Saturday, March 18, 2006

Micromanaging free speech

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:06 AM |  

In a comment to my post thanking Becky Lourey for being the single “no” vote against the legislation that would curtail protests at funerals, I was asked --

So you don't think the bill appropriately addresses time, manner and place?
That’s a good question that raises an interesting point.

My problem with the legislation is not a free speech issue. I view the bill as an issue of distinguishing between what government “can do“ and what government “should do.”

Having not read the actual bill, only the summary, I am assuming the bill has all the proper legal language in it so that it passes constitutional muster. As Kevin notes, under the legal construct of time, place and manner, the legislation is certainly within the state's authority. The state has the authority to pass such legislation. The question is should the state do so?

I don't think that it should.

The state is micromanaging speech, if you will. I don't see much difference in principle between the application of the time, place and manner construct in this law and the petty rules of political correctness. It's essentially feel good overkill that simply encourages more of the same on the part of legislators that would remove all that is offensive from our lives -- trivial or not.

Again, I don't see this as a free speech issue. The demonstrators' speech is not being banned, only curtailed by time, manner and place -- legitimate authority that we acknowledge all the time, and I would argue, necessary for an orderly society.

In this specific case, however, government is micromanaging at a level that is out of proportion to the problem. The action is the response to one group with despicable motives. Is that reason enough to bring the full force of government to bear?

What's interesting is the debate over the penalty for violating the bill. Some wanted to make a second offense a felony; the rationale for not doing so was the cost and delay of doing a fiscal note on financial impact on the state of imprisoning a whole new class of criminal. That raises yet another issue.Do we want government creating “criminals” based on actions that offend others rather than actions that pose an actual danger to others?

Government ought not be in the business of eliminating offensiveness. As despicable as the protests are that spurred the legislation, they are not the main issue. If we want government to stop offensive displays at funerals, let’s not get upset when starting a joke with “A priest, a minister and rabbi walk into a bar” can cost you your job.