Thursday, September 13, 2012

I don't know what we're yelling about

I think Mitt Romney (at least 2010 Mitt Romney) and I can agree on a few things vis-a-vis the whole Terry Jones movie/riot/assassination/political-fallout situation:

1.  Terry Jones has an absolute right to release any video or other form of speech he wants without interference from the United States government.
2.  Doing so in the current environment puts Americans' lives at risk, most of whom are not Terry Jones.
3.  It is a fundamental agreement we make with each other as Americans, in the form of the 1st Amendment, that #2 does not invalidate #1

However, there is not, so far as I'm aware, a constitutional protection from the government refuting or opposing your freely-spoken expression.   If I say that Queen Elizabeth is actually a dude, and London asks the American Embassy if that is the official position of the American government, of course our ambassador should be allowed to answer the question.  Similarly, if the Egyptian people are angry at the US government and its Embassy over Jones' film, the Embassy is fulfilling its duty under Article 3 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (.pdf) of "representing the sending state in the receiving state" and "promoting friendly relations between the sending state and the receiving state" by making clear that the content of the film does not represent American values, even if allowing its existence/distribution is a founding principle.

The statement from the Embassy clumsily tried to make that distinction, condemning the film while also reinforcing Jones' "universal right of free speech".  The statement took an unnecessary shot at Jones and his partners, calling them "misguided", and mentioning the 9/11/01 attacks didn't really contribute anything.  It would have been much better if the author, who was explicitly told by the State Department to not release the statement but did anyway, would have deleted those parts and included a little more about why we weren't presenting the mob with Jones' head on a platter.  But of course it's proper to condemn the attacks on the host country's religion.

3 comments:

NWest said...

Is it proper for the government to decide what kind of political (yes, criticizing Islam is political) speech is good and which is bad? The radical Muslims "feelings" aren't hurt - they are angry because they consider it blasphemy which should be punished.

If the "official" position of the US government on, say, the Mormon practice of baptising the souls of the deceased, or the catholic belief that the wine becomes the blood of Christ, was that "it's a backward hateful thing" do you think people would be ok with it? It's a small step from the government saying that it thinks some kinds of speech are hateful to making such things illegal.

The US governments proper response should be "we have many people of varying beliefs in America, and the government has no power to abridge the freedom of Americans to express those beliefs."

PoliticalDoctor said...

From a more theoretical standpoint, I actually completely agree with your (apparent) position that the government should have absolutely nothing to do with religion, including taking a position on Jones' film, putting "In God We Trust" on the money, or allowing religious organizations tax-exempt status. The best response, I think, would be exactly what you typed, plus something to the effect of "The United States government takes no official position regarding Islam or any religion." But given the reality of our government's truth claims regarding Christianity, it would be ethically untenable for it to find that it could not comment on the film on the grounds of being religion-neutral.

It's all about the tier of rules you

PoliticalDoctor said...

Oops.... forget that last bit. Leftover of a previous draft.