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TAG | First Amendment

Jun/13

6

Tyndale & More

William_Tyndale_execution

Here’s Melvyn Bragg writing in the Daily Telegraph on the topic of William Tyndale (and Thomas More):

After almost 500 years, Tyndale continues to command our language and when we reach for the clinching phrase, we still reach out for him.

Tyndale was burned alive in a small town in Belgium in 1536. His crime was to have translated the Bible into English. He was effectively martyred after fighting against cruel and eventually overwhelming forces, which tried for more than a dozen years to prevent him from putting the Word of God into his native language. He succeeded but he was murdered before he could complete his self-set task of translating the whole of the Old Testament as he had translated the whole of the New Testament.

More than any other man he laid the foundation of our modern language which became by degrees a world language. “He was very frugal and spare of body”, according to a messenger of Thomas Cromwell, but with an unbreakable will. Tyndale, one of the greatest scholars of his age, had a gift for mastering languages, ancient and modern, and a genius for translation. His legacy matches that other pillar of our language – Shakespeare, whose genius was in imagination….

[Tyndale’s] story embraces an alliance with Anne Boleyn, an argument covering three quarters of a million words with Thomas More, who was so vile and excrementally vivid that it is difficult to read him even today. Tyndale was widely regarded as a man of great piety and equal courage and above all dedicated to, even obsessed with, the idea that the Bible, which for more than 1,000 years had reigned in Latin, should be accessible to the eyes and ears of his fellow countrymen in their own tongue. English was his holy grail….

And, almost as an accidental by-product, he loaded our speech with more everyday phrases than any other writer before or since. We still use them, or varieties of them, every day, 500 years on. …

As a young man he was told by a cleric that it would be better “to be without God’s laws than the Pope’s”.

Tyndale, outraged, replied that he defied the Pope and all his laws and added “If God spares me… I will cause the boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Bible than thou doest”.

The image of the ploughboy was brilliant – because the ploughboy was illiterate. Tyndale deliberately set out to write a Bible which would be accessible to everyone. To make this completely clear, he used monosyllables, frequently, and in such a dynamic way that they became the drumbeat of English prose. “The Word was with God and the Word was God”….

And when his English-language New Testament came out….

The Bishop of London bought up an entire edition of 6,000 copies and burned them on the steps of the old St Paul’s Cathedral. More went after Tyndale’s old friends and tortured them. Richard Byfield, a monk accused of reading Tyndale, was one who died a graphically horrible death as described in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. More stamped on his ashes and cursed him. And among others there was John Firth, a friend of Tyndale, who was burned so slowly that he was more roasted.

Fast forward half a millennium to a report in the New York Times lat year:

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan on Friday helped kick off a national campaign opposing President Obama’s health care mandates and other government policies that Roman Catholic leaders say threaten their religious freedom…. The bishops timed the two-week campaign of prayer, fasting and letter-writing to begin on a feast day commemorating two 16th-century Catholic saints executed for their religious beliefs — SS. John Fisher and Thomas More. The campaign will conclude on the Fourth of July.

The problem, however (as I discussed here last August) is that More died not in the name of “religious freedom”, but in defense of the supremacy of his religious faith over those of others.

We should be careful before we judge a man of the sixteenth century by the standards of the twenty-first (or even the twentieth). More was no Dzerzhinsky, but he was a clear step down the road that led to men like that.

That ought to be food for more thought than is currently the case.

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May/13

3

About That First Amendment Thing

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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Cross-posted on the Corner

The New York Times reports:

[New York’s] Metropolitan Transportation Authority approved new guidelines for advertisements on Thursday, prohibiting those that it “reasonably foresees would imminently incite or provoke violence or other immediate breach of the peace.

The 8-to-0 vote by the authority’s board came three days after pro-Israel ads characterizing Islamist opponents of the Jewish state as being “savage” began appearing in subway stations, setting off vandalism, denunciations of the authority and calls for the ads’ removal.

The authority had initially rejected the ads, citing their “demeaning” language. The group responsible for the ads, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, sued, and in July won a federal court ruling on First Amendment grounds.

“We’ve gotten to a point where we needed to take action today,” Joseph J. Lhota, the authority’s chairman, said at a news conference on Thursday.

If this power is abused (not, of course that such a thing could ever, ever happen), it enshrines the heckler’s veto.

The authority said it believed the new guidelines adhered to the court’s ruling and would withstand any potential First Amendment challenge. Under the new policy, the authority will continue to allow so-called viewpoint ads, but each will be required to include a disclaimer noting that the ad does not imply the authority’s endorsement of its views.

The disclaimer is, of course, fine. Mind you, I’m not sure that I want that MTA have “views” about anything other than the operation of a transportation system.

“You deal with a free-speech issue with more free speech,” Mr. Lhota said.

During the public comment portion of the authority’s meeting on Thursday, several speakers assailed the placement of the ads….Many at the meeting held signs echoing the Occupy Wall Street movement’s message. “The subway belongs to the 99 percent,” they read. “Take the racist ads down.”

Pamela Geller, the executive director of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, also spoke, though she was repeatedly shouted down.

Whatever you may think about Pam Geller (or the ads) that doesn’t sound a lot like what “dealing[ing] with a free-speech issue with more speech” was meant to mean.

Oh well.

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Sep/12

27

So Unsophisticated, That First Amendment

Cross-posted on the Corner:

Eric Posner, a professor at the University of Chicago law school frets in Slate:

The universal response in the United States to the uproar over the anti-Muslim video is that the Muslim world will just have to get used to freedom of expression. President Obama said so himself in a speech at the United Nations today, which included both a strong defense of the First Amendment and (“in the alternative,” as lawyers say) and a plea that the United States is helpless anyway when it comes to controlling information. In a world linked by YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, countless videos attacking people’s religions, produced by provocateurs, rabble-rousers, and lunatics, will spread to every corner of the world, as fast as the Internet can blast them, and beyond the power of governments to stop them. Muslims need to grow a thick skin, the thinking goes, as believers in the West have done over the centuries. Perhaps they will even learn what it means to live in a free society, and adopt something like the First Amendment in their own countries.

But there is another possible response. This is that Americans need to learn that the rest of the world—and not just Muslims—see no sense in the First Amendment. Even other Western nations take a more circumspect position on freedom of expression than we do, realizing that often free speech must yield to other values and the need for order.

Where to start?

Well, the piece is worth reading as an interesting justification for a more, uh, flexible approach to free speech. It’s not the first, and it will not be the last.

But it misses a key point: the best (perhaps the only) way that two starkly opposed belief systems can coexist (more or less) peacefully is by mutual acceptance of the fact that neither is likely to be susceptible to change. Recognize that, and, however unwillingly, live and let live has a chance.

In the meantime, Professor Posner should understand that any concessions by the US over free speech will just feed the Islamists’ demand for more (check out how those “circumspect” Europeans have fared). There is no middle ground. And there can be none.

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Sep/12

14

First Amendment Watch

Cross-posted in the Corner:

Writing in USA Today, Anthea Butler, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania, reveals that she hasn’t quite got to grips with this whole First Amendment thing:

[W] hy did I tweet that Bacile should be in jail? The “free speech” in Bacile’s film is not about expressing a personal opinion about Islam. It denigrates the religion by depicting the faith’s founder in several ludicrous and historically inaccurate scenes to incite and inflame viewers.

Completely wrong. The film is ludicrous, quite remarkably so, but if it does one thing it makes Bacile’s personal opinion of Islam all too obvious.

And then there’s this:

While the First Amendment right to free expression is important, it is also important to remember that other countries and cultures do not have to understand or respect our right.

The heckler’s veto. Endorsed.

Good to know that ideas of American freedom are alive and well at the University of Pennsylvania.

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Jul/12

9

Don’t Confuse the Children!

Commenter Kevin S. kindly responded to my earlier posting on Bobby Jindal’s voucher program with a link to this Reuters story. It’s worth paying some attention.

An extract:

Louisiana’s plan is by far the broadest. This month, eligible families, including those with incomes nearing $60,000 a year, are submitting applications for vouchers to state-approved private schools.

That list includes some of the most prestigious schools in the state, which offer a rich menu of advanced placement courses, college-style seminars and lush grounds. The top schools, however, have just a handful of slots open. The Dunham School in Baton Rouge, for instance, has said it will accept just four voucher students, all kindergartners. As elsewhere, they will be picked in a lottery.

Far more openings are available at smaller, less prestigious religious schools, including some that are just a few years old and others that have struggled to attract tuition-paying students.

The school willing to accept the most voucher students — 314 — is New Living Word in Ruston, which has a top-ranked basketball team but no library. Students spend most of the day watching TVs in bare-bones classrooms. Each lesson consists of an instructional DVD that intersperses Biblical verses with subjects such chemistry or composition.

At Eternity Christian Academy in Westlake, pastor-turned-principal Marie Carrier hopes to secure extra space to enroll 135 voucher students, though she now has room for just a few dozen. Her first- through eighth-grade students sit in cubicles for much of the day and move at their own pace through Christian workbooks, such as a beginning science text that explains “what God made” on each of the six days of creation. They are not exposed to the theory of evolution.

“We try to stay away from all those things that might confuse our children,” Carrier said.

Hmmm…

Allowing vouchers to be used for religious schools doesn’t bother me overmuch, but here’s a part of what I wrote before:

The key is regulation. To secure eligibility for voucher-status, religious schools, and what they teach (not too much mumbo jumbo, please, admission for both sexes, and members of all faiths and of none, and so on), would have to go through a tough vetting both to begin with and, say, annually. And, if the experience in the UK is anything to go by, you’d probably need to vet the vetters too.

I’m not sure that there’s a lot of that going on here:

In Louisiana, Superintendent of Education John White said state officials have at one time or another visited all 120 schools in the voucher program and approved their curricula, including specific texts. He said the state plans more “due diligence” over the summer, including additional site visits to assess capacity.
In general, White said he will leave it to principals to be sure their curriculum covers all subjects kids need and leave it to parents to judge the quality of each private school on the list.

Yes, hmmm.

With the US public education in such expensively bad shape, vouchers are a terrific idea. It would be a shame if Jindal’s (dare I say it) “fundamentalist” belief in the sorting powers of the market were to bring a much-needed tool for educational reform into disrepute.

· · · ·

Jul/12

7

Whoops!

Former exorcist and current Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal has (to quote the Friendly Atheist) “pushed for a voucher program that would allow state funds to be used to pay for religious schools.” The Friendly Atheist is not so keen on the idea (he believes it to be unconstitutional), but I’m inclined to be more relaxed. A little mumbo jumbo is a cheap price to pay for a good education. Religious schools in this country (and elsewhere) have a long record of delivering an education that can be of lower cost and higher quality than that provided for in the state system. And they also have a long and shameful record, not least in corners of the Islamic world, as perpetrators of ignorance and division.

The key is regulation. To secure eligibility for voucher-status, religious schools, and what they teach (not too much mumbo jumbo, please, admission for both sexes, and members of all faiths and of none, and so on), would have to go through a tough vetting both to begin with and, say, annually. And, if the experience in the UK is anything to go by, you’d probably need to vet the vetters too. I don’t know whether Gov. Jindal’s legislation provides for all this or not, but, in any event, it would be unlikely to be enough for one Louisiana (Republican) lawmaker. Valarie Hodges.

Livingston Parish News takes up the story:

WATSON — Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Watson, says she had no idea that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s overhaul of the state’s educational system might mean taxpayer support of Muslim schools.

“I actually support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools,” the District 64 Representative said Monday.

“I liked the idea of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school,” Hodges said…HB976, now signed into law as Act 2, proposed, among other things, a voucher program allowing state educational funds to be used to send students to schools run by religious groups…Hodges, who represents District 64 on the northwest side of the parish, and another freshman lawmaker in the local delegation, Clay Schexnayder from Dist. 81 in the southwest, voted with the House majority in favor of HB976.

The school funding mechanism, however, did not come up for a vote until the end of the session. By then, a Muslim-based school had applied for support through the new voucher system.

During debate over the MFP (Minimum Foundation Program) funding formula, Hodges learned more about the consequences of the educational changes. She voted against the new MFP funding formula; Schexnayder voted for it.

“Unfortunately it will not be limited to the Founders’ religion,” Hodges said.

Oh dear. I’m not necessarily opposed to (mild, constructive, gently patriotic, and minimally superstitious) state religions, but I suspect—well over two centuries into the First Amendment—that the time for that in the US may have passed.

· · · ·

Jul/12

7

For Thee But Not For Me (Ctd)

Cardinal Séan O’Malley , one of the leading figures in the US Roman Catholic hierarchy, blogs:

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this week upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s “mandate” requiring adult Americans to purchase health care. The full range of the Court’s decision requires further study. Central to the decision, however, is the fact that the law will significantly expand health care for over thirty million people. The Catholic Bishops have for decades supported the principle of guaranteed access to health care as a basic human right. Our position has been and remains based in the dignity of the person and the right to health care which requires protection in civil law and public policy.

Read on, and you see that the Cardinal’s generosity (with other people’s money) does not stop there:

..The ACA does not adequately address the needs of immigrant communities in our country. Health care as a human right and the need for it among some of the most vulnerable people in our nation is one of the reasons why access to health care should be extended beyond ACA.

But there’s a catch:

While supporting [the] extension of health care, the U.S. Bishops Conference reminded us this week that since the passage of ACA, the Church has encountered significant challenges to its institutional religious freedom. Most notable is the requirement that Catholic health care, social service and educational institutions provide services to their employees which violate Catholic teaching..

Hmmm, O’Malloy’s church favors the introduction of “guaranteed access” to health care (which must, by definition, involve imposing an obligation on the population as a whole to pay for it) while reserving for itself the right to ignore any aspects of the law that “violate Catholic teaching”.

Interesting

· · ·

Apr/11

23

First Amendment Burned in Michigan?

Cross-posted on the Corner:

On the face of it, the First Amendment does not seem to be in terribly good shape in Dearborn, Michigan:

DEARBORN, Mich., April 23 (UPI) — A constitutional law professor says a trial and the brief jailing of two Florida pastors who wanted to demonstrate outside a Michigan mosque is “bizarre.”

Florida pastors Terry Jones and Wayne Sapp were briefly jailed Friday in Dearborn after refusing to pay a $1 peace bond following a trial that found they would breach the peace if allowed to hold a rally outside the Islamic Center of America, the Detroit Free Press reported Saturday.

“The judge should have thrown out the case,” said Robert Sedler, constitutional law professor at Wayne State University.

Sedler said the entire process was “bizarre” and that “the whole thing is unconstitutional.” He cited U.S. Supreme Court cases backing up Jones’ right to protest. The Michigan ACLU also criticized the case.

“This is a complete abuse of the court process, and all those involved should be ashamed,” said Rana Elmir of the ACLU Michigan office. “The prosecutor’s office and the Dearborn court turned the First Amendment on its head. What happened today should never have happened. This is a true miscarriage of Justice.”

As so often with anything involving Jones, there’s plenty of confusion to go round. Volokh has more here.

Meanwhile in Indonesia, there is this (via the Daily Telegraph):

Islamic militants involved in a plot to bomb an Indonesian cathedral ahead of Easter celebrations planned to film and broadcast the inferno. Indonesian police said 19 suspects, who had planted bombs beneath a gas pipeline at the Christ Cathedral near Jakarta, were part of a new terrorist cell inspired by al-Qaeda.

The bombs, which were defused in a 10-hour operation on Thursday, had been rigged to go off just as services at the 3,000-seat Roman Catholic church were taking place for Good Friday. Maj. Gen. Anton Bachrul Alam, spokesman for the national police, said the 19 suspects who led authorities to bombs planted beneath a gas pipeline near the Christ Cathedral Church just outside of Jakarta did not appear to be part of any large, existing terrorist organisation. Other bombs were left in bags not far from the entrance.

“At this moment, it looks like a new cell,” Maj Gen Alam said, adding that the suspects, all in their 30s and many of them university graduates, told police they had been planning to film the fiery explosion.

“They wanted to make a movie and then broadcast it … that was the plan,” he said.

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