A running argument started yesterday in the comments on Dymphna’s post. The esteemed commenter Cato stood on one side, and the noted blogger Freedom Fighter led the other side, with Jason Pappas, fastfoodnationalist, Papa Bear, and others participating.
Now, I could be writing about something important instead of this. After all, the Senate is fighting over which amnesty pig will get gussied up in a pink dress with a bow and be christened “Immigration Reform”. Iran is about to nuke somebody, anybody, just so they can usher in the millennium and throw a “Welcome Home, Twelfth Imam!” party. The major Western media are asserting the unabridgable freedom of the press by falling all over themselves never to publish, under any circumstances, anywhere, the hateful and blasphemous cartoons of Mohammed. President Bush’s approval ratings are lower than Jeffrey Dahmer’s. Oh, and George Mason University has fielded a winning basketball team.
But I think the subject of yesterday's contention is important, too. It is a frequently recurring argument here at Gates of Vienna.
And the people who are arguing so heatedly are not very far apart, politically speaking. Cato and Freedom Fighter probably agree on 97% of the issues — both want a strong national defense, a vigorous response to Islamist terror, and an end to the erosion of classically liberal American political culture. Both of them object to socialism and political correctness in all their ugly manifestations. None of us is likely to vote for a Democrat for national office anytime soon.
So why such a bitter argument?
At the risk of being flamed by both sides, I’ll wade into the fray. The contretemps started after Freedom Fighter wrote this:
Eventually, large sectors of Islamic belief if not all will have to be reclassified as a POLITICAL persuasion rather than a religion, and treated accordingly.
Rather than quote any further from the combatants, with all the sarcasm and vituperation, I’ll summarize their arguments.
|Cato||Freedom Fighter, et al.|
|From a civil-liberties standpoint, there is a great danger in targeting political thought.||Islam is an “invasive morbidity” which needs to be treated differently from other religions. It is first and foremost a political ideology, and should be treated as such, just as Communism was.|
|Only actions, not beliefs, should be punished by law.||Ideas and beliefs can be targeted when they become subversive, when they threaten the rule of law and the integrity of our existing political structures.|
|Stoning people and burning churches are already illegal; we don't need any special treatment for these crimes. This kind of thing is just as bad as the “hate crime” laws, criminalizing motives instead of acts.||A quote from the original Cato: A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself.|
|The admonition against the “enemy within” can very easily be misused in the service of tyranny.|
Stripped of rancor and name-calling, each of these arguments has merit. Together they represent a long-standing tension between two factions on the right, between liberty on the one hand, and the necessity of public order and the rule of law on the other.
When does political speech cease being protected by the First Amendment? We have the exceptions commonly designated as “fighting words” and “shouting fire in a crowded theater”. Are there any others?
Let’s consider the definition of the word “sedition”:
1. Conduct or language inciting rebellion against the authority of a state. 2. Insurrection; rebellion.
And from the Legal Encyclopedia:
A revolt or an incitement to revolt against established authority, usually in the form of treason or defamation against government.
Sedition is the crime of revolting or inciting revolt against government. However, because of the broad protection of free speech under the First Amendment, prosecutions for sedition are rare. Nevertheless, sedition remains a crime in the United States under 18 U.S.C.A. § 2384 (1948), a federal statute that punishes seditious conspiracy, and 18 U.S.C.A. § 2385 (1948), which outlaws advocating the overthrow of the federal government by force. Generally, a person may be punished for sedition only when he or she makes statements that create a clear and present danger to rights that the government may lawfully protect (Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47, 39 S. Ct. 247, 63 L. Ed. 470 ).
The crime of seditious conspiracy is committed when two or more persons in any state or U.S. territory conspire to levy war against the U.S. government. A person commits the crime of advocating the violent overthrow of the federal government when she willfully advocates or teaches the overthrow of the government by force, publishes material that advocates the overthrow of the government by force, or organizes persons to overthrow the government by force. A person found guilty of seditious conspiracy or advocating the overthrow of the government may be fined and sentenced to up to twenty years in prison. States also maintain laws that punish similar advocacy and conspiracy against the state government.
Concerning Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing:
The defendants committed no overt acts of war, but all were found to have taken substantial steps toward carrying out a plot to levy war against the United States. The government did not have sufficient evidence that Rahman participated in the actual plotting against the government or any other activities to prepare for terrorism. He was instead prosecuted for providing religious encouragement to his coconspirators. Rahman argued that he only performed the function of a cleric and advised followers about the rules of Islam. He and the others were convicted, and on January 17, 1996, Rahman was sentenced to life imprisonment by Judge Michael Mukasey.
I’m not sure if Cato considers the sedition conviction of Sheik Rahman to be unjust. But it’s obvious that the law does occasionally apply to people who have done nothing more than conspire and incite.
I think all of the people involved in this argument could agree on the basic outlines of these principles — that our laws and Constitution make it possible on occasion to prosecute people for their seditious speech, but that such occurrences are (and should be) very rare, and severely limited.
After we agree on that, we’re just arguing about where the line should be drawn. It’s a legitimate question: do the incitements of the Islamists even now in our midst rise to the level of sedition? If not, where is that level?
Let’s try to make the discussion civil and temperate this time. There’s nothing our enemies would like better than to sneak up behind us with a garrote while we’re screaming at each other.