Tag Archives: free speech

NFL Stars Tackle Homophobia

8 Sep

Ayanbadejo and Kluwe

What a delightful surprise! Not one but two NFL players have recently shown strong support for LGBT equality. Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo has been a vocal supporter for some time, participating in HRC campaigns like NoH8. Because marriage equality is on the ballot in Maryland this year, he has supported Marylanders for Marriage Equality. Enter Maryland House of Delegates member Emmett C. Burns.

In a shocking display of homophobia and free speech trampling, Burns sent a letter to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti demanding that Ayanbadejo “concentrate on football and steer clear of dividing the fan base.” Ignoring the fact that civil rights matter for everyone, Burns illogically says that being a celebrity removes the right to have opinions (that disagree with his). That Burns is African American and ignores the intersections of oppression is even harder to believe.

The response to Burns has been wonderful, however. Ayanbadejo said he would like to “thank him more than anything for bringing national attention to the issue” and questioned Burns’ merit as an elected official. Then enter Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe. Minnesota is facing a one-man-one-woman hate amendment this November and Kluwe has recorded three ads opposing the equality ban. He wrote an impassioned letter to Burns defending his NFL colleague and marriage equality. It’s a wonderful letter in full; here’s a good sample.

I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life. They won’t come into your house and steal your children. They won’t magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster. They won’t even overthrow the government in an orgy of hedonistic debauchery because all of a sudden they have the same legal rights as the other 90 percent of our population—rights like Social Security benefits, child care tax credits, Family and Medical Leave to take care of loved ones, and COBRA healthcare for spouses and children. You know what having these rights will make gays? Full-fledged American citizens just like everyone else, with the freedom to pursue happiness and all that entails. Do the civil-rights struggles of the past 200 years mean absolutely nothing to you?

Well said, Mr. Kluwe, and thank you! Given the homophobia in most professional sports and the small number of athletes who are willing to be out and proud, players like Kluwe and Ayanbadejo are important heroes. Let’s hope their voices make life easier for the next generation of athletes and help establish better equality for all.

Hero of the Week: December 2, Sen. Ron Wyden

2 Dec

Hero of the Week

What a delight to be able to celebrate another member of Oregon’s congressional delegation this week. Just one year ago, TSM recognized the efforts of all six of Oregon’s congressional Democrats. This week, the strong work of Senator Ron Wyden clearly earns him this week’s HWA.

Congress is currently on a path to dismantle the Internet as we know it, largely due to the influence of huge corporate players like the American Chamber of Commerce. The ironically named PROTECT IP Act in the Senate and its sister House bill, Stop Online Piracy Act, would place huge burdens on websites, particularly social media one can only imagine the devastating effect this would have on all blogs, Facebook, and even Google. The stated aim is to protect copyright, but the structure proposed would have a chilling effect on free speech, grassroots organizing online, and open commerce.

Senator Wyden, long a supporter of grassroots efforts and an open Internet, he has placed a hold on the bill in the Senate, effectively killing it for the time being. Given the strong support that the Act has mysteriously garnered, this act of courage and principle deserves thanks and recognition. Kudos to you, Sen. Wyden!

Wanda Sykes: A much needed tonic

11 Jun

Hero, Wanda Sykes

During this ugly storm created by Tracy Morgan and then fueled by Chris Rock, it is nice to see this tonic/salve by the most wonderful Wanda Sykes!  Here is Sykes taking on Rock, Morgan, and CNN’s Roland Martin:

I do believe in free speech, but for a youth in TN or any other numerous place, Tracy just yelled, ‘Fire,’ in a crowded theater,” adding, ”Morgan “is just a dumb comic,” but also said she faults Tennessee lawmakers. “They’ve created an anti-​gay environment,” and suggested she didn’t “believe Tracy would be so ignorant in LA, because we have a mayor, a city council,and police chief who believes we are all equal.

Sykes is brilliant and does a brilliant job of confronting homophobia.  She clearly understand how interconnected misogyny, racism, and, homophobia are. Sykes also then tweeted the following in response to Rock’s: “I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live in a world where Tracy Morgan can’t say foul inappropriate shit.”

Ok, piss’d reading, “I don’t want 2 live n a world where Tracy can’t say…” I Do! U Keep the world, just break me off an evolved country.

Than you, Wanda Sykes for having the courage to speak the TRUTH!  You are my hero!  Click here to read the full article.

Just for the record, Chris Rock offered a formal apology after reading the transcript of Morgan’s hate.

Wednesday Word of the Week: March 9

9 Mar

The Face of Profanity

This week’s word is: PROFANITY

Language that is offensive because it is rude or shows a lack of respect for God or religious beliefs – Macmillan Dictionary Online

One of the hottest news topics over the past week was the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Snyder v. Phelps. In a rare display of unity (other than Justice Alito, whose contempt for the Phelps family’s behavior created a resonant dissent), the Court ruled in favor of the members of the horrific bigot cult known as the Westboro Baptist Church. For anyone with a sense of humanity who is also an ardent supporter of free speech, this is an agonizing dilemma.

As we’ve noted on this blog before, free speech is a bedrock principle of this country and even people with distasteful messages have that right. From a strictly legalistic perspective, relying on significant precedent, Phelps seemed the most likely victor in this case. As Salon.com noted, however, there is an interesting, debatable point in the central argument put forward by Chief Justice Roberts’ majority opinion:

“The protest was not unruly. There was no shouting, profanity or violence.”

Westboro protests are notorious for adhering to the letter of the law. It is true that they do not shout (anymore) or practice physical violence. They also follow any local guidelines about protest and assembly assiduously. So far, so good. But no “profanity” in their protest? That is highly debatable.

Westboro is also notorious for signs that state baldly “God Hates Fags” or that bear cartoon depictions of anal sex (usually with the universal “no” sign of the red circle with a slash.) That is certainly rude and disrespectful. It is fairly clear from the majority opinion that the use of the word “profanity” really activates one of the slipperiest areas of free speech, that of OBSCENITY

Indecency, lewdness, or offensiveness in behavior, expression, or appearance. – American Heritage Dictionary Online

Obscenity is often not protected under the First Amendment. Are Phelps’ signs obscene? The Salon.com article does a good job of analyzing the legal issues here, and the most probable answer is “not quite” since courts tend to put pretty narrow walls around free speech exceptions. Enough uncertainty exists, however, that local jurisdictions wanting to put tighter controls on certain kinds of protests could probably construct laws that would restrict Phelpsian hate speech while not violating the First Amendment.

Freedom is tricky, and speech is one of its trickiest elements. There are clear exceptions (such as speech while on the job) and there are muddy areas like Westboro’s technically legal and morally abhorrent actions.  It is interesting to note the somewhat counterintuitive reactions to the decision. Former Phelps counter-protestor Romaine Patterson wrote a wonderful editorial supporting the decision. Some strict constructionists on the Far Right, however, have reacted against the ruling, typically lacking any sense of history or irony. NOM’s odious Maggie Gallagher rails against a ruling protecting hate speech, even though she is a regular practitioner of such speech. The perpetually confused half-governor Sarah Palin blasts the majority opinion and then backpedals confusingly.

In the end, I am deeply torn by this decision. I’m grateful that a conservative court did not take advantage of this situation to chip away at free speech. I truly believe that we must protect everyone’s speech or the freedom is illusory. Nevertheless, I find Westboro so repellent that any ruling which supports their actions – even tangentially – makes me ill.

Taking solace in the knowledge that democracy is hard, I’ll offer one word for Phelps and his ilk that is much less slippery than “profanity” or “obscenity”…

Extremely unpleasant or offensive – Macmillan Dictionary Online

REPUGNANT.

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