Thursday, May 7, 2015

Public Safety Does Not Trump Freedom Of Speech!

I've been following the controversy in Garland, Texas, following the shooting of two Muslim terrorists who attempted an assault on a freedom of speech rally in that city on Sunday. The rally, hosted by anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller, was held at the Curtis Culwell Center, the very place where, in March of this year, Muslims held a pro-Mohammed event. The center is owned by the Garland Independent School District, which rents it out for public events.

The theme of the rally was a contest where people were invited to draw cartoons of Mohammed, in support of Charlie Hebdo Magazine and the right to freedom of speech and expression in America. Geller's thought is that Americans' freedom of speech should not be curtailed simply because the Islamic world doesn't agree with it. Americans have the right to say whatever they wish with very few exceptions. And we don't need any more exceptions added based on the hatred and violence of people who do not value human life.

The winning cartoon.

As I said yesterday, what surprises me is the number of people, particularly those on the right, who have condemned Pamela Geller for hosting the event, blaming her for the reaction of the two, now dead, gunmen. Some have called it stupid to insult Islam by drawing cartoons of Mohammed - even though they supported the right of that artist years ago who put a crucifix in a jar of urine. They also (liberals at least) praise the Broadway show "Book of Mormon," which pokes fun of the Mormon religion. But hey - don't you ever make fun of Islam because it's insulting to their religion and some of them react with hatred and violence.

The aftermath of the shooting, things that are happening now because of it, are frightening. Not the violence - that's over for now, even though ISIS has put a hit out on Geller.

No, the things that are frightening is how some Americans are responding. They mayor of Garland, Douglas Athas, condemned Pam Geller for hosting the event in his city. She "put my police officers, my citizens and others at risk," he said. "Her program invited an incendiary reaction. She picked my community, which does not support in any shape, passion or form, her ideology. But at the end of the day, we did our jobs,” he added. “We protected her freedoms and her life.”

So the mayor believes Pamela Geller put his city at risk rather than the two gunmen who traveled to Garland all the way from Phoenix to shoot people whose opinions they didn't like? It's interesting that he acknowledged her right to hold the event even while blaming her for the actions of the two gunmen. (Some Garland residents are now calling for the mayor's resignation.)

The Garland ISD is now reassessing their rental policies for the Curtis Culwell Center. Citing security concerns, Garland ISD spokesperson Chris Moore said “We will definitely look into changing how we rent out that arena. We’re going to have to, in light of what happened.”

They are now considering not renting the center out for anything but school related events and cancelling events already scheduled that are not school related. Some groups who have already booked the center are talking about filing a lawsuit should the school district make those changes.

“I know we’re required by those non-discrimination limitations by law, but being equitable still can’t trump safety,” Moore said. “You shouldn’t have things like this happen anywhere, but certainly not at a public school district facility.

He's correct when he says it shouldn't happen anywhere. Hatred should not be allowed to run wild in the United States of America. But the event itself was not the problem. The two Muslims who decided to kill for their hatred was the problem. And that's going to happen more often as time goes by. Radical Muslims don't care about what's right and wrong. They only care about their cause and eliminating those who have different views. 

These Americans criticizing Geller somehow misguidedly believe that if we cower to the extremists they will be pacified and leave us alone. That's a ridiculous and uninformed conclusion. ISIS and other radical Muslim extremists have already declared war on the United States and have told us they're coming. Yet some ignorant Americans want to blame other Americans for it.

I was listening to the Chris Krok Show yesterday and heard him echo other pundits that say the event staged by Pamela Geller was stupid and that insulting Islam by making fun of their prophet is wrong. (Krok is a nationally syndicated, conservative talk radio host on WBAP in Dallas.)

On certain days, Krok has two shows in the same day. He is on from 4-5pm, then again from 8 to midnight. Yesterday I caught both shows due to an engagement in between. I was driving both times. 

Initially I was angry at him because he just didn't get it. He said he was all for free speech but that some free speech should not be uttered if it offends others and causes violent reactions. I was talking to the radio and telling him he was missing the point. (I didn't have time to call him. I had an appointment and didn't have time to wait on hold.)

On the way home I caught a portion of the second part of the show. One caller made him understand what was at stake. He said "Public safety does not trump free speech. If it did the civil rights movement would never have happened." 

He elaborated by saying that the KKK and other hate groups often threatened the safety of civil rights leaders and rallies. They resorted to violence at times. But America did not back down from those groups and did not cower to the violence. Instead they stood up and said "We're going to assert our rights of free speech and freedom of assembly regardless of the threat." And that's exactly what they did. 

And that is the best possible answer. If we, as Americans, give in to the extremists' demands and allow them to silence our right to speak out against them, they have won.

Chris Krok finally got it. He was practically speechless. "You... this call... this was the best call of the day. I get it now," he said. (Or something close to that.) Public safety, at least in this case, doesn't trump free speech. The blame for the violence lies solely on the Muslim extremists who attempted to silence opposition. 

If Americans cower to extremists the extremists win. If we curb certain free speech to appease violent terrorists what will we give up next? 

The winner of the Draw Mohammed contest, Bosch Fawstin, who says he is a former Muslim with a history of drawing provocative cartoons, said it well.

"As people who love freedom, as the entire west, we need to hit back," he told Greta Van Sustren recently. "Not with violence, with the truth, with our art, with our writing. We can't be cowed by this because once free speech goes it's over."

That's the part that some Americans just don't understand. If we give in they win. It's that simple.

Fawstin's friend put it another way: "If everybody in America drew Mohammed, what is ISIS going to do? They can't kill everybody."

Amen to that.

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