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Free Minds & Free Markets

Look Who Wants a Safe Space Now

Free speech makes all kinds of people uncomfortable.

Pity the poor snowflakes—so sensitive they must be shielded from speech that might hurt their tender feelings.

Campus liberals? Nope. We're talking about supposedly serious grown-ups, including some veterans and Virginia Rep. Rob Wittman (R).

Monday evening Wittman met with a group of tea party activists at American Legion Post 90 in conservative Hanover. Eugene Truitt—the post commander and an Air Force veteran—asked Wittman when Congress would act on a flag-desecration bill. Wittman said it could happen soon: "I continue to push the leadership to have it come to the House floor," he said. "I do think it's worthy of debate about what are the limits of freedom of expression under the First Amendment."

Of course he does. Why should he be any different?

Last year Donald Trump tweeted a suggestion that anyone who burns the flag should face "consequences—perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!" More than 213,000 people liked the tweet. Some veterans spoke favorably of the idea. (At other times, other veterans also have vigorously opposed it.)

In 1989, when the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment protects desecration of the American flag, veterans groups supported a constitutional amendment, and polling showed broad support for the idea among the general public.

In 2012, the Republican Party Platform included language insisting, "By whatever legislative method is most feasible, Old Glory should be given legal protection against desecration." Heck, even Hillary Clinton once co-sponsored legislation that would have put flag-burners behind bars and fine them up to $100,000. Who says Democrats and Republicans can't agree on anything?

Flag-burning legislation is supported by many people who, in other circumstances, probably would ridicule the impulse behind it. Combat-hardened veterans likely have little sympathy for hypersensitive college students who need speech codes and "safe spaces" to protect them from politically incorrect thoughts, and even jokes, they don't like. Nor do those students merit sympathy. They merit a lecture on the need to grow up and stop behaving like crybabies.

And yet: What is a flag-burning amendment, but an attempt to turn the entire country into a safe space? It is, in fact, the epitome of political correctness: National flags designate political entities, and flag-burning expresses a particular opinion about the American polity.

Is it an odious opinion? Sure. But then there are many odious opinions. Some of them were on view Saturday night in Charlottesville, when white supremacists held a torchlit rally around a statue of Robert E. Lee. By what standard would supporters of a constitutional amendment define flag-burning as so odious it lies beyond the protection of the First Amendment, without concluding the same about assertions of white supremacy?

Speaking of which: When conservative scholar Charles Murray—whose work suggests racial differences might have a genetic component—showed up to speak at Middlebury College earlier this year, protesters shouted him down and set off fire alarms. When he and Middlebury professor Allison Stanger (who had been invited to push back against Murray in a civil dialogue) tried to leave, protesters assaulted her. She had to go to the hospital, and wound up in a neck brace—but not before protesters pounded on the car she and Murray rode away in, rocked it, and jumped on the hood.

Last month controversy erupted in Berkeley over a scheduled speech by conservative performance artist Ann Coulter. Campus police feared they could not adequately ensure public safety at the event, and Coulter's speech was canceled. "Free speech crushed by thugs," Coulter tweeted.

At nearly the same time, left-wing activists in Portland shut down an annual Avenue of Roses parade because they objected to participation by the Multnomah County Republican Party.

A flag-burning amendment takes a more formalistic approach to censorship than campus thugs do, but it still crushes free speech. And it does so through a mechanism—the government's police power—that is backed up by just as much violence as any campus mob can inflict, if not more.

People can always gin up clever arguments to disguise what they're really doing. The latest academic casuistry is the claim that censorship actually protects free speech by—better sit down for this one—relieving people who dislike a viewpoint of the obligation to refute it. To that, Mother Jones' Kevin Drum—a liberal who still gets it—provides the necessary refutation: "Once you concede the right to keep people from speaking, you concede the right of somebody to make that decision. And that somebody may eventually decide to shut down communists. Or anti-war protesters. Or gays. Or sociobiologists. Or Jews who defend Israel. Or Muslims. I don't want anyone to have that power."

He's right. Nobody should.

This column originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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  • timbo||

    Poon tangs need safe space.

  • Quixote||

    Professors, too. Especially department chairs at NYU. Surely no one here would dare to defend the "First Amendment dissent" of a single, isolated judge in America's leading criminal "satire" case? See the documentation at:

    http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

  • BearOdinson||

    While I totally agree that an amendment allowing laws against desecrating the American flag are stupid and wrong, conflating that with mobs literally assaulting people and preventing them from speaking is really disingenuous. A constitutional amendment is a perfectly legitimate method to attempt to make a change. In addition, a possible flag-burning amendment would be a narrowly tailored change. As opposed to the left who just mobs and shouts down any and all who disagree with their particular viewpoint (even liberals who aren't "woke" enough).

    I get it. Conservatives and Liberals are equally bad. A pox on both their houses. But if you want to argue against American Conservatives and free speech, a better analogy is the idea that obscenity isn't protected by the 1st Amendment. Except of course, plenty of Democrats are fine with that as well. And of course the modern feminist view that since all penetrative sex is rape, and women are incapable of giving positive consent, then all porn is wrong.

    I disagree with conservatives on any number of issues. I disagree with them on this issue. But arguing for a constitutional amendment is completely legitimate.

  • mortiscrum||

    Well said. I think the article meant this to be an ironic jab at conservative-types than true equivalence to what is happening on college campuses though. As you said, there's no argument to make that these things are equal. Cut from the same cloth, sure, but not equal.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    I think the article meant this to be an ironic jab at conservative-types than true equivalence to what is happening on college campuses

    That's pretty much how I interpreted it as well.

    By what standard would supporters of a constitutional amendment define flag-burning as so odious it lies beyond the protection of the First Amendment, without concluding the same about assertions of white supremacy?

    I also inferred a slippery slope argument in this (although maybe I'm reading a bit too much into it, IDK). E.g., today conservatives get a flag burning amendment passed, tomorrow progressives get an amendment banning making "racist" statements in a public place. And of course, since pretty much any un-woke statement uttered by a white person can be considered "racist"...

  • Chip Your Pets||

    Baloney. It's intended to accuse conservatives of being the pot calling the kettle black.

    It would be like speaking about people who oppose the power held by big Wall Street banks with Nazis because Nazis also opposed the banking establishment.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    While I totally agree that an amendment allowing laws against desecrating the American flag are stupid and wrong, conflating that with mobs literally assaulting people and preventing them from speaking is really disingenuous.

    If the ammendment is passed, a mob literally will assault you for burning a flag. The only difference will be that this mob will be wearing police uniforms instead of black t-shirts.

  • chemjeff||

    You are conflating process with results.

    Both the left and the right want to shut up their dissenters, it's just that some on the left want to shut them up using mob violence, and some on the right want to shut them up using the violence of the state.

    Personally I think wanting to shut people up via the violence of the state is more terrifying than mob violence, because the state has a lot more firepower behind it than your typical Antifa mob.

  • Chip Your Pets||

    Major differences:

    1. Conservatives will refrain from using violence against flag burners until 2/3 of Congress and 3/4 of the states agree with them, which is never going to happen.

    2. Flag burning doesn't really express an idea -- it's an action used to draw attention. The 1st amendment was supposed to protect expression of ideas, not any activity that might be related to someone's ideas. Tearing down a Hillary Clinton campaign sign is just as "expressive" as burning a flag, if not more, so why isn't it protected by the 1st amendment?

  • chemjeff||

    "1. Conservatives will refrain from using violence against flag burners until 2/3 of Congress and 3/4 of the states agree with them, which is never going to happen."

    Even assuming you are right - the impulse to want to silence people is still there, just taking a different means by which the silencing is supposed to take place. That is my point. Conservative supporting a flag burning amendment are no more noble in their intentions than liberals using mob violence. Both want to shut you up.

    "2. Flag burning doesn't really express an idea -- it's an action used to draw attention. The 1st amendment was supposed to protect expression of ideas, not any activity that might be related to someone's ideas."

    Really? So operas or performances or movies or TV shows don't express ideas? They are just actions by actors used to draw attention?

    "Tearing down a Hillary Clinton campaign sign is just as "expressive" as burning a flag, if not more, so why isn't it protected by the 1st amendment?"

    It is protected, as long as it's your own Hillary Clinton campaign sign. You can't tear down someone else's sign because it's not your sign, not because the First Amendment has anything to do with it.

  • Chip Your Pets||

    So operas or performances or movies or TV shows don't express ideas?

    Of course they do. Not sure what your point is.

    Can you tell me what idea is expressed by burning a US flag?

    It is protected, as long as it's your own Hillary Clinton campaign sign. You can't tear down someone else's sign because it's not your sign, not because the First Amendment has anything to do with it.

    You must be able to decode the invisible ink in the first amendment, cause I don't see a word in there about that consideration. Either all expressive action is protected or it's not.

  • Headache||

    I want my "hate crime" sentence commuted, for burning a Mexican Flag!

  • DuneChild||

    When you tear up or burn your own stuff, that's protected free speech.

    When you tear up or burn someone else's stuff, it's destruction of private (or public) property. At that point it's no longer a 1A issue.

  • buybuydandavis||

    2. Flag burning doesn't really express an idea

    Dumb. If it weren't a communicative symbolic act, people wouldn't be getting pissed off.

  • buybuydandavis||

    Both the left and the right want to shut up their dissenters

    False equivalences of the Left.

    Say anything about anyone in a protected class vs. burning an American flag. Totally same applicability to everyday life.

  • Zoidzilla||

    "...conflating that with mobs literally assaulting people and preventing them from speaking is really disingenuous"
    They are exactly the same in terms of nature, if not in form. Just as a hand grenade used to kill innocents is no different than a rifleman placing well aimed shots into other innocents.

    "A constitutional amendment is a perfectly legitimate method to attempt to make a change."
    There is no legitimate way to make an illegitimate change, morally. Even if it were legal and constitutional, which it is not.

    "...an amendment allowing laws against desecrating the American flag are stupid and wrong, "
    " But arguing for a constitutional amendment is completely legitimate."
    If your arguing that you don't think they should do it, but that they should be allowed to, the jusification, or lack thereof does not depend on the channels used. But on the nature of the violent action itself.

    All acts involving violence against individuals for their exercise of private property rights are exactly the same in terms of nature, even if they differ in terms of extent or form. A law that criminalizes speech, is unjust regardless of how narrowly it is tailored.

    Crimes must require victims, if I burn a piece of cloth I own, who is the victim?

  • Zoidzilla||

    "...conflating that with mobs literally assaulting people and preventing them from speaking is really disingenuous"
    They are exactly the same in terms of nature, if not in form. Just as a hand grenade used to kill innocents is no different than a rifleman placing well aimed shots into other innocents.

    "A constitutional amendment is a perfectly legitimate method to attempt to make a change."
    There is no legitimate way to make an illegitimate change, morally. Even if it were legal and constitutional, which it is not.

    "...an amendment allowing laws against desecrating the American flag are stupid and wrong, "
    " But arguing for a constitutional amendment is completely legitimate."
    If your arguing that you don't think they should do it, but that they should be allowed to, the jusification, or lack thereof does not depend on the channels used. But on the nature of the violent action itself.

    All acts involving violence against individuals for their exercise of private property rights are exactly the same in terms of nature, even if they differ in terms of extent or form. A law that criminalizes speech, is unjust regardless of how narrowly it is tailored.

    Crimes must require victims, if I burn a piece of cloth I own, who is the victim?

  • Rebel Scum||

    when white supremacists held a torchlit rally

    Were the really "white supremacists"? I haven't read much in to Spencer but I've only heard him claim to be a "white nationalist", which I take to mean to believe white pride of some sort. But I don't take it to mean the belief that whites are racially superior.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    I haven't read much in to Spencer but I've only heard him claim to be a "white nationalist", which I take to mean to believe white pride of some sort.

    Well, according to some being "white people that love our heritage, our culture, our European identity" is the "textbook definition" of white supremacy. Because only non-white people are allowed to be proud. White people are evil and have literally nothing to be proud of. /so fucking woke!

  • Chip Your Pets||

    To be fair, a lot of white supremacists do try to disguise themselves as merely being proud of European heritage and culture.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    True. And unfortunately they've "poisoned the well"* so that now any white person saying that can be branded a white supremacist even if they aren't.

    I guess I don't like the idea of racist assholes re-branding themselves as "proud" and then having the progressive left turn around and use that to label any white person who expresses any kind of pride as "racists". Not that there's anything that can be done about it except bitch and moan on the internet.

    *Not sure if I used that phrase correctly or not. Probably not, but who cares.

  • buybuydandavis||

    a lot of XXXX supremacists do try to disguise themselves as merely being YYYYY

    Could say the same about every identitarian group, not just Whitey.

  • Azathoth!!||

    So this--

    Eugene Truitt—the post commander and an Air Force veteran—asked Wittman when Congress would act on a flag-desecration bill. Wittman said it could happen soon: "I continue to push the leadership to have it come to the House floor," he said. "I do think it's worthy of debate about what are the limits of freedom of expression under the First Amendment."

    --asking for debate, is, to the 'author' of this article, the same as shutting down debate and demanding spaces in which dissenting opinion is held at bay with infantile accoutrements?

  • chemjeff||

    Do you think wanting to silence people via the state is any more noble than wanting to silence people via mob violence?

  • Chip Your Pets||

    Because if you can't burn a flag, you've been silenced. [/leftist logic]

  • chemjeff||

    Making it a crime to express one's opinion via flag burning is a form of silencing, yes. Is this really in doubt?

  • Chip Your Pets||

    What opinion is expressed by burning a flag?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    We hate America and all it stands for. Especially fuck all those all those military folks who fought and died for America and its symbols. Fuck the constitution!

    I might have missed some but these seem to be common themes used by the lefties.

  • No Yards Penalty||

    Back to the FEderalist, Nut-con.

  • x'); DROP USER Tony;||

    Flag-burning is political speech. Banning it is LITERALLY silencing speech
    [/libertarian_philosophy_AND_basic_logic]

  • Hank Phillips||

    If by noble you mean altruistic, then YES. The NSDAP 25-point program is specific about the wonderfulness of Christian patriotism, altruism, and the death sentence for hurting the delicate feelings of Nazi politicians. And The National Socialist Final Solution was efficient and organized. Selfish people got a unforgettable lesson on the virtues of censorship at lower cost and with less disturbance than merely turning a blind eye to public stonings. Only blind Justice prevented their legal arguments from prevailing on appeal at Nuremberg.

  • Azathoth!!||

    Unless missed it, the guy was calling for debate--not calling for anyone to be silenced.

  • JuanQPublic||

    At least the framers of the Constitution realized that silencing people via either Authoritarianism or mob rule runs against the basic principles of personal liberty. The representative democracy that abides by the Constitution was the answer then, and the answer now.

    They foresaw what we see today: the bipartisan urge to completely stick noses in other people's business and control them. The framers knew that insecure, emotional, reactionary and controlling people without principle would always be a threat to personal freedom.

  • Hank Phillips||

    As long as we're mining the looter press klaverns for screed equivocating power and rights, why not resuscitate the George Bush call for the death penalty for potheads? That's what El Presidente screeched at the same flag-burner-burning rallies in places like Billings, Montana. For instance, the cute College Station Texas girl caught with a bunch of mostly harmless drugs would--to Republican eyes--look even better after lethal injections. Tough love might rouse her DEA-agent daddy out of his televangelism-induced stupor. He might even develop an appreciation for the benefits of libertarian repeal alternatives to centuries of incarceration or Byzantine girl-killing at the hands of armed zealots.

  • x'); DROP USER Tony;||

    the George Bush call for the death penalty for potheads?

    Question I already know the answer to: do you have ANY evidence for this claim?

  • Headache||

    Yes, if you eat food using your left hand, Mohammedan will cut it off.

  • Longtobefree||

    Well, if burning the flag is free speech, then why is burning a cross not free speech?
    Who decided, and when exactly, that burning a cross was hateful to blacks and not to Christians?
    What is the difference between burning a flag and tearing down historical monuments?
    Who cares?

  • buybuydandavis||

    why is burning a cross not free speech?

    Because it is a credible communication of terroristic threat. Don't like it, blame the KKK.

  • searchingmind||

    [W]hy is burning a cross not free speech? I would think that it is free speech, and can be treated as a crime only if it is someone else's cross, or on someone else's property, or done for an illegal purpose. Or, I suppose, if it does not conform to the local laws for cross-burning (or burning things in general).

  • Specom||

    Where is it illegal to burn a cross on your own property?

  • buybuydandavis||

    And yet: What is a flag-burning amendment, but an attempt to turn the entire country into a safe space?

    More like a blasphemy law.

  • No Yards Penalty||

    Fuck the delicate veterans.
    Drop dead already, old dudes. You're not that fucking special.

  • Headache||

    Next time say in German.

  • Macy's Window||

    This is a stretch and a half. it is a transparent attempt to find some example -- any example -- on the right to try to counterbalance the tidal wave of censorship on the left.

    I don't favor outlawing flag burning at all but this is a nonsensical comparison.

    Flag burning is one particular manner of expression of an idea -- or many ideas -- that particularly strikes at the community. One can still express any of those ideas in 1000 different ways in 1000 different places even if flag burning were outlawed.

    In contrast, universities censor and punish all manner of ideas they don't like, however they are expressed and whereever they can be found.

    It is like comparing a bucket of water to Lake Michigan and declaring them equal because they are both wet.

  • sandy o||

    Free Speech?? NOT in the Florida legislature!

    Many pieces of filed and cosponsored proposed legislation never see the light of day. Why?

    Because the Florida Speakers of the House and /or the Senate President--the biggest influentials in the state of Florida--CONTINUALLY, PERSISTENTLY ANNUALLY REFUSE TO HOLD HEARINGS AND A VOTE , FOR EXAMPLE, ON A BILL THEY "DISAPPROVE OF", THAT THEY DO NOT WANT TO KNOW oF ITS FACTS, ONE THEY KNOW WILL PASS BUT ARE ADAMANT THAT IT SHALL NOT PASS!

    FOR A FULL 18 YEARS, NONSTOP! THAT'S FLORIDA FOR YOU! DEMEANING THE FIRST AMENDMENT OF OUR CONSTITUTION--DENYING FREE SPEECH TO THE PUBLIC AND TO ITS LEGISLATURE. LAWYERS HAVE BECOME CONCERNED, AS MOST OF THE LEGISLATORS ARE FROM THE PARTY OF TRUMP!

    THEY HAVE DONE THIS REPEATEDLY, DESPITE A 94 % APPROVAL RATING OF THIS BILL BY ALL SECTORS OF THIS NATION, ONE THAT IS ASSURED OF BOOSTING US GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT BY ** 15% **!

  • OzNoticer||

    Ironically, signing the flag is flag desecration - something that various conservative presidents have a penchant for doing.

  • JuanQPublic||

    Arguing for a Constitutional Amendment at least admits the Constitution forbids restraints on this kind of speech. It's certainly not as flagrant as simply ignoring the Constitution, like so many autocrats do.

    Hopefully, it never sees the light of day, though, as it runs against basic Constitutional principle.

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