn't be illegal, though I'd add as a caveat to that that there might be some legal aspect to the theft of the host under false pretenses that I haven't thought of.

If some Catholic knocked him upside the head for his act - let's upgrade his act and say he did it in public - would you be complaining about how horrible Catholics are and how there's no excuse for such an attack on free speech? Because I have to say, I wouldn't take that line. Okay, I'm Catholic, so let's think of another example. Someone dumping urine on a crucifix in public. A baptist decides to knock the person silly. Again, I wouldn't view this as a horrid assault on free speech. My sympathies would lie with the baptist.

My point is that I'm tired of behavior purely meant to rile people and piss them off being treated as some quintessential aspect of free speech and how DARE anyone seek to stifle it. I happen to think that there exist lines that no reasonable person should cross, and if crossed, we should - similar to Mike T's reasoning - not treat it as a great offense, and quite possibly choose not to prosecute the 'assailant'. No, I admit that I don't feel that flummoxed when such speech is stifled. Should I list reasons why I think it's a rotten thing to tolerate?

And one more time - this doesn't mean 'Anything a person says they are offended by should be forbidden'. I admit this is a nice, complicated issue that would be difficult to properly legislate. But I don't think it's so clear that such reactions are always wrong, or should always be prosecuted.

Great, you're big on ostracism. And I'd agree that ostracism has its place, if ever it were legally feasible. (Is it? I have no idea. I do know that apparently if you decide not to rent out space on your property to a gay pair in England you could be in trouble. Some authorities in my Church, shame on them, are currently in the process of chiding a priest for an act of public quasi-ostracism that he was quite possibly provoked into doing. Lack of spines all around.)

Moreover, I'm afraid that if you can't see that the whole sequence of what Myers did is obsessive in a way that a Halloween costume or an "everybody draw Mohammad day" isn't, I can't help you.

First, how was it 'obsessive'? Yes, Myers spent time trying to acquire a host. And this nitwit spent time making his costume. It's not like he's a Green Lantern and whipped out an image of a big, green zombie Mohammed in a spur of the moment decision.

Second, what does 'obsessive' even change here? You're the one who said that you view offending muslims - intentionally, expressly offending them, for little reason more than to piss them off and, I don't know, a show that you're willing to piss them off because you dislike them - is a good thing. I think it's very difficult to take that line and say 'Oh but how PZ Myers acts is condemnable'. I fail to see how there's some difference that turns on 'obsessive'.

Third, I'll ask this. Is there any act of offense you think it would be wrong to subject muslims to, owing to the offense itself? Is there a standard of civility you think should not be crossed, even though it would be entirely technically legal to do so? Or is it just a case of, to hell with them, offend and insult their faith however?

Surely an important point is that Muslims, or many of them, are predisposed to be offended whether there's an intention to insult their faith or not.

For a recent instance: The inadvertent destruction of the Koran by American soldiers in Afghanistan, provoked a savage reaction in which a number of people were killed. In other words, the accidental burning of a paper artifact is enough incite Muslims to lethal violence.

There's no reason why this religious hypersensitivity should be endured by American citizens - though it is tolerated, I fear, in the British Isles.

Yes, Myers spent time trying to acquire a host.
Well, we could start with the fact that he had to get one sneakily, under false pretenses. But since I already said I couldn't help you if you couldn't see the difference, I'm not going to take the time to go on further.
I fail to see how there's some difference that turns on 'obsessive'.

Well, if one is being creepy in the one case and insensitive and boorish but much less creepy in the other case, that's a difference in terms of whether one's action is worthy of condemnation and how much condemnation it deserves.

But let me add: If a sacramental form of Christianity is true and if there really _is_ something special about a consecrated host, then what Myers did was wrong regardless of what he thinks. Once again, it doesn't follow that what he did should be illegal. But it does mean that if we're discussing _wrongness_ we cannot simply ignore the issue of the truth or falsity of various religions.



Is there any act of offense you think it would be wrong to subject muslims to, owing to the offense itself?

I suspect you're going to go into talking about obscenity and pornography at this point, and I've already responded to that--those things are wrong (and should be barred) because they are obscenity and pornography, not because they offend Muslims. Perhaps the relevant point is the phrase "owing to the offense itself." I do find it difficult to think of some act that is not worthy of condemnation and perhaps rightly bannable on other grounds (e.g., obscene) that is wrong, much less bannable, owing solely to the amount of offense it causes to Muslims. If you happen to own a Koran and you burn it and videotape that as an act of condemnation of Islam, I don't think that's wrong and certainly should not be illegal.

Mike, throwing paint on an exhibit isn't violence.

So if I throw paint all over your car, you won't consider that violence toward your property? Seems you're trying to duck this one, Tony.

Lydia, Sensation was artwork of the Virgin Mary done in elephant dung which is an "African indigenous art style." Make of that what you will. It's not obscene in the sense of pornography.

So if I throw paint all over your car, you won't consider that violence toward your property? Seems you're trying to duck this one, Tony.

Oh, good gravy. No, Mike, I WASN'T ducking it. Violence is force used upon a person against his will. It isn't force applied to objects. In a secondary sense it can be force used on objects that implies a threat of force on persons: If I break down your front door, that's inherently a threat of violence against you and your family.

I didn't say I wouldn't DO anything to you, I just said is't not the same issue. Yeah, you bet I'll do something about it, I make sure you don't like the overall consequences of your act. But my response won't be predicated on "violence" as such. It will be predicated on destruction of property - unless your throwing paint on my car is a threat against my person.

Mike T,
The artwork in question did involve obscenity in the pornographic sense, although from a distance the images were disguised to look like cherubim. It was supposedly an intentional contradictory statement, at the abstract macro level it was a traditional black Madonna, at the primary micro level it was a tribute to pagan fertility goddesses.

If some Catholic knocked him upside the head for his act - let's upgrade his act and say he did it in public - would you be complaining about how horrible Catholics are and how there's no excuse for such an attack on free speech? Because I have to say, I wouldn't take that line. Okay, I'm Catholic, so let's think of another example. Someone dumping urine on a crucifix in public. A baptist decides to knock the person silly. Again, I wouldn't view this as a horrid assault on free speech. My sympathies would lie with the baptist.

Crude, I don't think "knocking him over the head" is the suitable response. If I were a Catholic in the church there, (say I were an usher), I would be perfectly fine with getting a couple of other ushers, surrounding him, if necessary grabbing him by the arms, and frog-marching him out of the church and off the grounds with a very pointed order never to show his face again. If any police and judge wanted to call that "assault", I would say that we were doing nothing more than bouncers do every night of the week. There is a notable moral difference between using physical force to force someone away from a problem situation, and using physical force to (a) punish him for the wrongness of his actions, or (b) using it as a pain deterrent to his wanting to continue his evil action. The first is clearly reserved for authority: punishment by definition belongs to "him who has care of the common good". The second is more nuanced, and I am hesitant to levy categorical statements, but using force in that way constitutes the very essence of violence, and violence by private citizens is typically an unsuitable solution for that kind of problem, there are other solutions. Get creative. If the primary reason you want to impose the pain is to get him to STOP his behavior right now, frog marching him away achieves it. Usually, you want to impose the pain _also_ as punishment, and that's just going in a bad direction.

Tony,

That's a distinction without a difference. The point is not some quirk of the English language, but the premise of using force against Sensation or Piss Christ which is IMO very similar to what this Muslim did to the atheist. In a moral sense, I don't think doing intentional harm to a man's property is any less morally wrong than harming his person. It seems you do think there's a difference there.

I didn't say "less morally wrong", it can be just as wrong. It is just that it may require different kind of response. Most property can be replaced. So, if a man walks by your car at the grocery store and takes a $50 roast you had been planning for tomorrow's party, it can be replaced. All you really need is to get him to pay you back for the replacement. For the purposes of _the state_, it also wants to punish him further to correct the damage to the common good, but punishment belongs to those who have care of the common good. Once you are made whole regarding your personal loss, you don't have a personal stake in his being punished, you have a COMMON stake in it just like everyone else.

Injury to a human being is in a different category: persons are different from things, in a fundamental way. So the suitable sort of response may also be different. I think there is a difference because there IS a difference. Destruction of a person is a fundamentally different sort of crime than destruction of a thing. Attacking a person is a fundamentally different sort of crime than damaging a thing.

Is there something to be said for punching someone in the face for going too far in their intentionally offending and goading you?

If I my hazy memory from Crim Law class serves, I think there are laws that address things such as "fighting words." But the specifics of it I do not know.

Read the thread. Tony has already discussed that. No need to repeat it.

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