Free speech for me ... and thee

Free speech for me ... and thee

Too many people either don't know or don't care about people's rights to express themselves as they see fit.

The Urbana police should have known better.

Because they didn't, Bryton Mellott is $15,000 richer. It's the best and easiest money he'll ever make.

Mellott's lawyers did even better, collecting $20,000 for work they did in a legal case that was impossible to lose.

For those who don't recall — or are trying to forget — Mellott caused a ruckus on July 4, 2016.

To express his disgust and disdain for his country, he posted on Facebook a picture of himself burning the American flag. It generated an angry response, creating concerns about both his personal safety and the safety of fellow employees and customers at his workplace.

To make a long story short, Urbana police officers, relying on an inarguably unconstitutional statute, unlawfully arrested Mellott and detained him for five hours on charges of flag burning.

There's a lesson here, one that cuts both ways in the incessant battle between those on the political left and right.

It's all about an individual's right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

People are free to disagree with Mellott's viewpoint, particularly the manner in which he expressed it. But that's as far as it goes.

Mellott has and had an absolute right to symbolically express whatever viewpoint he wishes by burning the flag. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld that expression of free-speech rights in a 1989 decision.

Free speech, particularly on college campuses, is getting a lot of attention these days, mostly because many people not only don't understand the concept but sharply disagree with it.

So-called Antifa members, in fact, think it's their duty to physically assault those who express views they do not share. Faces covered with masks and sometimes armed with clubs, they attack those they view as fascists in communities across the country.

That's an alarming tactic, one that lays the groundwork for serious violence. But a recent poll conducted by UCLA Professor John Villasenor, explains, at least partly, this kind of authoritarian mind-set.

Villasenor, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, conducted a nationwide survey of 1,500 students at four-year colleges and their attitudes toward speech issues.

The results showed them to be stunningly uninformed, to the point that it's fair to question how our education system could have so badly failed them.

Twenty percent of those surveyed indicated that it's acceptable to use physical force in response to speech they did not wish to hear. Forty percent expressed the opinion that the First Amendment does not protect "hate speech," which is legally incorrect.

The First Amendment exists to protect individuals who utter unpopular speech, characterized by some these days as "hate speech."

Those who utter non-controversial speech don't need protection — it's the speech of those who dissent from the majority that needs protection.

Sixty percent of respondents indicated that a university has an obligation to balance speech — pairing a speaker with one viewpoint with a speaker of the opposite viewpoint.

Fifty percent of respondents said it's appropriate for those who disagree with what a speaker says to shout him down so that no one can hear what's being said.

Those revolting findings indicate that college students know little to nothing about the concept of free speech and why it's so important that this right is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

But it's of a piece with the long-held view of many Americans — free speech for me, but not for thee.

Everyone is entitled to have their say. Everyone is not required to listen to someone having their say, and they're certainly free to disagree.

Mellott said he posted the picture of the burning flag "to address the issue of violence brought against members of my queer community and against every community considered to be 'other.'"

It was not exactly a well-thought-out protest against violence. But those who exercise their free-speech rights — like those who oppose others' free-speech rights — often emphasize blind emotion, rather than clarity of purpose, in their demonstrations.

That's their privilege in this country. Those who disagree, whatever their political perspective, need to remember that and pay the appropriate respect to a venerated American tradition.

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rsp wrote on September 24, 2017 at 1:09 pm

To express his disgust and disdain for his country, he posted on Facebook a picture of himself burning the American flag.

Mellott said he posted the picture of the burning flag "to address the issue of violence brought against members of my queer community and against every community considered to be 'other.'"

Aren't you misrepresenting his reasons with the first statement? This happened right after the nightclub in Florida was attacked. You remember, all those people shot and killed because they were gay. And all those idiots were on Facebook and other "social" media celebrating and all that. I'm still confused why we call it "social" media.

He protests because people were butchered and you cast him out. Sounds like he has a point.

David Prochaska wrote on September 24, 2017 at 4:09 pm

Jim Dey is at it again.

He clearly, forcefully defends Bryton Mellott’s free speech right to burn the American flag. Good.

But he, and his colleagues, just can’t help themselves from undercutting Mellott’s protest in every other way possible.

--His post “generated an angry response,” because the News-Gazette and others published his booking mugshot and personal data. Because the paper’s shoddy and incomplete reporting helped generate such a response.

--The Urbana police department arrested him, as they stated, “as an offender of both flag desecration and disorderly conduct, as well as a victim of disorderly conduct.” How you can be guilty both of disorderly conduct and a victim of disorderly conduct is beyond me. It is perverse for police to “protect” free speech by arresting, handcuffing, and imprisoning those who exercise it. Dey says it was due to concern “about both his personal safety and the safety of fellow employees.” Huh?

As if that were not enough, the paper has gone after Mellott personally:

--by publishing today yet another anti-Mellott letter to the editor

--by publishing on page C-4 Corkery and Lyncoln’s editorial cartoon, “Urbana’s Lighter Protest Requirements. That’s not what we meant by lighter.” Ineptly drawn, sophomoric and stupid.

But it is Dey who demonstrates how hollow is his “defense” of Mellott’s free speech rights.

--Dey denigrates him for addressing what Mellott called “the issue of violence brought against members of my queer community and against every community considered to be’ other.’” Dey calls this clear statement “not exactly a well thought-out protest” that emphasizes “blind emotion rather than clarity of purpose.” Dey lies pure and simple.

--Dey lambastes him for expressing what for Dey is “his disgust and disdain for his country.” Dey makes it an issue of patriotism, my country right or wrong, love it or leave it. Wrong.

Throughout this controversy, Dey and the News Gazette have effectively ignored what Mellott said, and focused entirely on what he did. In failing to report the entire story, they have in effect encouraged the kinds of criticism and threats of physical violence, including death threats, that Mellott has received.

Mellott said:

“I am not proud to be an American. In this moment, being proud of my country is to ignore the atrocities committed against people of color, people living in poverty, people who identify as women, and against my own queer community on a daily basis.

“I would like to one day feel a sense of pride toward my nationality again. But too little progress has been made. Too many people still suffer at the hands of politicians influenced by special interests. Too many people are still being killed and brutalized by a police force plagued with authority complexes and racism. Too many people are allowed to be slaughtered for the sake of gun manufacturer profits. Too many Americans hold hate in their hearts in the name of their religion, and for fear of others. And that’s only to speak of domestic issues.

“I do not have pride in my country. I am overwhelmingly ashamed, and I will demonstrate my feelings accordingly.”

Note that Dey singles out only what Mellott said about “my queer community.” This is another example of Dey’s homophobia. http://publici.ucimc.org/what-makes-jimmy-run/

Since Trump’s election, moreover, the issues Mellott raised have become only more insistent.

--“the atrocities committed against people of color”

--against “people who identify as women”

--“Too many people are still being killed and brutalized by a police force plagued with authority complexes and racism.”

--“Too many Americans hold hate in their hearts in the name of their religion, and for fear of others.”

--“And that’s only to speak of domestic issues.” North Korea, anyone?

Regarding these issues, Dey’s silence is deafening.

In December 2016, Mellott posted “20 Questions,” a detailed, point-by-point response to the 20 leading criticisms repeated against him over and over. “Kill yourself/Go die.” “ You should be thankful to live in a country that doesn’t kill you for being gay.” “I’m a patriot and you better hope I don’t kill you.” “Your mother should have aborted you.” “If you don’t want death threats, don’t do things that cause backlash.” “I fought for your right to burn that flag, how dare you burn it.” https://crybabyliberal.wordpress.com/2016/12/08/first-blog-post/

Dey misrepresents and undercuts, denigrates and dismisses Mellott’s statements. What he does not do is engage them, as Mellott engages his social media critics.

Instead, Dey’s other rhetorical strategy is to change the subject. He frames his editorial as “both sides do it.” Free speech is another ”incessant battle between those on the political left and right.”

rsp wrote on September 24, 2017 at 5:09 pm

--His post “generated an angry response,” because the News-Gazette and others published his booking mugshot and personal data. Because the paper’s shoddy and incomplete reporting helped generate such a response.

His post blew up on the internet first. The police were notified because people wanted him arrested. Threats were being made against him and his employer, because, if you can't get him at least get him fired, right? People on the internet were looking up his info and posting it. This was before the arrest.

 

--The Urbana police department arrested him, as they stated, “as an offender of both flag desecration and disorderly conduct, as well as a victim of disorderly conduct.” How you can be guilty both of disorderly conduct and a victim of disorderly conduct is beyond me.

I think they were considering two incidents but I'm not sure on this, haven't read their reports. But yes it's possible to to have both happen.

 

“about both his personal safety and the safety of fellow employees.” Huh?

This was a reason given by the UPD. His Facebook page listed his place of employment and I think there were some people threatening to go there to cause trouble. For all their claims of the law on the books I think they knew it was unconstitutional. They also asked him to take the post down.

 

He had every right to burn the flag. He was making a political statement. As long as we refuse to listen to each other, really listen, we will have burned flags and shootings in churches like today.

David Prochaska wrote on September 30, 2017 at 11:09 am

Dey is a free speech absolutist. What that means is that if someone wants to speak, you let him or her. No matter the message. No matter the cost. You are either in favor, or not. It’s black and white.

In theory, it’s simple, straightforward. In practice, it’s difficult, fraught. Absolutists like Dey talk about free speech as if it existed in a theoretical vacuum divorced from real life. They don’t discuss the way it actually works in practice. Because to do so undermines their purist argument.

But it’s not as simplistic and easy as true-believer absolutists like Dey make it out. It’s gray, it’s complicated, it’s fraught.

What if someone wants to come not with a message to impart but to provoke, to throw a verbal firebomb in the public square?

Alt-right provocateurs do that regularly.

What if a person on stage throws out the name, photo and personal contact information of a person with a minority sexual orientation?

Milo Younnapoulis does that regularly.

What if a small but well-organized, national group with deep pockets with a systematic agenda to flood campuses with alt-right provocateurs pays all their costs?

That’s what the Young America’s Foundation does regularly. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/20/us/college-conservative-speeches.html?action=click&contentCollection=U.S.&module=RelatedCoverage®ion=EndOfArticle&pgtype=article

"The Conservative Force Behind Speeches Roiling College Campuses" By STEPHANIE SAULMAY 20, 2017

What if due to the provocative nature of these appearances universities are forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on police and logistics?

It cost Berkeley $600,000 for Ben Shapiro recently. They were looking at having to spend $1 million for Milo Yiannopoulos’s “Free Speech Week” at Berkeley. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/23/us/milo-berkeley-free-speech.html

"Free Speech Week at Berkeley Is Canceled, but Milo Yiannopoulos Still Plans to Talk" By JACEY FORTINSEPT. 23, 2017

What if this cost to schools is part of the alt-right plan to attack and criticize public universities and liberal education across the board?

http://www.starvingthebeast.net/