The first, and most famous, story is that South Park had a censored image of Muhammad shown as part of their 200th episode celebration. Trey Parker and Matt Stone (who appears to have lost his 'fro) claim that Comedy Central censored them against their will after they received death threats from some nebulous New York-based group called "Revolution Muslim". Jon Stewart gives Revolution Muslim the treatment they deserve:
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|South Park Death Threats|
We can certainly all agree with Stewart that anyone who threatens death for a little offense deserves to be hauled before the "Go Fuck Yourselves" choir. But I'm not too concerned with Revolution Muslim - chances are, "Revolution Muslim" is some lazy twenty-something living in his parents' basement in Queens who jacks off while playing the terrorists in Counter Strike. (Update: Apparently the "group's" founder is a former Jewish settler in Gaza who converted to Islam and apparently lost none of the fanaticism required to be a settler. He's a 40-year-old cab driver, so I got that wrong. I still stand by my jacking-off-to-being-a-computer-terrorist conjecture though.) And "Revolution Muslim" is far from the only nutter-butter out there - Greenwald points out that Fort Worth's Artes de la Rosa theater rejected a play with a gay Jesus character after being threatened by e-mail, and that the original producers of the same play received similar threats in New York in 1998.
What's more concerning here is the cowardly, inexcusable actions of Comedy Central. It was clear from the start that Parker and Stone could give a fuck about whether someone threatened them. Hell, they probably receive a death threat or two a month as it is. But by censoring Parker and Stone, Comedy Central and parent company Viacom did more damage than any idiot with a website and an e-mail account could ever hope to do. They've sent a clear message - threats work, no matter how obviously idle. (Same goes for you, Artes de la Rosa Theater.) As Art Aleksakis might say, they can't hurt you unless you let them. Comedy Central's despicable actions just let them hurt us.
Our second issue has to do with a fascinating Supreme Court case called U.S. v. Stevens. In it, the Court, by an 8-1 margin (Alito was the lone dissenter), struck down as overly broad a federal law banning depictions of animal cruelty. The material intended to be outlawed was that in which a woman's high-heel shoes crushes an animal for sexual pleasure. Or something equally disturbing and bizarre. The problem with the law wasn't the outlawing of such videos per se, but that the law was so broad that it potentially banned hunting shows - Stevens, in fact, was convicted of distributing a video portraying a dog fight.
My first thought is that this only goes to prove Rule 34: if you can imagine it, there is porn of it on the Internet. My second thought is that this is a weird First Amendment case. We're perfectly okay with laws banning depictions of completely disturbing acts such as child pornography, but we know that we can't ban everything that disturbs us. So where's the line? Solicitor General (and hopefully-not-future-associate-justice) Elena Kagan argued that free speech rights should be balanced against the social cost of such rights. Civil libertarians and anyone who cares about the Constitution are rightly repulsed by that argument, but why? Don't we already do that to some extent?
I'd argue, though, that the point of child porn laws is not to outlaw the depiction but the act itself, which would not exist beyond the depiction. The video distributer is ultimately responsible for the illegal act occurring, and so should be prosecuted. A constitutional law banning depictions of animal cruelty, then, would punish video distributers for animal cruelty that occurred solely because of the video - that is, an act of cruelty staged for the camera. Someone filming a dogfight and then selling the video couldn't be prosecuted unless they themselves staged the fight with the intent of making money off the video. But even that standard can easily go too far - we'd be disturbed by the idea that teenagers who make a video of themselves vandalizing mailboxes should have that video banned.
Anyway, it's a fascinating issue, and I'd like the input of some of the lawyers who read this blog.
A little bit more cut-and-dry, however, is the recent decision by Judge Barbara Crabb declaring the federal statute establishing a National Day of Prayer unconstitutional. For this ruling, Crabb is taking crap from everyone from Tony Perkins to Barack Obama - this despite the fact that Crabb is very obviously correct. If you looked up "an establishment of religion" in the dictionary, you'd see a picture of a law declaring a National Day of Prayer beside the definition. The law is blatantly establishing religion. Which is unconstitutional. It really is that simple. There's absolutely no way to get around that. It doesn't matter how much of a tradition it is, it doesn't matter who endorsed the idea, and I could give a damn whether it's a good idea or not. It's unconstitutional and it needs to go, end of story. The boundaries aren't there to be ignored at will, people. The ruling from Crabb was 66 pages - it didn't need 66 words.
Of course, the usual suspects have launched their unhinged opposition to the ruling. The head of the "National Day of Prayer Task Force," Shirley Dobson (originally named as a defendant in the suit but dropped - the suit is now against Obama) reacted with predictable hyperbole:
This is a concerted effort by a small but determined number of people who have tried to prohibit all references to the Creator in the public square, whether it be the Ten Commandments, the Pledge of Allegiance, or the simple act of corporate prayer -- this is unconscionable for a free society.
Long term, this type of opinion, if not corrected on appeal, will continue the erosion of our religious heritage and freedom.
Prohibiting references to God in the public square? Eroding religious freedom? Mrs. Dobson, I believe you deserve the Mandy Patinkin treatment:
Let's be clear. This court ruling does not preclude Americans from setting aside a day - or a week, or a month, or a year - to pray. It does not prevent the President or members of Congress from announcing during a speech that they're holding a National Day of Prayer. It does not stop the President or Congresscritters or anyone with the spirit in them from getting up on the floor of the house and screaming "GOD GOD GOD" at the top of their lungs. No one will be forced to stop praying because of this court case. No one will be forced to stop praying loudly because of this court case. To claim that preventing the government from declaring a national day of prayer erodes religious liberty is to display massive ignorance about the Constitution and about the idea of religious liberty.