Prior Restraint and Freedom of Religion

Posted: December 17, 2007 in ACLU, atheism, Celebrating Diversity, Christianity, Judaism, Politics, Religion, The Mass Media, Utter Inshanity!

Update:  Yeah, kind of like that

In journalistic and legal circles there is a concept called “prior restraint,” which essential boils down to an officially-sanctioned restriction on the publication or airing of material which might offend, be prejudicial to a trial process, or in some other way prove harmful to some party.  The potential harm to the aggrieved party is always weighed against the potential impacts on freedom of speech; with freedom of speech being given the much greater weight.  Few instances of prior restraint are ever upheld due to the perception that its use constitutes an unacceptable infringement of freedom of speech.  In other words, the potential harm done to one individual or group is far outweighted by the potential harm done to the society as a whole by setting such a precedent.

So, if you don’t see how the censorship of a choir singing Christmas carols near a Jewish person is the same as prior restraint, then it’s because you’ve made a conscious decision not to.

In a society, a culture, a political system such as ours, which holds in such high regard the principles of freedom of speech, of religion, and of the press, the practice of prior restraint has historically been seen as antithetical to our way of life.; hostile to the free and open exchange of ideas.  The prohibition of expressions of views, however potentially unpleasant or distasteful, before they’ve even been penned or spoken is the very kind of thing from which our forebearers sought refuge.

Sought refuge here, on the shores of this continent.  An ocean away from their former masters.  Their descendants then took further steps to enshrine safeguards for those selfsame principles into our Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and Bill of Rights.

Why?  BECAUSE THEY KNEW THAT WITHOUT THOSE PROTECTIONS, THESE NEW-FOUND FREEDOMS COULD TOO EASILY BE LOST.  These were people who had lived under the Decree of the Crown, who knew all too well the abuses that stemmed from unchecked power, of a government unrestrained by anything but the whims of a unelected tyrant.  They knew the dangers of placing the power of life and death in the hands of one man, and so took firm steps to prevent just such centralization.  They had experienced first hands the oppression of a Catholic Church that saw itself as both God and King, and took steps to ensure that the government could never be used to enforce religious view on anyone, while still ensuring religious freedom for everyone.

I propose that we are facing ever-greater risks of much the same sort today.  We risk placing ourselves under the boot of another tyrant – the tyrant of censorship, or prior restraint based on misguided, unvalidated, and unrequested hang-wringing on “someone’s” behalf.  The sort of lofty and self-righteous idealism which is leading more and more of these activist busy-bodies to censor and censure, to try and quietly, subtly (for our own good of course) silence any hint of inconvenient and potentially “divisive” language.

Hugo Chavez shuts down an opposition radio station for broadcasting unpopular views and we excoriate him for stifling free speech.  Yet, two bumbling, self-appointed intercessors for no-one in particular bustle up all in a fluff and tell a choir that they can’t sing Christmas carols because someone MIGHT be offended, and it barely makes the news.

Preventing a choir from singing songs with a religious undertone merely because you fear someone with a weak constitution (yes, pun intended) might get the vapors if they are exposed to anything outside their little glass bubble is still censorship, plain and simple.

Loudmouthed activists storm the stage to prevent the Minutemen from being able to speak = censorship.

Shouting down Ann Coulter or trying to get Rush Limbaugh taken off the air because you don’t like what they are saying = censorship.

Prohibiting a prayer of invocation at a graduation even though the vast majority of the students wanted it and voted for it? = Prior Restraint.  Censorship.

Check this out:  The “Right Wing” didn’t try and get Air America pulled from the airwaves.  They let the market determine its success…you know, like the rest of our free-market capitalist society does.  And you know what?  They censored themselves.  The Righties didn’t have to lift a finger.  Air America ran itself right off the airwaves, BECAUSE NOBODY WANTED TO HEAR WHAT THEY HAD TO SAY.

Why doesn’t that simple concept seem to occur to the Left? Why do they continue to try and censor conservative viewpoints?  Because you only want to censor things which threaten you.  Conservatives weren’t threatened by Air America because it was a farce, and they knew it.  If you want Ann Coulter to go away, don’t buy her books, don’t go to her lectures.  Except…that isn’t working so well BECAUSE SHE SELLS SO MANY BOOKS.  She still fills lecture halls.  Do. The. Math.  As caustic and arrogant and bombastic and often just plain wrong as she is, more people STILL want to listen to her than Randy Rhodes.  Go figure.

That’s what it boils down to, isn’t it?  If you know, on whatever level, that your ideas and ideology can’t compete in the marketplace, you do whatever you can to make sure that diverging views aren’t presented.  This ensures that you have unfettered access to the forum, and are less and less likely to be troubled by “dissenters.”

You know what I think?  This War on Christmas stuff isn’t really about protecting anybody’s feelings, or about embracing diversity, or ensuring the separation of church and state, or any of the other carefully manipulated lies out there.  It’s about removing one of the last real stumbling blocks to the imposition of a radical, socialist, secular-humanist agenda in America.

The fact of the matter is that a free-market representative republic based (however loosely) on Judeo-Christian principles is quite simply still the best environment ever yet conceived for ensuring the most freedoms for the most people.  Look at the world. Look at history.  Tell me I’m wrong.  The ONLY country that has the kind of freedom of expression, discourse, religion and lifestyle as us…IS US.  And for 231 years those principles have kept at bay the kind of destructive authoritarian / collectivist philosophies — based on appeals to emotions rather than the rule of law — that continually seek to undo us.  Look at Stalin’s Russia.  Look at Castro’s Cuba.  Look at Mao’s China or Hitler’s Germany.  Hardcore socialism.  Militant Communism.  Collectivist ideologies that strip you of your individualism, punish independent thought, and the first victims of which are always religious freedoms (and personal gun ownership).

Those blowhards who continue to fizz and hiss and spit about how “offensive” the Christ in Christmas might be to that ubiquitous “someone” aren’t really the noble do-gooders they make themselves out to be.  They are merely the useful idiots who are helping to try and suppress one of the last bastions of true freedom this country has.  When it’s finally gone, if one day the Radical Left is successful in completely sweeping Christianity from public view, we will lose one of the few voices left still crying for restraint, for moral and spiritual wisdom centered in something besides humanist dogma and new age mysticism.  

It will shortly thereafter become a crime to voice a viewpoint or opinion outside that which has been deemed “acceptable.”  Taxes will soar as the government takes over more and more of your life…(for your own good, of course).  You’ll be told where to live (or not to live), what kind of car you can drive.  What to teach your kids and what kinds of foods you can or can’t eat. You’ll be forced to have health insurance, have a national ID card to get benefits, and be convicted of child neglect if you refuse.  You’ll be told what you have to tolerate, and what you must not.  If you don’t play along, then you will be ostracized.  You’ll be fined, or have privileges revoked….like driving, or voting, or owning a car…or just flat thrown in jail for “hate crimes,” or some other handy device for making dissenters and other such dangerous, non-conforming “individualists” go away.  The greatest sin in this new society is to refuse to “get on board.” 

George Orwell’s book “1984” is not about a RIGHT-wing future, but rather about the triumph of militant socialism.  The government is all…cradle to grave.

And of course it will ALL be legal, because our rulers will have made it so.  Our “elected” officials and judges will mandate from on high, as they already do so well, that you can’t say this here, or sing that there, or put this symbol here, or worship in this kind of facility if you insist on continuing to worship THAT kind of deity.

Sadly, there are far too many who would view this brave new world as some sort of Utopia.  I suggest that history predicts a far different outcome.  For the conservative, the “right winger” and the traditionalist, such a country ceases to be a country and becomes instead a prison.  This is not “progressive.” In the words of Two Dogs, “These ideas are blatantly REGRESSIVE!”  This isn’t freedom; it’s shackling ourselves with chains we once escaped, chains from which we have long striven to free others.

For those shrill voices who continue to bleat and hue and cry that traditionalist Christianity and its ilk should be removed from our society, I guess I have only this one piece of advice:

Be careful what you ask for.

  1. Incredible post. I love to read other’s thoughts on the fundamental human right of free expression. You are to be applauded as a champion for this cause.

  2. Jim says:

    Brilliant post. The beauty of having NPR and Rush Linbaugh both on the air is that I have the right to turn them both off when they bore or offend me.
    In that vein may I wish you a Merry Christmas, a Happy Channukah, A Joyful Kwanzaa, and a Blessed Solstice; and any other reason to catch a slight buzz and feel good about yourself and the rest of mankind.

  3. Steve B says:

    I’d say “Fröhliche Weinachten,” but that’s German, and the Nazi’s were German, and so that might offend anyone who was in a concentration camp.

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