Freedom of Speech…Even If

Freedom of Speech…Even if we find the message repugnant. See this lovely billboard that was put up in SoHo in NYC? The Most Dangerous Place for an African American is in the Womb. The pro-choice gal in me yelled, “Tear that crap ass billboard down, NOW.” The die-hard supporter of the First Amendment in me yelled back, “Not so fast!”

I find this sign absolutely offensive. It’s an assault on a woman’s right to choose with a racial twist. So did they put it up just for Black History Month? Or was its timing just coincidentally insensitive?

Anyway, a lot of people share my view. So much so that their complaints caused Lamar Advertising to pull the ad. Part of me is happy, but a bigger part of me is not. Freedom of Speech doesn’t apply to just my causes.

My solution would have been to find billboard space as close to it as possible (preferably next to it) with a pro-choice message. Hopefully, we would be able to make it twice as big and add flashing neon lights.

Possible messages from creative signs I’ve seen:


This would make a fabulous sign.

If you see an anti-choice billboard, fight the urge to set it on fire, deface it, or call for its removal. They have every right to spread their message.

And so do we.

So give me a shout if you see one of them. I’ll start a fund for our sign. It will be twice as big and cause twice as much controversy. Believe it.

33 responses to “Freedom of Speech…Even If

  • Snoring Dog Studio

    I don’t think our Constitution’s authors ever anticipated how far 21st century Americans would take “freedom of speech.” We live in a world now where freedom of speech is no longer accompanied by reasoned, rational thought and decorum. We can say anything we want, express our most debased emotions, and get away with it. After all, our leaders and role models don’t express disapproval over the taunts and lies directed at other leaders and role models, so, what’s the average bloke to think? I’m not remotely thrilled to see where this free speech thing has headed.

    • SpinnyLiberal

      I can definitely see where you’re coming from. I wish we all spoke/wrote reasonably, rationally, and with decorum. I don’t think we ever did. From Kendrick’s post, “John Adams was called a ‘repulsive pedant’ and ‘a hideous hermaphroditical character’ by a writer secretly paid by Thomas Jefferson.” That is pretty bad.

      It’s a human thing, I think. We have both light and dark in us. There are times when we indulge the dark side – some of us a little too much (like myself). I am trying to find that balance. I’ve actually evolved a bit, if you can believe it, by not posting in the Yahoo! Comments Section. I have avoided the ad hom attacks because it does nothing for the argument but show that you have none. But I got nasty mean in there. I’m sure I lost karma points.

      Anyway, I think for some of us, it’s a road filled with success and failure to express ourselves rationally and with civility. 🙂

  • Kendrick Macdowell

    Very nicely framed Spinny — both the post and the comment. SDS, I agree with your foreboding about the direction of our free speech, but what’s the alternative? To paraphrase Churchill on democracy, free speech is the worst system imaginable, except for all the others. We can’t “enforce” civility (even if we could all agree on what it is), else it’s not authentic civility and it’s not democracy. But we can practice and promote civility. And one person at a time, we can add to the numbers of people who truly get the liberating strength of civility.

    • SpinnyLiberal

      Thanks Kendrick. Practice and promote is the best, teaching by example.

    • Snoring Dog Studio

      At the risk of alarming everyone who reads this … I’m starting to think free speech is highly overrated. At least the free speech we’ve been hearing and reading for the last few years. Parents don’t permit their children to have potty mouths or to be rude and inconsiderate, but we adults seem to have no boundaries left. I can’t figure out why so many people take such an absolutist position on free speech, yet they’re just as likely to yell when someone else goes over the line. IF there IS a line anymore. I see it, but too many people walk up to it and gleefully march right over as though it no longer exists.

      But it appears that our Supreme Court and other judicial bodies can’t define free speech or hate speech considering the many cases that haven’t been upheld or have been overturned by the justices. And what good would it do if they did rule against the hate speakers? It’s still left up to us, in our communities, to recognize the speech and then voice our disapproval–of course, at the risk of being called “censors” or “fascists.”

      So what recourse is left to us? I’m thinking a huge bar of soap. Ok, impractical. My plan is to continue to have zero tolerance for what I consider to be naughty behavior. And it goes both ways. I’ll behave, I’ll walk away, I’ll disengage before I allow myself to get caught up in that vortex of brutishness. And, I’ll stop buying products from advertisers who support shows like Beck’s and Limbaugh’s. I’m sorry, Kendrick, I just can’t throw Maddow and Stewart in with that pair because I don’t believe what I’ve heard them say even comes close to the vile junk coming out of the other two. It all has to stop. When we see and hear the younger generations doing the same thing, we better be very worried.

      • Kendrick Macdowell

        Good discussion SDS. Is it possible to favor robust free speech rights and still abhor foul speech? Of course. That’s exactly where I am — and I think (?) where you are too if we parse your argument carefully. You say free speech is “overrated,” and I agree, in the sense of what we often get from our speech freedom. So it is with all freedoms: what they yield is “overrated” because some percentage of people will abuse the freedom. Freedom of speech is always freedom to be inane, foul, and absurd, else it wouldn’t be true freedom. There are two possible responses to inane, foul, or absurd speech (apart from doing nothing or not caring): enact laws and rules restricting speech according to some arbitrary government definition of inane, foul, and absurd; or respond in the private sector with more and better speech. I get your disappointment with the caliber of much political dialogue, but I don’t see you advocating a *government* crackdown on speech you deem foul. You say you’ll walk away and you’ll stop buying products from companies that advertise on shows you deem offensive. Good for you. That’s a perfect private sector response. You’re not advocating that the government shut down those shows. You’re saying you find them offensive and you’re responding with the capacity you have as a private citizen to declare your disapproval. That’s perfectly consistent with strong support of First Amendment freedoms, in fact, a perfect vindication of the philosophy underlying First Amendment freedom. We reserve our rights as free citizens to declare our approval or disapproval of speech; we do not delegate that right to government.

        What would a government-enforced civility look like? Most importantly, it would be based on definitions that favored certain political sensibilities and disfavored others. I actually like Stewart and Maddow, so let’s use Keith Olbermann and Lawrence O’Donnell. I would push for definitions of disfavored speech that penalized Olbermann and O’Donnell. You would push for definitions of disfavored speech that disfavored Beck and Limbaugh. Who would win? Would the result be fair? No, and the framers of the First Amendment understood this problem of definitional power-tripping perfectly well, as to both speech and religion.

        You and I have very similar sensibilities about civility as a concept, but I suspect we’d disagree at times about what specific speech crossed the line and why. And so both our agreements and disagreements belong to the private sector, where we summon the fortitude at least to keep speaking, and thereby coming a little closer to understanding — because the alternatives are either less freedom or more isolation.

      • SpinnyLiberal

        I had to ponder what you were saying before I posted a reply.

        You mean you won’t invest in Glenn Beck’s gold? 😉 Stopping the purchase of products sponsoring the show is a great way to show your disgust. To be effective, there has to be a significant number.

        Disengaging is healthier than indulging it. More power to you, Miss Jean 🙂

  • Terrance H.

    I’m sorry, but I cannot believe the utter hypocrisy. The Founding Fathers are mentioned so flippantly by a group of people who have twisted the Constitution to such an extreme, that one can find the “right” to do almost anything, even end the life of a child.

    In our Founder’s days, abortion was ILLEGAL after quickening. And why then? Because prior to movement, they had no possible way of knowing whether the child existed at all.

    The sign is true, not offensive.

    • SpinnyLiberal

      The point of the post was freedom of speech. Not the legality of abortion. Even the offensive is protected.

      • Terrance H.

        The point of the post, Spinny, was to attack the pro-life movement – yet again. But I don’t care about that, because that’s what either side does to the other.

        But for a liberal to bring the founder’s into this discussion is mind boggling, given the severe twist of the Constitution a core liberal belief hinges on.

      • SpinnyLiberal

        Why? Freedom of speech…they brought themselves into the discussion. Conservatives don’t have exclusive rights to invoking the Founding Fathers.

      • Terrance H.

        Let’s be honest, Spinny, if you really wanted to address freedom of speech and how the “offensive” is protected, why would you exemplify this with such a weak example? I can think of a group of religious zealots in Kansas who exemplify your point, if that was your point, far better than a wholly true pro-life message.

      • SpinnyLiberal

        Eh weak to you. So many found that offensive they were harrassing the wait staff in the restaurant under the sign.

      • Terrance H.

        Conservatives don’t have exclusive rights to invoking the Founding Fathers.

        Insincerity is the problem in this instance, not the quasi-religion of progressivism. The Left can invoke the Founding Fathers until they turn blue, but to be so hypocritical, to dazzle readers with liberal lip service, is infuriating, and offensive.

        I don’t hear you calling for MoveOn.Org’s commercial to be stripped from the lineup; that piece of filth depicting a crying woman reaching for a coat hanger.

        Progressivismhas deracinated the Constitution to a point where it’s unrecognizable, yet progressives have the nerve to say that Rights have been taken to an extreme.


      • SpinnyLiberal

        Eh at least I’m honest enough to say I’m glad it’s down – but it should NOT be down because of freedom of speech.

        I’m coming from a pro-choice standpoint. I just saw the abortion commercial. I never even heard of it, but I found it on YouTube. Of course I wouldn’t call for its removal. I agree with it. You don’t agree with it. You agree with the billboard. I don’t agree. We’re coming from opposite sides of the issue.

        Anyway, that commercial has a right to be playing, just as that billboard has a right to still be up.

    • runawaylawyer

      That’s silly – to suggest a woman can’t possibly know she’s pregnant until the fetus starts scooting around is patronizing and inaccurate. The average gestational age for quickening is about 18 weeks – most women will know they are pregnant by then and will in fact have a nice bump to show for it. Some will have been puking daily for about 16 weeks which is pretty much a dead give away as well.

      • Terrance H.

        Did I say that, or did you imagine I said that because you want to attack a Right-winger, as though you were a frothing at the mouth animal?

        Something can exist, but is it a child? We know now that it is, in fact, a living human being from the moment of conception; an unborn child.

        Back then, it was something, not necessarily a living human being; that didn’t happen until quickening, or movement. And when it happened, abortion was ILLEGAL.

      • runawaylawyer

        “Because prior to movement, they had no possible way of knowing whether the child existed at all. ”

        I was referring to this quote. And frankly, I don’t know if you are being honest about believing that or you are just backpeddling, but it matters little to me – you are entitled to believe whatever you want. I also don’t think it matters to any legitimate debate whether abortion was or was not illegal 250 years ago, either – I’m not sure what your point is with that. I don’t really care what happened 250 years ago and I don’t think the mythical “Founders” had any special insight on this and many other topics that have changed so radically anyway.

        Yes, “life” in the technical sense exists upon conception, but I’m of the view that the mother’s rights trump those of a microscopic ball of cells for a period of time. That said, I’m not pro-abortion. I would love to find a way to reduce or eliminate unwanted pregnancies without the need for abortion, but conservatives *repeatedly* act against funding for access to birth control and against disseminating safe sex information. The recent move against Planned Parenthood, for example, is going to inadvertently result in more abortions – biting off the nose to spite the face, really.

        Until unplanned pregnancies can be stopped before they happen, I will remain, somewhat reluctantly, in favor of abortion rights for women.

      • Terrance H.

        I know what quote you were referring to, runaway, and I responded thusly:

        Something can exist, but is it a child? We know now that it is, in fact, a living human being from the moment of conception; an unborn child.

        Back then, it was something, not necessarily a living human being; that didn’t happen until quickening, or movement. And when it happened, abortion was ILLEGAL.

        I’m not arguing whether women knew they were pregnant prior to quickening, regardless of your contention. I’m sure women knew the process had begun, but did they know whether a human being existed, or was there some confusion?

        It was widely believed that if an expectant mother peered at the moon, she would produce a lunatic child. It was also believed that if a rabbit crossed her path, her child would have a harelip. So, it’s not ridiculous to believe that there was a great deal of confusion.

        The process had begun, yes, but did the human being exist?
        It comes as no surprise that a Leftist would reject our founding principles; obviously anything which inhibits “social progress” is to be viewed with a great deal of scorn.

        I wrote you off the moment I read the logical fallacy spouted by so many on the Left. You somehow think that conservative hypocrisy, rather real or imagined, nullifies the message of the pro-life movement. If such hypocrisy indeed exists, explain to me what that has to do with abortion?

        Tell me what a judge would say if you brought such foolishness in a court of law? It has nothing to do with the issue at hand.

      • runawaylawyer

        I don’t think being against abortion is an invalid opinion, just think it’s an impractical one. If we could safely airlift the 5 week old fetus to a bottle or other willing female to grow it instead, ethics aside, I’d be ok with that. But medically speaking, we can’t – so what we are looking at is really a balancing of rights and I view the woman as more important than an embryo. It’s really that simple.

        I’m against abortion personally – I wouldn’t have one under all but the most extreme circumstances, but I am in favor of abortion rights for those who do need or want one. And I agree that as the pregnancy progresses, abortion should be restricted except as medically necessary – after all, some fetuses can, with a great deal of medical intervention, survive as young as 22-23 weeks and I respect that. I also love the idea of adoption, when the woman WANTS to bear the child and I think it’s fine to encourage, and even offer an incentive for, but not coerce that. But conservatives pushing bills such as the one I wrote about yesterday and the others near the bottom aren’t doing a lot for your cause either – it makes you look like a bunch of batshit crazy women-hating lunatics.

        And when I hear conservatives rail against the “leeches” of society – advocate cutting child health insurance, programs like WIC, and eliminating public preschool for underprivileged children – while claiming to be “pro-life” that I wonder what sort of “life” they are in favor of. These issues aren’t unrelated, though I’m sure it’s easier to mentally compartmentalize them than admit to the obvious hypocrisy.

      • Terrance H.


        If the Right to Life isn’t first and foremost, then in what regard should these other Rights be held? It’s clear to me that this other Rights would be meaningless if we our very exisistence is unprotected.

        It’s about tacit consent. Unless someone forced the woman into sexual congress – and many pro-lifers make an exception for rape – then she engaged willfully, knowing pregnancy may in fact result.

        It really is that simple.

        I’m against abortion personally…

        Why? Because you believe it ends the life of a human being? If so, why do you believe other people should have the “right” to end the life of a human being?

        To be honest, I don’t really care what you believe makes us look like “batshit crazy women-hating lunatics.” That is, after all, a statement coming from someone who believes unborn children should be slaughtered per the mother’s whim.

        Yet again you mention perceived conservative hypocrisy as though it has anything to do with whether abortion should be legal or not. If something is wrong, it is wrong, period.

        Abortion, to me, is Malum in se. You can argue the virtue of conservative principles, fine, and I’ll go tit-for-tat defending them, but they still have nothing to do with the morality, or legality, of abortion.

  • Terrance H.

    My point is that the Left only wants to talk about these issues when the Right starts exercising their Rights in contrast to Leftist ideas. Your first commenter is a perfect example, and it’s that hypocrisy I’m talking about.

    The Founders never anticipated “freedom of speech” being taken to such an extreme, but of course they’d be O.K. with Abortion On Demand….How absurd!

    • SpinnyLiberal

      Who cares when we want to talk about these issues? The Right is exercising their freedom of speech. I can talk about it if I want. And you took offense to that commercial, as I’m sure many on your side have. And we’re talking about it now.

      I’m sure they didn’t think it would go as far as it has, but I don’t think they’d believe in silencing it either – whatever the message. JMHO.

      • Terrance H.

        I’m simply saying that if we want to talk about these issues, then let’s talk about them on their own merit, not because an instance arises in which it is convenient to talk about them.

        There is nothing more insincere than situational outrage; we don’t need to see a single pro-life or pro-choice ad to tell us that things are radically different today than in colonial times.

        I want to talk about them, because I’m convinced that when we do, the immutable fact which will glare down the progressives is that abortion is totally inconsistent with our founding principles, and the Founding Fathers would reject it handily.

      • SpinnyLiberal

        I would argue that when we see things that are provocative like the billboard and the commercial, it brings about the discussion because it touched a nerve. Nothing wrong with that. At least it gets discussed.

        What’s insincere about situational outrage? If I see something like that billboard and am offended about it, I can talk about it. Just like when I see a Day of Rage going on in Iraq, that situation makes me mad because it is another example of our mistake.

        Glaring down or not, I still believe they’d protect freedom of speech even if they were wholeheartedly against abortion.

      • Terrance H.

        Perhaps it’s not so much situational outrage, but situational outrage engendered by political ideology. I think when that happens, sincerity goes out the window. We want to talk about them when it’s convenient to our set of beliefs, but no other time.

      • SpinnyLiberal

        Still don’t buy it. It’s sincere because they see something that offends them and is contrary to their political ideology. There are people who talk about it all the time, even if there isn’t a specific situation going on. But the situation definitely can produce dialogue, however “convenient.”

      • Terrance H.

        Since when should political ideology decide how far the Constitution can go? We’ve been down this road before, and since then, 50 million children are dead – because of ideology, not interpretation.

        Do people really believe “freedom of speech” has gone too far? Or, rather, do they believe “freedom of speech” has gone too far when their opponents cast aspersions on their system of belief? It appears the latter is true, and if so, that’s hypocritical, or insincere.

        This may come as a surprise, but I never called for the MoveOn.Org commercial to be removed, and why?

        I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. ~ Voltaire

      • Terrance H.

        My bad. Actually, Voltaire didn’t say that. Evelyn Beatrice Hall said it, but I agree with it nonetheless.

      • SpinnyLiberal

        ITA with Voltaire. The billboard should still be up. But I am not going to lie and claim there is isn’t a part of me that is happy it’s down.

      • SpinnyLiberal

        Well, Evelyn Beatrice Hall rocks too. 🙂

  • Snoring Dog Studio

    Thank you, Kendrick for indulging my passion and bringing other viewpoints to light. No, no matter how I come at it, I can’t fully get behind a government crackdown on “too free and loose” speech. I get close to wanting it and then I back away. I’m horrified enough by what goes on in Iran and Libya to be opposed to restrictions of that sort.

    It’s interesting, however, that the federal government does mandate the use of, at least, plain language. In 1972, President Richard Nixon codified the plain language movement when he decreed that the “Federal Register be written in layman’s terms.” President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010 into law. This law requires that federal agencies use “clear Government communication that the public can understand and use.” And two executive orders cover the use of plain language in regulations.

    So, the government gets involved when it feels that it’s in our best interests. I can’t think of a better interest than promoting civility and preventing racist accusations and conspiracies or condemning pro-choice folks to death, or claims of “God hates Gays.” See, I couldn’t even bring myself to use the word the Westboro Baptists did. I showed restraint. Others choose not to.

    Google can tweak their search engine to drop spammy, poor websites way down on their SEO tool, so, in a way, they’re practicing at least some restriction of free speech. I can imagine a search engine that makes it more difficult to bring “free and loose” speech to the forefront.

    Just thoughts here. For now, I’ll continue to ban snarky, rude comments from my blog and hope that others will follow along. But I’m not letting go of my new civility in speech movement. As a side note, I recently received an award for the “most civil interaction” in a comment section for our local weekly paper. So, it appears that some editors do take notice and do appreciate when a commenter turns the tide against nastiness.

    • SpinnyLiberal

      As a side note, I recently received an award for the “most civil interaction” in a comment section for our local weekly paper.

      Very nice!! Keep on keeping on with your civility in speech movement. Perhaps that is why your blog is such a pleasure to read.

      Well, except for the Lucy story. That made me all emotional. I shared it with my sister who loves monkeys and after she read it, I was instructed to send her something funny to read. That had to be one of the saddest animal-related stories I have ever read. And the picture didn’t help. 😦

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