Tag Archives: free speech

Is Cyber-Bullying A Free Speech Issue?

Katherine Evans while in high school is suing the principal of Pines Charter High School in Miami for violating her freedom of speech rights because he suspended her for three days after Ms. Evans created a Facebook group based on one of her teachers. The group was named “Mrs. Sarah Phelps is the worse teacher I ever met” and attracted three students who joined in order to praise the teacher. The principal found out about the group and suspended Ms.Evans for cyber bullying and disruptive behavior. A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union does not seek monetary damages but asks the school to remove the suspension from her record because that action “stained(Evan’s) academic record and violated her First Amendment rights.”

The case raises many questions as to whether freedom of speech is allowed when an individual establishes a web site for the sole purpose of damaging the reputation of another. This blog is committed to the principle of free speech, but the Evans situation is somewhat different because it was more than free speech. It also entailed a deliberate effort to drive an individual from her job and create tension and disruption in the classroom. What if ten or fifteen of the teacher’s students went to the Facebook site and expressed insults and derogatory statement about Ms. Phelps which resulted in the loss of a job. Does Ms. Phelps also have constitutional rights?

Pornography Definition Divides Indonesia

A bill supposedly designed to make pornography illegal, has created turmoil within Indonesia. Many opponents charge the bill was the work of fundamentalist Islamic leaders who object to what many consider to be normal visual or artistic material. The law criminalizes any sex-related materials that government deems to violate public morality. There is widespread opposition to the law in rural areas where people dress in their own style which could be interpreted under the law as an expression of immorality. Kamala Chandrakirana, chairwoman of the National Commission on Violence Against Women, expressed disappointment with the law which could be used against women who dress in a manner that offends religious fanatics.

President Yudhoyono, in signing the bill defied advice from close advisers who feared the law would encourage civil disobedience in areas of Papua and Bali whose style of life and dress is not in accord with traditional Muslim views. Opponents fear fundamentalist Muslims will take the law into their own hands and decide what is or is not appropriate dress or artistic work.

Irish Press Threatened With Gag Rule

An investigation dealing with corruption in the Irish government has resulted in two newspapers being charged with violating the law for threatening to reveal conclusions of the Moriarty Tribunal. The investigation deals with reports Irish businessmen paid Charles Haughey for his assistance in steering communication contracts in their direction. The tribunal’s initial report allegedly identifies up to 12 civil servants who were involved in awarding the contract to Denis O’Brien’s company. The documents the Irish Times and the Sunday Business Post were forbidden to print claims the judge in the does not accept evidence given to him by civil servants in the case.

The essence of a free press is the ability to print information that will not please everyone. If the two newspapers are printing invalid information they would be subject to libel laws and prosecuted. But, preventing publication of information has no place in a free society.

Iranian Government Blocks Websites

The Iranian government struck again against free speech and open access to diverse viewpoints by blocking access to more than five million Internet websites which it charged were undermining the moral health of their society. An advisor to the attorney general said, “the enemies seek to assault our religious identity by exploiting the Internet.” Iran’s reformist press was virtually closed down in 2000 forcing many to turn to blogging in order to get across views the government did not wish to be known to the general public. The government Mehr news agency complained the Internet, “inflicts social, economic and moral damage which is worrying.” The Iranian government is concerned that women and supporters of female rights are accessing web sites which offer information about anti-feminine actions on its part.

The Iranian government will try over and over again to stifle voices of freedom, but it will not succeed. Satellite dishes are banned, but they are found all over Iran. The government can not block out foreign newscasts and its effort to stop the Internet is doomed to failure. Modern technology, in the long run, will out distance efforts to halt its access to people.

Should Political Beliefs Impact Being Able To Teach?

The disclosure of over 12,000 names of people who are members of the right wing, British National Party(BNP) raised questions as to wether teachers belonging to the organization should be allowed to teach. The list included names of 15 teachers, four nurses and members of the armed forces. Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASWUT teacher’s union, bluntly stated: “those who declare their affiliation to the BNP should not be allowed to work in the teaching profession or in public services.” The Department for Children, Schools and Families said thee was no ban on BNP supporters working in schools, but they could be disciplined or fired if their expressed racist views in the classroom.

During the 1950s, anti-Communist hysteria resulted in many teachers who had been members of the Communist Party in America to be fired. Once members of any legal political party are fired for membership, one is on the slippery slope of giving government the right to decide who can or can not teach because of personal political views. The only criteria if whether or not an individual expresses racist views in class or makes derogatory statements about children. They have a right to be a nudist, Communist, atheist or Nazi in their personal lives. People should be judged on actions, not beliefs.

Turkish Free Speech Issue Blocks EU Entry

Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code makes it a crime to insult the Turkish nation, and naturally the government decides what constitutes an “insult.” Under pressure of the European Union, the Turkish government last May supposedly modified the article to permit some form of protest against the government, but Justice Minister Ali Sahin has his own ideas as to what is permitted in his nation. He defends the prosecution of writer Temei Demirer because of his statement that Turkey carried out a genocide against Armenians a hundred years ago. According to the Justice Minister, “this man is saying Turkey is murderer state. I am not going to allow anyone call my state a murderer. These(expressions of Demirer)expressions are not exercising freedom of speech: these are humiliating the state, which is exactly what 301 criminalizes.”

Of course, if the Sahin philosophy was law in America, there would be need to build thousands of jails to handle the number of people who believe George Bush is a murderer and hate torturing prisoners. Sahin argues not all cases have gone to court that originally were filed. He misses the point, not a single case should go to court if there is freedom of speech in Turkey. The European Union will not be satisfied by lame excuses as those stated by the Minister of Justice.

Indonesia Legislature Passes Anti-Porn Bill

The Indonesian legislature passed a controversial anti-pornography bill that has been denounced by human rights activists and many women groups. Many minority groups and those who defend social justice fear the new bill will erode free speech rights. One opponent argued: “We agree we must protect our nation from pornography, but we can’t accept the substance of this bill.” The bill defines pornography in terms that could place an artist or a comedian or a woman in danger of being arrested. For example, it defines “gestures” that incite pornography as illegal, a definition that could cast a wide variety of behaviors as tantamount to pornography.

The bill allows local groups to take the law into their own hands by acting to get rid of pornographic materials or take action against an individual who they believe is fostering pornography. The bill is so vague that an art exhibition which is termed “pornographic” by a local group can be halted and the organizers thrown in jail.

Holocaust Denier Fights Extradition

Dr. Frederick Toben, is fighting extradition from the United Kingdom because he fears being deported to Germany where he faces a European Arrest Warrant for his alleged remarks which deny the Holocaust ever happened. As he entered the court, several people rose and gave stiff armed Nazi salutes. The German born academic has taken Australian nationality and was arrested at Heathrow airport on his way back to Australia. he is wanted in a district court in Mannheim, Germany, for posting information of an “anti-semitic or revisionist nature” on his website. It is not a crime to express such views in Great Britain, but it is in Germany.

The European Arrest Warrant expedites extradition from one EU country to another if the crime entails at least one year in jail. An important issue in this case is the right of free speech. Dr. Toben’s views hardly reflect intelligence or what one would expect in the ability to engage in critical thinking from a person with advanced education. But, the essence of democracy is that people are entitled to their views regardless of how ridiculous they may emerge.

Alleged Holocaust Denier Held Ar Heathrow

Gerald Frederick Toben, a teacher who has argued the Holocaust never happened, was detained by police at Heathrow airport in London. He was held under a German arrest warrant issued in 2004 which alleges he had carried out “world wide Internet publication” of material that was anti-semitic, and denied, approved or played down the mass murder of Jews by Nazis during World War II. Toben appeared before the magistrate and angrily denied the government had a right to “to arrest me on British soil.” He was upset and claimed the British and German governments were cooperating to deny him his rights of free speech.

In a 2005 interview on Iranian television, Toben told the audience, “The Holocaust equals a lie. Therefore, Israel is built on a lie.” In the British court, Toben begged the magistrate “to le me leave the country, to kick me out. I promise never to return.”

As someone who has worked in Holocaust education for more than thirty years and despises everything Toben stands for, I still believe he has a right to his beliefs. There is no proof his words have directly led to harm to anyone and therefore this is not a case of “yelling fire in a crowded theater.” Let him go free and allow those who believe in free speech to defeat him in a contest of historical factual data vs his blind ignorance.

South Korea Cracks Down On Internet Libel

The ever confusing limits of Internet free speech came under examination by the South Korean government in light of recent turmoil surrounding importation of American beef which led to numerous stories appearing on the Internet. Justice Minister Kim Kyung-han vowed to introduce stringent measures against online libel, including criminalizing cyberspace libel. “Online defamatory actin, dissemination of false information and menacing calls for businesses not to run their ads in some newspapers have reached a perilous level, and subsequent damage is at a very serious scale, heightening public concern. We needed special measures to redress such illicit acts and disorder in the cyberspace.”

The Justice Minister wants to compel people to identify themselves when presenting information on the Internet. He was particularly upset because several businesses were warned to cease advertising in newspapers that supported the government’s policy of allowing the importation of American beef. The Justice department indicted a woman reporter las month who posted incorrect information on her web site that a female protestor against been imports had been strangled by the police.

Anyone who spends time on the Internet or in MySpace and Facebook undoubtedly encounters examples of individuals spreading false information. But, in a democracy, the right to spread false information is as protected as the right to spread correct information. The situation undoubtedly becomes murkier when a person is the subject of false information and, hopefully, existing libel laws should handle such situations.