Saturday Free Speech Roundup – The Liberty City Police Department Is Here To Protect And Serve.

Call me suspicious, but I am not comfortable that the District of Columbia Police are taking a prominent role in preparation for security at the Pittsburgh G-20 summit this September.

Security planning for the Group of 20 economic summit in Pittsburgh is a numbers game driven by questions that can't readily be answered: How many police officers will be needed for thousands of protesters and how many arrests can be safely and fairly processed in courts?

Among other things, security will be beefed up by officers and consultants from the DC Police Department: the same DC Police Department which believes it's authorized to conduct military-style police sweeps and to set up barricaded checkpoints to search people entering suspicious neighborhoods.  The G-20 Summit is likely enough to produce craziness without oversight and advice from a department well known for disregarding the constitutional rights of the citizens it serves.  For that matter, Pittsburgh's own preparations for mass arrests against evil anarchists may become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The right to free speech includes commercial speech, but that's lost on some.  If the Chicago Transit Authority were to ban tasteful ads for say, James Joyce's Ulysses, or an art exhibit featuring the work of some modern Robert Mapplethorpe, would that get more attention than a ban of ads for Grand Theft Auto?

On the other hand, some of the worst threats to free speech come from those who exercise their right to "cry wolf," or to proclaim that "the sky is falling."  Witness this story from Christianity Today, in which Ashley Horne of Focus on the Family warns of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act:

if passed, the law could expose pastors to federal prosecution if an attendee of their church committed a crime and blamed it on sermons about homosexuality. The bill does not adequately protect Christians from gay activists, she says. She worries that the prosecution would be based on evidence of motivation.

Poppycock.  The Bill can be read in its entirety here. If passed, the law would punish one who:

willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, a dangerous weapon, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of … actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability …

Causing bodily injury means just that.  A sermon, no matter how hateful, cannot cause bodily injury, nor could it be deemed an attempt to cause bodily injury.  For that matter, despite Ms. Horne's assertion to the contrary, the bill actually provides more protection for the religious than it does to people attacked because of sexual orientation. (It contains identical clauses criminalizing such attacks, both including religion as a protected category but only one including sexual orientation.  This is what's known as a "blue pencil" clause – if a court strikes the second, which includes sexual orientation and religion, the first, which only includes religion, will remain in effect.)

We've had sentencing enhancements based on gender and age for centuries.  In my state and in every other of which I'm aware, a man who strikes a man is guilty of assault.  A man who strikes a woman is guilty of "assault on a female," and gets more time, because men by and large are far stronger than women.  There are plenty of good arguments against hate crime laws, and there are good arguments against federalizing what should be simple state felonies, but willfully distorting the content of a bill, which is what Ms. Horne is doing, doesn't promote those arguments, and doesn't show a regard for freedom of speech or religion.  I'll exercise my freedom of speech to call Ashley Horne a liar.

On a question of genuine conscience, the Foundation For Individual Rights In Education reports on the strange case of Grand Valley State University, which attempted to make state employment dependent on "demonstrated commitment to principles of diversity." An Ashley Horne, who is not demonstrably committed to diversity, could not get the job at GVSU if her beliefs failed to meet the school's litmus test.  This is no more constitutional than an employment offer contingent on "demonstrated commitment to the American Flag," or "demonstrated commitment to the Holy Koran."

What's especially silly about the case is that the job posting which brought the policy to light was "Visiting Assistant Professor of Music (Flute)". Presumably a flute instructor who assaults aspiring flautists based on their diversity would be fired in any event, but the litmus test for beliefs, at a music department, demonstrates the clash between collegiate H.R. culture and the First Amendment.

Suppose a flute professor has mixed feelings about same sex marriage, like Ashley Horne.  Suppose the visiting flute instructor just doesn't give a shit, and grades flute students based on flute talent without regard to flute diversity. Should such an instructor be downgraded in favor a less flautistically inclined, but more demonstratively diverse, visiting flute teacher?

Fortunately we won't find out, as FIRE reports the university has backed down, opening the visiting flute instructor position to anyone qualified to teach the flute without regard to that visitor's beliefs.

Private colleges of course remain free to require a demonstrated commitment to diversity, as opposed to excellence in flute instruction, in their visiting flute instructors.

Last 5 posts by Patrick Non-White


  1. Randall says

    For what its worth, in Georgia we don't have "assault on a female." We do have enhanced sentencing provisions for battery on a pregnant female or on an elderly person. (also bus driver, teacher, etc)

  2. Ian Argent says

    Teh Metropolitan Police Dept. (AKA DC Cops) successfully managed to handle the G-8 meeting immediately after the disasterous Seattle one a few years back. I don't often compliment them (I grew up in NoVA); but their porestor-handling seems to be pretty decent. Admittedly, the Seattle PD's handling of their event was astoundingly bad, but still…

  3. Old Geezer says

    Let me see if I understand the distinction. If Reverend Bigot stands up in the pulpit and says that "…all Homos should be dead in God's eyes…" and his faithful follower takes that as direction to kill Gays, the ol' Rev goes Scott Free because he did not, technically, "willfully cause bodily injury? Hm…. Seems to me incitement is close to willfully causing. The problem I see in her complaint is that she thinks it is alright, under the color of religious freedom to incite mayhem.

  4. Bruce says

    We essentially shut down Sydney for the APEC summit in 2007 yet it didn't stop these guys from driving through the entire apparatus while dressed as Osama Bin Laden. They had to out themselves when they made it George Bush's hotel having been waved through half a dozen check points.

    Hopefully your guys can find a balance between Seattle and Sydney. One never knows.