Monday, August 6, 2007

Freedom of Expression In Peril

This is the earliest version of an op-ed I wrote. Pretty primitive, isn't it? Oh well. It's fun to write like Anne Coulter!

U.S. Moves In An Ominous, Canadian Direction
By: Terrence C. Watson

If someone hurt your feelings recently, liberals want to charge him or her with a crime – but only if you hold certain beliefs.

At 23-years-old, Stanislav Shmulevich is immature and disrespectful. A punk, really. On separate occasions in October and November, he put copies of the Quran – neither of which belonged to him – in a toilet at Pace University in New York, where he is a student. Now he faces serious jail time for these acts of petty vandalism. Under pressure from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the police have charged him with a hate crime.

If he’d only smashed up a Hummer with a baseball bat, as happened to a D.C. resident’s vehicle recently, liberals would be lining up to give him a medal.

Eco-terrorists inflicted over $12,000 worth of damage to Gareth Groves Hummer to send him a message. They even scratched it into the side of the vehicle: “For the environment.” Now Groves' neighbors, mostly liberals resentful of the man's fuel-sucking vehicle, look at him with smug satisfaction. His right to property is apparently not so important when it leads to hurt feelings.

On the liberal message board Democratic Underground, posters gleefully report vandalizing conservative bumper stickers. “Anti-abortion troglodytes don’t deserve ‘free speech rights,’” one opines. Your bumper sticker isn’t harming anyone, but if it makes liberals feel bad, that’s enough to justify the violation of your rights.

It was inevitable that this liberal attitude towards rights would have an effect on the legal system.

If you want to see where this road goes, look to Canada. In 2000, Scott Brockie, owner of a small printing shop in Toronto, was fined thousands of dollars after he refused to print material for the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Archives (GLA) that conflicted with his religious beliefs. So far, Canadian courts have upheld the ruling. The board of inquiry convened to hear the case claimed, “It is reasonable to limit Brockie's freedom of religion in order to prevent the very real harm to members of the lesbian and gay community.” Matt Hughs, GLA’s board president, has said that Brockie’s refusal left the plaintiff in the case feeling “humiliated” and “demoralized.”

Brockie’s case is hardly unique. As recently as July 2006, Free Dominion, a Canadian Internet forum, was served with a complaint similar to the one Brockie received. A woman who is not even Muslim complained to the government about the forum allowing posts critical of Islam. In response to the complaint, the Canadian human rights commission might fine the owners of the website or even shut it down.

In Canada, we’ve gone from “Your rights stop where my nose begins,” to “Your rights stop whenever my feelings are hurt.” The result has been a disaster for freedom of expression.

If you think this couldn’t happen in the United States, think again. Even after Pace University responded to the Quran-in-the-toilet incidents, CAIR eagerly demanded the involvement of New York’s hate crimes unit. Like Brockie and the owners of Free Dominion, Shmulevich will be punished merely for hurting someone’s feelings, a charge impossible to disprove. Shmulevich can barely afford a lawyer, but even the best would find it difficult to prove that Pace’s Muslim students aren’t feeling “demoralized” as the result of his actions.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” Usually, liberals use this passage to admonish religious conservatives, but nowadays you could aim it back at them. Putting a holy book in a toilet – or posting insulting comments on a website; or refusing to print literature with which one disagrees; or putting a bumper sticker on one’s Hummer – this injures no one, even if it causes bruised feelings.

Canada never had a Thomas Jefferson, which is why it presently needs his wisdom even more than the United States does. However, as the Shmulevich case shows, America is inexorably moving in the Canadian direction, and away from the vision great men like Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers left to it.

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