That Time the Supreme Court Unanimously Ruled Films Were Not Protected By the First Amendment

Mutual Film Corp. v. Industrial Commission of Ohio (1915) was a Supreme Court decision that shows just how far we’ve come with protections for free speech in the intervening years and the risks entailed in any backsliding on free speech rights.

Mutual Film Corporation was a conglomerate that produced movies during the early 20th century. In 1913, Ohio enacted a law creating a censorship board that had the power to ban films.

Mutual Film Corporation filed a lawsuit against the state of Ohio, and lost. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that films were not protected by the First Amendment.

The exhibition of moving pictures is a business, pure and simple, originated and conducted for profit like other spectacles, and not to be regarded as part of the press of the country or as organs of public opinion within the meaning of freedom of speech and publication guaranteed by the Constitution of Ohio.

Of particular interest is that a major part of the Court’s reasoning was that the act of showing a film was purely commercial speech,

The exhibition of moving pictures is a business, pure and simple, originated and conducted for profit like other spectacles, and not to be regarded as part of the press of the country or as organs of public opinion within the meaning of freedom of speech and publication guaranteed by the Constitution of Ohio.

Irish Woman Faces Potential Hate Crime Prosecution for Banner Attacking Democratic Unionist Party

According to The Guardian, Ellie Evans, 24, was contacted by the Police Service of Northern Ireland after she carried a banner attacking an Irish political party for its opposition to gay marriage.

During Belfast’s Pride Parade in August, Evans carried a banner reading “Fuck the DUP.” The Democratic Unionist Party holds the most seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly and opposes abortion and same-sex marriage.

According to The Guardian,

The investigation was prompted by a complaint from DUP politician Jim Wells, who told the Guardian that the slogan constituted “incitement to hatred and potential public disorder”.

Evans, originally from Essex, confirmed that two PSNI detectives questioned her under caution on Monday. She said that in a later phone call she was told that the PPS would decide whether she should be prosecuted for a hate crime or a breach of public order.

. . .

Wells, who avoids swearing, said: “If someone at an Orange Order march held up a banner stating, ‘eff Sinn Féin’ or if someone from a religious group held up a placard with the slogan, ‘eff LGBT’ at parade that would be a clear breach of the Parades Commission’s rules barring offensive slogans.

“This ‘eff The DUP’ placard is exactly the same,” he went on. “I don’t mind if they hold up banners criticising the DUP, saying we are idiots or whatever. But to use a swearword is tantamount to an incitement to hatred and potential public disorder.

“You may not agree with the DUP but we represent 300,000 people and are the largest political party in this province. They deserve some respect free from offence. As a unionist I would find it unacceptable and offensive if anyone used that same slogan, that same swearword against any of the nationalist parties here.”

German Court Upholds Ban Against Anti-Erdogan Poem

A German court has bizarrely upheld a ban that prevents German comic Jan Boehmermann from reciting or republishing a poem that he wrote criticizing Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. According to the BBC, it was the numerous sexual references that the court found unacceptable.

I frequently see people argue for the United States to abandon its expansive First Amendment protections and instead adopt a more European approach to speech (especially with regards to so-called “hate speech.”) What could possibly go wrong?

Or, alternately, if saying Erdogan is a goat-fucker is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.

This English translation of the poem has been floating around the Internet, but I could not track it down to the original source. Many thanks to the translator.

 

Defamation Poem, by Jan Böhmermann

Stupid as fuck, cowardly and uptight,
Is Erdogan, the president,
His gob smells of bad döner,
Even a pig’s fart smells better,
He’s the man who hits girls,
While wearing a rubber mask,
But goat-fucking he likes the best,
And having minorities repressed,

Kicking Kurds,
Beating Christians,
While watching kiddie porn,
And even at night, instead of sleep,
It’s time for fellatio with a hundred sheep,

Yep, Erdogan is definitely
The president with a tiny dick,
Every Turk will tell you all,
The stupid fool has wrinkly balls,
From Ankara to Istanbul,
They all know the man is gay,
Perverted, louse-infested, a zoophile,
Recep Fritzl Priklopil

Head as empty as his balls,
Of every gang-bang party he’s the star,
Till his cock burns when he has a piss,
That’s Recep Erdogan,
The Turkish president.

Thomas Jefferson on Freedom of Conscience and Speech

“I am for freedom of religion, and against all manoeuvres to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another: for freedom of the press, and against all violations of the Constitution to silence by force and not by reason the complaints or criticisms, just or unjust, of our citizens against the conduct of their agents.”

-Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Elbridge Gerry, January 26, 1799

CFI On UN Resolution Condemning “Defamation of Religions”

Once again the The United Nations Human Rights Council has revealed itself to be anything but, passing a resolution in a 23-11 vote condemning the “defamation of religions” and urging nation states to pass laws to stifle criticism of religion. Yes, that’s right, in the 21st century the United Nations is onboard in support of the worst sort of anti-blasphemy laws.

The Center for Inquiry issued a press release denouncing the resolution, saying,

“The concept of ‘defamation of religions’ is both absurd and dangerous.” said Ronald A. Lindsay, CFI’s president and chief executive officer. “Legally speaking, it’s gibberish, and any ban on so-called ‘defamation’ would effectively prevent any critique of religious beliefs or practices.”

In the opinion of a broad range of civil society organizations, these pronouncements do nothing but lend legitimacy to the repression of political and religious dissent around the world, particularly in Islamic countries. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, for example, which carry mandatory sentences of death or life imprisonment, are frequently used against members of the Ahmaddiya community, a peaceful minority Muslim sect.

Through its UN representative, Dr. Austin Dacey, CFI participated in the negotiations over the resolution during the March session of the Council in Geneva, and delivered an oral statement before the plenary meeting on March 24. Most worrisome, according to CFI, is that the present language equates religiously insulting speech with “advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence,” a category of speech that is prohibited by existing treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which have the force of law.

“Now the argument becomes very awkward for Europe,” said Dacey, “since many European states have laws against hate speech, Holocaust denial, and even blasphemy (for example, in Austria) that have been upheld by their regional human rights courts. The Islamic states will say they simply want to extend the same protection to all beliefs.”

Botswana Demonstrate Just How Democratic It Is

Botswana is generally considered one of the more democratic African nations. Now if you’re a generally democratic nation how do you go about demonstrating your devotion to democratic principles? Well, of course you try to deport a college professor critical of your country.

In February, Botswana President Festus Mogae declared University of Botswana lecturer Kenneth Good to be an “prohibited immigrant” and ordered him deported to his native Australia. Good is being allowed to remain in Botswana while he appeals the deportation order.

The irony here is what Good said that set Mogae off. Good gave a lecture in which he claimed that rather than being democratic, Botswana is run by a secret elite with a few people making all of the decisions. Specifically, he alleged that presidential succession in Botswana is managed by backdoor wheeling and dealing. Obviously having the president initiate a deportation order against Good really disproved that!

Good, for his part, has a habit of being booted out of African countries. According to Reuters, the minority white government of what was then called Rhodesia also deported him in 1973 after he criticized government policies.

Sources:

Prof. Good Allowed to Stay in Botswana Until Deportation Case is Discussed. Network for Education and Academic Rights, March 7, 2005.

Botswana lecturer wins reprieve. The BBC, February 28, 2005.