Secular Right | Reality & Reason

May/13

3

About That First Amendment Thing

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ZubikCBS Pittsburgh:

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Students at Carnegie Mellon say it’s freedom of expression, but the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh calls it inappropriate and disrespectful. At an annual art school parade, a female student dressed up as the pope, and was naked from the waist down while she passed out condoms. Even more, witnesses say the woman had shaved her pubic hair in the shape of a cross….

“I think we all know that when we’re growing up we do stupid things but to cross over the line in this instance shouldn’t happen with anybody,” Bishop David Zubik said.

Bishop Zubik says the incident must be addressed. “What I do want to have happen is for this person to learn an important lesson,” Zubik said. The University encourages individual thought and artistic expression but the Diocese believes this student not only crossed the line, but trampled all over it.

They are demanding some action…..

Interesting.

I don’t know whether such a childish display is of a nature to warrant First Amendment protection, but it is somewhat tactless of a Bishop who has recently been doing plenty of complaining about what he sees as a threat to his First Amendment rights, to be quite so insistent that this student be punished for exercising what might be hers.

The decision over what (if anything) should be done about this incident is for the university and—if it came to it—the courts. The bishop was well within his rights to criticize what this lady did—and I don’t blame him for doing just that—but when he calls for disciplinary action he—how shall I put it—not only crossed a line, but trampled all over it.

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5 comments

  • Kevin S. · May 3, 2013 at 4:10 am

    It sounds like the student should probably be disciplined for indecent exposure, since I doubt the laws of Pittsburgh or the university’s code of conduct would permit the display of genitals in a public place. But the chutzpah of the Catholic Church to try to dictate discipline measures to a non-Catholic university is galling. The bishop isn’t demanding punishment for a violation of common community norms; he’s just upset because his religion was insulted. That attitude runs contrary to the First Amendment even if the student’s actions are wrong for other reasons.

    I wonder if CMU is taking its time with the disciplinary hearings just to leave this petty dictator twisting in the wind. I could hardly blame them.

  • Mark in Spokane · May 5, 2013 at 5:30 am

    Uh, explain to me why somebody shouldn’t complain if somebody engages in an obscene demonstration in public. Obscenity is not protected by the 1st Amendment.

    There seems to be a weird dynamic present with some of these posts. Breaches of public norms of civility and decency are excused so long as the target is religious. That hardly strikes me as secular. I don’t read anything in the Constitution that says that breaches of public order are okay so long as the targets of the breaches are religious. In a secular order, breaches against public order are treated as such, regardless of the metaphysical status of the target.

  • Author comment by Andrew Stuttaford · May 5, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    Um, Mark, here’s part of what I wrote:

    “The bishop was well within his rights to criticize what this lady did—and I don’t blame him for doing just that…”

  • Mark in Spokane · May 6, 2013 at 6:23 am

    Here’s what you wrote:

    “It is somewhat tactless of a Bishop who has recently been doing plenty of complaining about what he sees as a threat to his First Amendment rights, to be quite so insistent that this student be punished for exercising what might be hers.”

    First, what the student did isn’t protected by the First Amendment. Obscenity in a public place is not protected conduct under the First Amendment.

    Second, the bishop’s call for the enforcement of the laws against public indecency does not strike me as offensive or somehow improper. To be punished for the content of one’s speech is different from being punished for an obscene expression.

    You statement “I don’t blame him…” was very cleverly displayed along with a deliberate statement seeking to draw an equivalency between the bishop’s recent statements about the 1st Amendment and this sad young woman’s public display. And that’s simply incorrect. When the bishop chooses to make his argument while walking around a public place naked from the waist down, your argument will be valid.

  • Everett Vinzant · May 12, 2013 at 4:24 am

    I seem to remember an incident regarding a piece of art titled Piss Christ (a picture of Jesus Christ made of urine) garnering the same ire. There is also a situation where Trent Reznor (NIN) burned piles of the Book of Mormon while touring in Utah.

    Both of these acts in and of themselves are protected free speech. What was done was not a violation of the first amendment. In the case of the “painting” there may have been hygiene or medical concerns. If any laws were violated in the creation of the art, then the person that violated law should be held accountable for the law that was violated.

    The same is true of the stunt Trent Reznor pulled. If he broke fire code, if there is a law against the burning of books in general… he should be held accountable. However, the message is protected free speech.

    Same with this lady. Her message is protected free speech. Her method, questionable. Did she violate the law? I do not know the law well enough to answer that. What I can say is that there is little difference between this Cardinal demanding punishment and Islamic countries threatening the world if someone exercises free speech and draws a cartoon lampooning Muhamed (sp?).

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