Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Mar/09

22

Blasphemy!

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In an era when some (rightly) worry that blasphemy laws may be being reintroduced under the guise of prohibiting speech that gives ‘offense’, here via the New York Times is a reminder that the original approach lingers on in America too:

Mr. Kalman had already formed one such corporation for his information-technology business and now wanted the same status for his sideline as a filmmaker, the better to write off expenses on his income taxes.
The first line on the document asked Mr. Kalman to supply his chosen corporate name, and he printed it in: I Choose Hell Productions, LLC. In a personal bit of existentialism, Mr. Kalman believed that, even if life was often hellish, it was better than suicide.
A week later, the daily mail to Mr. Kalman’s home in the Philadelphia suburb of Downingtown brought a form letter from the Pennsylvania Department of State. His corporate filing had been rejected, the letter explained, because a business name “may not contain words that constitute blasphemy, profane cursing or swearing or that profane the Lord’s name.”
Mr. Kalman felt quite certain, he recalled here the other day, that the letter was some kind of prank. Nobody had even signed it. And though he did not know it at the time, Pennsylvania had granted corporate designation to entities like Devil Media, Vomit Noise Productions and Satanic Butt Slayers.
After a couple more readings, though, Mr. Kalman realized that the rejection was genuine. Pennsylvania, it turned out, indeed had a law against blasphemy…

Read the whole thing.

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15 comments

  • Ploni Almoni · March 22, 2009 at 11:02 am

    Yup, read it. It’s pretty outrageous, I agree, that people believe that (a) the First Amendment creates “a formal separation of church and state,” and that (b) the First Amendment, which puts limits on the US Congress, somehow applies in some way to the State of Pennsylvania. I’d hope that the Secular Right would side with the State of Pennsylvania here, against the ACLU and anyone else who helps the central government usurp the powers clearly reserved by the Tenth Amendment to the states and the people.

  • Susan · March 22, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    What interests me here is a side issue: the one of how big a customer base people who give their businesses bizarre/pornographic/scatalogical/off-putting/whatever names hope to attract. (I’m not speaking of the enterprise named Vomit Noise Productions; they’re obviously catering to a special market, like the indie rock band called Rektal Mucus.) If I were looking for a film production company to make a documentary about ice cream, say, and had to pick one off a list, I’d probably bypass the one called “I Choose Hell” on the grounds that they specialized in horror or occult stuff. Or in my anoyance at the sophomoric attempt to shock–and who cares about what someone’s existential statement when you’re looking for a good filmmaker, anyway?

    My point is that if you give your business a strange name, you may lose potential customers, for whater reason those customers choose to be offended.

    On the other hand, perhaps this is just a clever publicity stunt. He got a write-up in the Times.

  • Susan · March 22, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    Sorry about the typos. I do know how to spell “annoyance.” And there should be an “is” after “someone’s existential statement.”

  • steveT · March 22, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    It was my understanding that the 14th ammendment forces the states to recognize the bill of rights.

    Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

  • gene berman · March 22, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    SteveT’s right. And, if Mr. Kalman chooses to pursue the matter, I predict that the Commonwealth will back down or lose embarrassingly.`

  • gene berman · March 22, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    Ploni Almoni:

    There are many ways in which the federal government intrudes on the rights of states and individuals but that (the present example) ain’t one of ‘em.

    The Commonwealth is just sluggish, I guess, about fixing anything till the law’s shoved in their face. Let’s see. First, they had laws in the state restricting the vote and officeholding to certain religious believers. And then, some preventing people engaging in certain activities (like selling things) on Sundays or on certain religious holidays (the Blue Laws). And this one. Well, Kalman sounds like a Jew.
    And I think that, if he takes it to court, he’ll win (or they’ll back down in embarrassment). Is that a “hat trick” for the Jews? Or for everyone?

    Yay! Go Jews!

  • Ploni Almoni · March 22, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    steveT :

    steveT

    It was my understanding that the 14th ammendment forces the states to recognize the bill of rights.

    That’s the way it’s been interpreted by mostly liberal courts. Conservatives who like a textualist or other “originalist” interpretation of the Constitution strongly disagree with that reading of the due process clause. The plain meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment as it was understood at the time is much more limited than you say. Libertarians might prefer the “living Constitution” approach, I don’t know, but I was addressing self-identified conservatives – folks like Stuttaford, Mac Donald, Derbyshire, etc. – who I’d suppose are more or less originalists.

  • gene berman · March 23, 2009 at 9:02 am

    Ploni Almoni:

    You’re right to see this as arising in disagreement over the wording. But I would take issue over assigning of certain labels on the various opinions happening to coincide with certain present political stances or affiliations. We’re stuck with the reality that, although the framers were, by and large, successful and relatively (fiscally and socially)
    conservative “men of property,” they were, at the same time, keenly aware that they were superintending the emergence of the most liberally-oriented agglomeration of men on the face of the Earth (or in its history).

    I consider myself an “originalist” or what used to be called a “strict constructionist.” At the same time, I would deny that there is anything
    sacrosanct about the document. The plain fact is that, no matter how important a piece of paper it happens to be, it is certainly (as has been proven time and time again, as much as in breech as in practice), a “mere scrap of paper” and absolutely without an iota of force in the face of determined men and their purposes. Witness the absolute defiance of Jackson (“The court has made their decision. Let them enforce it!”) in the matter in which the Cherokee were removed (“Trail of Tears”) to
    Oklahoma. Or that Lincoln, before the Civil War, actually sent officers to arrest and imprison the Supreme Court, who’d found contrary to his liking in some manner that escapes my memory. (More or less as juries in England had been imprisoned for coming in with the “wrong” verdict).

    Today, “liberals” (i.e., egalitarians, left-wingers) are anxious to interpret the words of the Constitution in ways that will support their agenda and are frequently quite willing to “bend” the matter of truth in their interpretation of what were the actual words used; since I’m a conservative, generally, I’d like to be able to say that “my side” doesn’t do such things but it simply wouldn’t be true. The truth is that both sides are anxious to exploit the Constitution whenever it seems to suit their purposes, whether momentous or merely momentary.

    The foregoing having been said, I’d further express my opinion here that the Constitution is a severely flawed document in one certain respect and that much of our present travails are due to such flaw becoming more relevant (crucial, actually) to present circumstances (and the travails themselves quite without remedy of any kind which would be in accord with Constitutional provisions).

    I may have made the matter sound more mysterious than it is actually. Quite plainly, the Constitution is as much “out of synch” with reality
    as if it had declared that gravity would be hereafter “null and void”
    in any jurisdiction of the U.S. You see, when the document was written, the existence of “economic laws” and of a “science” of economics with whose truths mens’ laws, to be successful, must be in accordance (or at least not in defiance) did not exist. The very idea that there existed any sort of regularity in economic phenomena was of extremely recent vintage. Useful observations of many types had been made in our own and other cultures but the idea that there existed an entire, comprehensive
    body of knowledge of such subject was nowhere to be found. Adam Smith wrote his most famous work (WofN) almost coincident with our Revolution.
    But, most importantly, the great discovery that transformed economics into a sphere of knowledge capable of integration of its parts–had not yet occurred. The discovery was that of the subjective origin of value; heretofore, the “paradox of value” had stymied the very best minds to have considered why some thing were valued more highly than others, despite lesser utlity. Economics–to that time–is what we call “classical,” while it has, since that time, been referred to as “neoclassical.” Marx himself was of the “classical” school and was entirely under delusions to which those former were subject.

    The problem, insofar as is considered the Constitution with respect to more modern appreciation of Economic science, is that, technically, it sees no problem whatever in the assignment, by authority (vested in the Congress) of legislation, of “value,” and of “regulating” value, whether of “money” or of commodities which move in interstate commerce (and, by court-supported extension) and even of commodities produced intRAstate whose prices might affect, even indirectly, those in interstate commerce (and it is a “given,” even to all “schools” of current economic science that all prices paid–anywhere on Earth–affect ALL other prices paid, again–anywhere on Earth). By this (relatively recent) decision, reached in a case involving a corn farmer/hog raiser feeding his own corn to his own hogs (which were then sold intRAstate), it quite clear that the groundwork is established to “regulate” just how many tomatoes you can raise in your garden and (to stretch it just a bit), whether or not you can (legally) use mulch around your flower beds (I hope I exaggerate.).

    The present difficulties being undergone in the financial markets are directly related to the insuffieciencies and lack of economic awareness in our Constitution. They have been exacerbated, brought to the fore, and hastened significantly by fraud and greed but both of those components, especially the latter, have been enormously made capable of deluding those involved (and the public at large) by the underlying non-recognition of certain economic realities. And, if neither any fraud or
    greed had been present, much the same thing would have happened–just at a somewhat later time. And, no matter what remedies or policies are attempted to solve or resolve what are seen as past inadequacies, the die is already cast for future dislocations of even greater (far greater, actually) magnitude, eclipsing even the famous “decline of ancient civilization” in destructive potential.

    The problem at present with any possible question of “modernizing” the Constitution is that such process flies in the face of significant political blocs desirous to preserve certain elements of the status quo, without even considering the very many “schools” of economic thought who each oppose certain aspects of all others (and each of most of which are aligned with certain of the political blocs heretofore mentioned); there is no prospect of achieving anything approaching unanimity or even
    majority EXCEPT among those favoring certain aspects of the present status which, they believe, afford them “operating” room for achievement of their various “programs.”

    The lone exception is that with which I am affiliated: the Austrian School, completely marginalized as far as any exercise of influence might be concerend and unaligned with any specific political bloc. But the sad fact is, that even were there to be the sudden, miraculous, “cvonversion” to an “Austrian” view, there is enough dissension and multiplicity of views even in that school itself to keep even an “Austrian” Constitutional Convention busy arguing between themselves for another dozen years.

    What’s going to happen? I don’t know but am convinced it won’t be pretty. What to do? No idea. C’est la vie.

  • Gary McGath · March 23, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    I wonder what Pennsylvania’s blasphemy police would have to say about Hell GMBH, a well-known German company. (In German “hell” means “bright.”)

  • steveT · March 24, 2009 at 5:39 am

    @Ploni Almoni
    Well, regardless, the Pennsylvania state constitution guarantees freedom of religion, expression, and speech. So I don’t know that this needs to become a federal issue.

  • Danny · March 24, 2009 at 7:37 am

    @steveT
    Actually, the relevant portion of the PA Constitution is as follows (emphasis mine):

    “The free communication of thoughts and opinions is one of the invaluable rights of man, and every citizen may freely speak, write and print on any subject, being responsible for the abuse of that liberty. No conviction shall be had in any prosecution for the publication of papers relating to the official conduct of officers or men in public capacity, or to any other matter proper for public investigation or information, where the fact that such publication was not maliciously or negligently made shall be established to the satisfaction of the jury; and in all indictments for libels the jury shall have the right to determine the law and the facts, under the direction of the court, as in other cases.”

    Nothing in there that would seem to preclude the State from establishing blasphemy laws.

  • Astra · March 24, 2009 at 8:31 am

    Ploni and Gene,

    I might be more inclined to happily blame “liberals” for the decline of federalism if ‘Bush v. Gore’ hadn’t demonstrated that even conservative originalists are willing to make horrendous arguments based on the 14th Amendment when it suits them to do so.

  • gene berman · March 26, 2009 at 9:07 am

    Astra:

    As stated plainly (in my third paragraph), I don’t disagree with you with respect to the self-serving nature with which “liberals” and “conservatives” regard constitutional restraint on partisam agendas of either. It’s eye-opening how warped have become, not only the words
    but respective attitudes toward fundamental issues.

    Once (with von Mises), I’d object to use of the “L-word” by proponents of authoritarian “planning” and confiscation of private product for redistribution via collectivist schemes to undergird pension, health, or popular education. In political idiom of today, Thomas Jefferson (when not being libelled as a sexual harrasser) is a “liberal,” (which he certainly was). But it was he who most vehemently made the case contra central banking in opposition to Hamilton and (in indirect support of “conservative” interpretation of the Second Amendment) said something to the effect that, every now and then, a bit of patriot and tyrant blood needed shedding, an attitude presently confined completely, even among conservatives, to the more marginalized. Today’s “liberals” hail and idolize Lincoln with elevation to saintly status and dismiss his attempt to imprison the Supreme Court, suspension of habeus corpus, arbitrary prosecution, ruin, and imprisonment of opposition newsmen, and the coolly-calculated Emancipation Proclamation, designed not to stop human bondage but to incite civil insurrection along racial lines. The forces of illiberality are almost entirely aligned, today, on the side termed “liberal,” to such extent that Rush Limbaugh bashes “liberals” incessantly (deservedly), supporting policies that would have been characterized as “liberal” not so very long ago, all while insisting “words mean things.” Between the two (Rush and Mises), I’d say Rush sees the “popular mind” more clearly; I’m content (or at least resigned) to being a conservative now.

    The liberal/conservative dichotomy, here or elsewhere, will make no difference whatever to the unfolding of future events. As I’d tried to explain briefly above (and as often as I’m able), it’s my belief there are fundamental relationships governing human social organization and which restrain certain activities from proceeding beyond inherent limits. These are not a “socially determined” (to use Marx’ arrantly nonsensical description of that he couldn’t explain in order to bring it within purview of his prescription) magnitude but are, in my view, related somehow (closely) with evolution of human reason, development of “market society” as integral to that evolution, and the dim (but correct, in principle) perception by Malthus of finite limits (or, at least, “choking points’) on extension of that process.

    My considered opinion is that, at present, almost no improvement in the situation of the earth’s population is practically possible; turmoil of the present can’t be remedied by resort to any known policies, etc., on the part of any nation or many acting in concert which does not address basic economic/governance relationships which none currently recognize, let alone prepare to “address”.

    That’s my opinion. “I could be wrong.” (h/t Dennis Miller)

    I’d add that nothing prevents the development of the process described above from being forestalled, at least temporarily, by advantageous discoveries or developments, of which there are potentially (at least theoretically) many. Think to yourself about the tremendous “boost” to productive potential (and lowering of production costs) of develoments like electrification, telegraph and telephone communication, advent of semiconductors, then the “computer age,” through which productivity of clerical and administrative functions were magnified enormously (think secretaries able to retrieve files from “memory” with a few keystrokes rather than physically from cumbersome file cabinets) and internet-enabled nearly-instant (and postage-costless) communication, whether of data or message. Only idiots pay attention to such things as “laws” whereby future progress in memory and speed of semiconductors is said to follow a formula or equation but there are still magnitudes of improvement possible in many areas, some seen dimly or not at all (think nano, etc). Not a single person is “expert” at what doesn’t exist but, once that existential wall is breached, there are millions waiting to furnish just such expertise as may be required for exploitation. I just wouldn’t “hold my breath” or even “bet my bottom dollar” on it. (And that’s an optimistic viewpoint.)

  • Donna B. · March 28, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    The history of the incorporation of the bill of rights is pretty interesting, and really doesn’t apply to this case, unless I’m reading everything wrong.

  • Joshua Zelinsky · April 1, 2009 at 8:22 am

    Arguments over whether the Bill of Rights apply to the states miss the more serious point: There’s no good reason a government should be telling people that they cannot use a given name for a business just because some people might find that name offensive. Whether or not this legally justifiable doesn’t alter that’s a really bad idea to let the government do this.

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