Thursday, December 13, 2012
U.S. Navy cancels nativity play over atheist complaint
The Navy directed service members serving in Bahrain to cancel and dismantle a “Live Nativity” after receiving a complaint from a military atheist group who said the manger scene endangered Americans serving in a Muslim country and violated the U .S. Constitution.
The chaplain at Naval Support Activity (NSA) Bahrain confirmed to Fox News the nativity scene was cancelled – but referred any further comments to the NSA’s public information officer.
The “Live Nativity” was a long-standing tradition at NSA Bahrain that featured the children of military personnel dressed as shepherds, wise men, along with Mary and Joseph. It was part of a larger festival that included a tree lighting, Christmas music and photographs with Santa Claus and a camel.
But the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers objected to the Nativity and filed a complaint with the Navy’s Inspector General. They argued the Nativity promoted “Christianity as the official religion of the base.”
The atheist group also worried that the Nativity put service members in danger.
“Also of concern is the likelihood that the predominantly Muslim local population will see the U.S. military as a Christian force rather than a secular military support U.S. – but not necessarily Christian values in their Muslim country,” the MAAF wrote in their complaint. “This even threatens U.S. security and violates the Constitution as well as command policy.”
“It’s unconstitutional, it’s bad for the military and in a Muslim country it’s dangerous,” MAAF spokesman Jason Torpy told Fox News.
“Upon further review, the CRP (Command Religious Program) will be removing the Living Nativity Program from the general base secular holiday festivities and co-locating it more appropriately with some of our other private religious and faith-based observances at the chapel at a separate time,” read a statement the Navy reportedly sent the NAAF.
Some service members in Bahrain told Fox News called the cancellation heartbreaking and children who were supposed to act in the Nativity were devastated.
“It was horrible,” said one officer who asked not to be identified. “It was devastating. Here we are serving in the Middle East, defending our country and other people’s religions and we couldn’t understand why we can’t enjoy our own religious freedoms.”
Crews had already started building the Nativity structure, but orders were given to have it dismantled.
“You can go outside the gate and hear Christmas music, but on the base you can’t have a Nativity,” said another officer. “The sense of hypocrisy is overwhelming.”
Pastors and religious liberty advocates are expressing shock and outrage over the yuletide controversy.
“It is unthinkable that our own military would violate the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religious expression–a freedom that our forefathers sacrificed their lives to provide for us,” said Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. “Taxpayers give the military hundreds of billions of dollars every year to protect our constitutional freedoms, not to trample upon them.”
Why we must tolerate hate
Leftists seem unaware of their own bigotry against others. Should they be punished for hate speech?
In America, if you decorate your house with anti-Semitic slogans or your clothing with swastikas, you are engaging in protected speech. But paper your neighbour’s car with anti-Semitic bumper stickers and you are guilty of vandalism. Hate speech is constitutionally protected (as the Supreme Court confirmed most recently in Snyder v Phelps). Destruction or defacement of someone else’s property is legally prohibited.
Advocates of censoring ‘hate speech’ might say that we value property more than the elimination of bigotry. I’d say that we value speech, as well as property, more than inoffensiveness. Besides, protections of presumptively hateful speech are not absolute: a prohibited act, like assault or vandalism, accompanied by vicious expressions of bigotry, may constitute a hate crime under law.
Consider this recent incident at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts: anti-Semitic graffiti was scrawled across the back door of the Jewish Life House, where four students reside. The student who discovered it, Molly Tobin, described herself as ‘shocked, angry, and terrified’, according to the Boston Globe. But students and faculty members have ‘come together’ in support of diversity, with a potluck and a Facebook campaign. Campus police are investigating the incident, and the school is offering a $1,000 reward for information about it.
Could the vandals in this case be prosecuted for a hate crime? Perhaps. Massachusetts law provides that assaulting someone or damaging her property with ‘intent to intimidate’ on the basis of race, colour or religion, among other characteristics, is punishable by a $5,000 fine and/or a maximum two-and-a-half-year prison sentence. Whether or not the graffiti on the door of the Jewish Life House was intentionally intimidating is a question of fact; but you can guess how it might be resolved.
Should the vandals in this case be prosecuted for a hate crime? Fierce free-speech advocates, like my friend and colleague Harvey Silverglate, condemn hate-crime laws for practically creating thought crimes. ‘It is foolish and dangerous for the legal system to punish a malefactor on the basis of whatever ideological or personal views or hatreds might, or might not, motivate crimes against person or property’, Silverglate says. ‘The slope from punishing acts to punishing thoughts is very slippery indeed.’
I tend to agree. Hate-crime laws are generally sentence-enhancement laws, imposing harsher sentences on crimes motivated by bias. They ensure that assaulting someone you hate because of his personality quirks is a lesser crime than assaulting someone you hate because he belongs to a particular, protected demographic group. In other words, when you’re prosecuted for a bias crime, you’re prosecuted for your bad thought and beliefs as well as your conduct.
Once convicted of a hate crime, you may even be subject to mandatory thought-reform: in Massachusetts, you’re required to complete a state-sponsored and designed ‘diversity awareness programme’ before being released from prison or completing probation. Deface someone’s property for the wrong reasons - bigotry or a bad attitude towards a protected group - and your thoughts become the business of the state.
This seems quintessentially un-American, if freedom of speech and belief are quintessential American values. But individual freedom is sometimes valued less, especially on campus, than diversity and the psychic as well as physical security of presumptively disadvantaged groups.
Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), reports on the lamentable consequences of this values shift in his important new book, Unlearning Liberty. ‘On college campuses today, students are punished for everything from mild satire, to writing politically incorrect short stories, to having the wrong opinion on virtually every hot button issue’, he reports, in disturbing detail.
When ‘mild satire’ and arguably offensive jokes are deemed too dangerous or disruptive to tolerate, it’s not surprising that anti-Semitic graffiti is ‘terrifying’ and virtually incomprehensible. At Wheaton, Molly Tobin says she remains afraid to walk around the campus at night and describes her reaction to finding the graffiti on her door as ‘an out-of-body experience’. While appreciative of the strong support offered by Wheaton faculty and students, she considers it ‘pretty tragic that something on this level has to happen for the campus to respond like this’.
Death, disease, war and genocide are tragic; famine is tragic; climate change is potentially tragic. An isolated incident of anti-Semitic graffiti is unsettling and lamentable, but it is hardly a tragedy. It is human nature. Few of us will go through life without being insulted or disliked on account of race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or other immutable characteristics. People can be mean and stupid. People harbour biases; they always have and always will, and their right to believe in the inferiority or sinfulness of particular groups is the same as your right to believe in equality.
I’m not suggesting that we should resign ourselves to bigotry. I’m arguing that we should tolerate expressions of it. This doesn’t mean tolerating bigoted acts. Vandalism is not a form of protected speech, regardless of the ideas it expresses. Penal laws should punish assaults on people or property that are and aren’t motivated by bigotry. Anti-discrimination laws can and do single out bias-motivated acts in employment and education with virtually no opposition from free-speech advocates, except in some cases that involve verbal harassment.
Advocates of censoring hateful or offensive speech draw on civil rights laws to assert a right not to be offended or intimidated on account of membership of a protected group. But in the interests of equality, the state can regulate some educational policies (especially in public schools) as well as hiring, firing and promotion in secular businesses without significantly infringing on the First Amendment. The state can’t regulate hate or offensiveness without eviscerating fundamental First Amendment freedoms.
Is this an excuse for vigilantism? When is it necessary, appropriate or ethical to publicly shame people for their bigoted speech? The website Jezebel sparked a minor fracas about journalistic ethics by calling out and ratting out to school administrators teenagers who spewed crude, racist tweets in the wake of Barack Obama’s re-election: ‘We contacted their school’s administrators with the hope that, if their educators were made aware of their students’ ignorance, perhaps they could teach them about racial sensitivity. Or they could let them know that while the First Amendment protects their freedom of speech, it doesn’t protect them from the consequences that might result from expressing their opinions.’
In fact, because the First Amendment protects the students’ freedom of speech it should also protect them from some of the consequences ‘that might result’ from their speech, especially consequences imposed by public school officials. It’s true that student speech rights have been significantly limited in recent years, but the girls at Jezebel might want to consider whether that’s cause for celebration.
In any case, they obviously enjoy their own First Amendment rights to shame teenagers or adults whose speech offends them. They enjoy the right to encourage public school officials to punish students for their racist tweets. But they should perhaps exercise this right with a sense of irony.
Instead, the Jezebel site is infused with the self-righteousness of people who have little compunction of speaking up in the interests of shutting up their ideological opponents and shutting down speech they find offensive. Freedom of speech respects self-certainty, but requires at least a little self-doubt.
'We don't need a law against insults': British prosecutor backs free speech as he says it's OK to offend people
There is no need for a law that makes it a crime to insult someone, the Director of Public Prosecutions has said.
In a boost to free-speech campaigners, Keir Starmer QC said it was safe to reform the controversial law that says it is a criminal offence to use ‘insulting words or behaviour’.
The clause of the 26-year-old Public Order Act has spurred a campaign which has united gay and secular activists, celebrities and conservative Christian evangelicals in favour of a robust right for people to insult each other.
In October, comedian Rowan Atkinson said the law was having a ‘chilling effect on free expression and free protest’.
He warned: ‘The clear problem of the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such. Criticism, ridicule, sarcasm, merely stating an alternative point of view to the orthodoxy, can be interpreted as insult.’
The Crown Prosecution Service, which Mr Starmer heads, has in the past been against any move to strike the word ‘insulting’ from the statute book. But the DPP has now changed his mind, the CPS said.
He wrote in a letter to former West Midlands chief constable Lord Dear: ‘Having now considered the case law in greater depth, we are unable to identify a case in which the alleged behaviour leading to conviction could not properly be characterised as “abusive” as well as “insulting”.
‘I therefore agree the word “insulting” could safely be removed without the risk of undermining the ability of the CPS to bring prosecutions.’
However, Mr Starmer added: ‘I also appreciate there are other policy considerations involved.’
The indication from the CPS that the law against insult does nothing to protect the public came as a major boost for the campaign to amend the 1986 Public Order Act.
The law was notoriously used in 2005 when an Oxford University student was arrested for saying to a police officer: ‘Excuse me, do you realise your horse is gay?’ It has also been used to arrest a Christian preacher in Workington who told a passer-by that he thought homosexuality was sinful.
And teenager Kyle Little was fined £50 in 2007 for ‘causing distress’ to a pair of labradors by saying ‘woof woof’ at them within earshot of the police. The case was later quashed on appeal.
Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute think-tank said: ‘We hope Home Secretary Theresa May will listen to the country’s top prosecutor and agree to reform this overboard and unwanted legislation.’
Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said: ‘This legislation has been on the statue books for 26 years, initially to control football hooligans, major demonstrations and protests such as the miners’ dispute.
‘But the legislation is now being used to criminalise huge numbers of people for trivial comments. ‘In 2009 the police used this law 18,000 times, including against people who were expressing their views or beliefs in a reasonable manner.’
Deaf woman wants to be on a jury
There is a culture of denial among many deaf people which denies that they are handicapped
A DEAF woman claims she was subjected to unlawful discrimination when she was unwillingly excused from jury duty because of her hearing disability.
Gaye Prudence Lyons has made a complaint against the Queensland Government under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 for failing to provide an interpreter during her stint as member of an Ipswich jury panel.
Details of the action were revealed in a recent Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal decision to consider Ms Lyons' request for an order forcing the Deputy Registrar and Sheriff of the Ipswich District Court to supply a range of documents.
QCAT senior member Clare Endicott, in a recently published four page ruling, dismissed Mr Lyons' application for the tribunal to issue a notice of production, but does give a small insight into the hearing impaired woman's complaint.
"Ms Lyons has referred to QCAT a complaint that she has been unlawfully discriminated against by the State of Queensland when she was excused from jury duty because she is deaf and required an Auslan interpreter in order to perform jury duty," Ms Endicott said.
"Ms Lyons complains that she has been unlawfully discriminated against on the basis of an impairment in the provision of services to her and by the administration of State laws and programs contrary to the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991."
The tribunal was told Ms Lyons, in preparation of her case, applied for a notice to be issued by the tribunal to obtain a range of documents, including any policy, guideline, direction or other document relating to deaf people and jury duty in operation between January 1 and October 9 this year.
Ms Lyons' application was opposed by the state government on the grounds it was an abuse of process.
"(Ms Lyons) has explained that access to the requested documents is reasonably necessary for (her) to reply to the contentions of the state," Ms Endicott said.
Ms Endicott, in dismissing Mr Lyons application, said she expected the state government would make reasonable attempts to ascertain if the documents requested actually existed before the matter was heard.
"If documents within the categories do exist, and if the State objects to providing copies to Ms Lyons of all or any of the ascertained documents, then the parties can at that stage seek a direction for QCAT for the release of copies of the actual documents in dispute to Ms Lyons."
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.