Can you yell “fire” in a crowded theater and get away with it?
If the Bush Administration was deciding, it would likely depend on whether you were a liberal or a conservative.
Universal Press Syndicate columnist Ann Coulter “joked” during a Thursday speech that liberal Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens should be poisoned.
“We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens’ creme brulee,” Coulter said at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark. “That’s just a joke, for you in the media.”
And by all accounts, no action was taken against Coulter, save for a smattering of boos from the audience.
Christian conservative leader and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson declared a fatwa on Aug. 22, calling for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
“If he thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it,” Robertson said of Chávez on his show, The 700 Club. “It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. And I don’t think any oil shipments will stop.”
Robertson first lied about what he said, claiming the Associated Press “misrepresented” his words. He later apologized. And again, by all accounts, no action was taken against him.
Now, JABBS is completely in favor of free speech. A favorite movie moment is the speech given by Michael Douglas’ character, President Andrew Shepherd, at the end of the 1995 film, The American President:
DOUGLAS: America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve got to want it bad, because it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil who is standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.”
And JABBS has to assume that the Bush Administration feels the same way — even if Douglas’ character was an obvious Democrat.
Coulter? She was joking. Robertson? He quickly apologized. Right?
If it were that simple, there wouldn’t be much to discuss. The problem is that the Bush Administration has been woefully inconsistent in how it views First Amendment rights. Strangely, while a public call for the murder of a Supreme Court Justice or the assassination of a foreign leader go seemingly unchecked, other lesser demonstrations of free speech have led the administration to take action.
Consider these examples:
A married couple was removed from a Bush presidential campaign event in West Virginia in the summer of 2004 after revealing anti-Bush T-shirts. A Utah man was visited later in the year by the Secret Service for an anti-Bush bumper sticker on his car. Last spring, the Secret Service sent agents to investigate a college art gallery exhibit of mock postage stamps, one depicting Bush with a gun pointed at his head. The military is shutting down some soldiers’ blogs it says reveal sensitive information about the Iraq War; others claim the military’s real goal is censorship.
In the face of such perceived inconsistency, it seems fair to ask whether the Bush Administration puts party before country when considering first amendment rights.
JABBS doesn’t expect, nor does it desire, to have Coulter or Robertson visited by Secret Service agents or arrested. But a consistent interpretation of the law would be appreciated.
This item first appeared at JABBS