Sunday, October 24, 2010

Religion and Race in Revolutionary America

Thanks to from whom I borrowed this fab image.

Did I mention that I was also teaching a second class after the one on Separation of Church and State?

Religion and Race in Revolutionary America

Religion and race during the Revolutionary period created contradictions and tensions that determined how the nation saw its soul. Learn how the Founding Fathers tried to let experience guide them as they defined the values of the new nation. Team taught w/Elliot Trommauld.

2/14-3/21 M 1:30-3:20 pm
No class 2/21.

The Wall of Separation Between Church and State

Announcing my Clark College class for next quarter:
The Wall of Separation Between Church & State

Exercise your right to speak your mind in this discussion-based class, as we examine some of the principles and practices arising from the First Amendment. We’ll begin with a review of the historical basis of the Free Exercise Clause and Establishment Clause, then dive into some recent examples in our community and Supreme Court decisions. Team taught w/ Elliott Trommald. 1/3-2/7 M 1:30-3:20 pm No class 1/17.

I can't wait! I'm really excited about this topic, because I think we'll have some great discussions. I'm busy gathering material to share, so if you have any ideas, lay them on me.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Right To Offend: The First Amendment Protects Some Liars

I found a great article called Truth in Advertising? Not in Political Ads.

Read it and post your comments.

Tools to Fact Check

With the explosion of information that's occurred thanks to the internet, and the rapid dissemination of all kinds of material via emails, it's helpful to have reliable tools to research facts.

Here are a couple of sites I've discovered and recommend:

What sites do you use to verify information?

Even Supreme Court Justices Deal with Their Speech Taken Out of Context

Back in 2001, when she was an Associate Court Judge, Sonia Sotomayor spoke at Berkeley Law School. Her words would come back to haunt her when she was before the Senate for confirmation as a Supreme Court Justice. She had said:

Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O'Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.

Here's a clip from the confirmation hearing:

Here is more from the speech Sotomayor gave in 2001:

Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society. Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case. I, like Professor Carter, believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group. Many are so capable. As Judge Cedarbaum pointed out to me, nine white men on the Supreme Court in the past have done so on many occasions and on many issues including Brown.

However, to understand takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand the experiences of others. Other simply do not care. Hence, one must accept the proposition that a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage.

You can read the full text here.

What do you think? Did context matter in this case?

Out of Context Redux

Here are some additional cases of words used out of context. As you may well imagine, campaign season provides plenty of examples.

The Case of the Sheriff and the Billboard

Here's an article that discusses the case:

What do you think? Was the billboard misleading? Should the speech be protected? Was the sheriff wrong to publicize the artist's phone number?

The Right to Offend: Out of Context

I was talking to my children the other day about how to show the idea of something taken out of context, where a person manipulates another's words to make it seem like they are saying something they're not. My kids directed me to this:

Consider the case of Shirley Sherrod, a federal employee (USDA Director of Rural Development in Georgia) who was fired in response to a conservative blogger's post about her. Andrew Breitbart alleged that Sherrod, a black woman, was racist against white people. He posted a video clip of her speaking to the NAACP to support his claim.

But to paraphrase Paul Harvey, Breitbart didn't show "the rest of the story." Take a look at this.

Do you know of examples where someone was harmed because their words were excerpted or taken out of context?

You can read more about the case here:

The Right to Offend: President Andrew Shepherd on Free Speech

One of my blogging friends suggested this clip to illustrate the concept of free speech. I think it's pretty nifty too.

What do you think?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Westboro comes to Vancouver

Here in Vancouver, at the close of May 2010, Heritage High students were picketed by Westboro Baptist Church. You can read about it here:

Rallies at Heritage High draw hundreds: Locals preaching tolerance vastly outnumber radical Kansas group

We'll be joined today by a former Heritage student, Meagan Ames, who led a counterprotest against the hatred of WBC.

The Case of the Funderal Protesters: Westboro Baptist Church

The Supreme Court recently heard arguments in the case of Snyder v. Phelps. Just in case you've been living under a rock for the past year or two, here's a clip about the case:

Here's Al Snyder, father of the slain soldier, discussing his view of the case:

Here is the view of the Phelps family, who lead the Westboro Baptist Church:

Here's a look at what Dorian de Wind, retired US Air Force Major, has to say about the case. He wrote a piece called
Snyder v. Phelps: Does Hate Speech Trump the Right to Mourn with Dignity?

What do you think?

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Right to Offend: Defending Free Speech on the Internet

Let's hear from Australian media commentator Cassandra Wilkinson on the dangers to children related to the internet:

Who is this woman, anyway? Pluto Press lists her author biography this way:
Cassandra Wilkinson is a public-access media advocate, a winning short play writer and co-founder and president of Australia's only all Australian music radio station, FBi FM Sydney.

Cassandra has been a senior political advisor to the NSW Treasurer and other Labor Ministers, and the devoted mother of Holiday, parliamentary wife and one time guitarist with obscure '90s fuzz-pop band Raymond Luxury Yacht.

She has half a degree in fine arts and theatre, half a degree in economics and one whole degree in politics. Cassandra lives in Bundeena with her family and visiting deer.

Interestingly, The Australian newspaper notes her law enforcement background: Cassandra Wilkinson is a director in the NSW public service and was a senior adviser to two former police ministers.

What do you think of her contentions related to the balancing the dangers of the internet and the right of free speech?

The Right to Offend: Controversial Tweets

The New York Times reported on tweet cases:
In some cases, the payback is extreme: Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks of the National Basketball Association, was fined $25,000 for criticizing a referee in a tweet after a game.

Blogs, of course, have long been rife with the discontented heaping abuse on foes. But academics and researchers who study online attitudes say that same behavior has been less common on Twitter, in part, because many people use their real names. Now it is migrating to the service, attracting lawsuits and leaving users to haggle among themselves about what will be tolerated.

Complicating matters, there are few prescribed social norms on Twitter like those in more closed communities like Facebook. The service has attained mass popularity without much time to develop an organic users’ culture. On top of that, with tweets limited to 140 characters, users come right to the point without context or nuance.

“It’s the same reason why schoolyard fights don’t start out with, ‘I have a real problem with the way you said something so let’s discuss it,’ ” said Josh Bernoff, a researcher and an author of “Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies.” “You get right to the punch in the nose. Twitter doesn’t allow room for reflection. It gets people to the barest emotion.”


Bryan Freedman is the lawyer in Los Angeles who is representing Dawn Simorangkir, a designer who markets clothes under the Boudoir Queen label, and who sued Ms. Love for libel in March. The lawsuit contends that Ms. Love “became infatuated” with the designer, asking her to create costumes using vintage material the singer owned.

When Ms. Simorangkir asked to be paid, Ms. Love balked at the price. Ms. Simorangkir, in return, refused to return Ms. Love’s vintage material, according to legal documents filed by Ms. Love’s lawyers. The singer accused the designer of being a liar and thief (among other things) in a number of rambling, misspelled tweets.

“You will end up in a circle of corched eaeth hunted til your dead,” read one tweet from Ms. Love in March.

I don't know about you, but having to read all her typos might prompt me to file a lawsuit for emotional distress.

Read more here:

The Right to Offend: Terrorist Tweet

I've always cautioned my children not to make any jokes about bombs when we go to the airport because security people do not have a big sense of humour. Check out what happened to one British man when he used a social networking site to make such a joke.

A recent article in the UK paper The Guardian noted

...he tweeted to his 690 followers: "Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!"
His lawyer argued the case in court, noting

"This [message] is obviously facetious," he said. "There are at least three exclamation marks. The first to add to the slightly naughty word 'crap'. The last two to the parody of 'to blow the airport sky high'."
The paper concludes:

In a case with echoes of Chambers' trial, US standup comedian Joe Lipari also landed in court on terrorism charges following an outburst on Facebook over the state of his iPhone.

He bought the phone a year ago and, after it repeatedly crashed, took it back to the Apple Store in Manhattan. They tweaked it, it crashed again, and the next day he went back to get a replacement. After waiting hours he stormed home with no replacement and, while watching Fight Club, updated his Facebook status in parody of a cherished line from the film: "Joe Lipari might walk into an Apple store on Fifth Avenue with an Armalite AR-10 gas powered semi-automatic weapon and pump round after round into one of those smug, fruity little concierges."

In no time at all plain clothes police armed with MP5 machine guns were knocking on his door. It didn't help that he had been smoking dope and found the whole scene hilarious, amusement that continued into court, where he was charged with making terrorist threats.

His case is currently adjourned and expected to be dropped.

What do you think about this? Is some speech too explosive, even if it's said or written in jest? Is this what Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes meant when he talked about falsely shouting fire in a crowded theatre? Or do authorities need to lighten up?

The Right to Offend: The Case of the Callous College Football Player

Check this out and tell me what you think.

The Right to Offend: Defending Democracy Doninger Daughter's' "Dbags" Dis

Kids these days!

Read this and tell me what you think.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Right to Offend: Schwarzenegger vs. Violent Video Games

When you think of Arnold Schwarzenegger, it's hard to forget his action hero (and some anti-hero) roles in violent films like Conan the Barbarian, True Lies and The Terminator. Now that he is Governor of California, he plays a slightly different role. The Washington Post reports that the upcoming Supreme Court docket includes this:

Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association

Nov. 2: California is the latest state attempting to prevent the sale of "violent" video games to minors. An appeals court said, similar to decisions of courts elsewhere, that the law violates First Amendment free-speech rights.

The Wall Street Journal described the conflict:

California argued in its petition to the Supreme Court that lawmakers should be able to ban sales of violent videogames to those younger than 18 just as they can restrict the sale of sexual material to minors.

The state said violent videogames are "a new, modern threat to children" that cause psychological harm and make minors more likely to exhibit violent or aggressive behavior.

Two trade associations challenged the law before it went into effect, arguing that videogames are a modern form of artistic expression entitled to First Amendment protection.

Read more:

For a look at how the video games industry reports the story, check this clip:

What do you think?

Now look at this and tell me what you think.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Right to Offend: Civic Courage

I like to call this one The Case of the Bashful Petition Signers. In Doe vs. Reed, the US Supreme Court examined the rights of those who signed a petition to place on the ballot a measure which would

NY Law School Professor Arthur S. Leonard describes the case in his blog:

The case arose out of Washington State’s 2009 enactment of a law expanding the state’s existing domestic partnership bill. Senate Bill 5688, referred to as the "everything but marriage bill," built upon the state’s existing domestic partnership law to provide that registered domestic partners would have virtually all the state-law rights of married couples. This proved to be a step too far for some committed opponents of same-sex marriage, who promptly began circulating petitions seeking a referendum to repeal the law. Under Washington procedures, if the petitioners acquired sufficient signatures the law would be stopped from going into effect pending the referendum vote. They got the signatures, and the measure went on the 2009 general election ballot as Referendum 71.

The Referendum passed - 53% of Washington voters approved the expansion of rights to all domestic partners. Confused? Here's a look at the wording and arguments:

The Supreme Court decided 8-1 that free speech and open access trumps privacy of the signatories.

Here is some background:

Lyle Denniston writes at the SCOTUS blog:

Justice Antonin Scalia, using history, sarcasm and political taunts, laid down a barrage of objections Wednesday to a plea that the Supreme Court create a new constitutional right of anonymity for individuals who sign petitions to get policy measures onto election ballots.


Declaring that the rough-and-tumble of democracy is not for the faint-hearted, what Scalia referred to as the “touchy, feely” sensitivity of some political activists, the Justice said “you can’t run a democracy” with political activity behind a First Amendment shroud. “You are asking us to enter into a whole new field,” Scalia told James Bopp Jr., the lawyer for Washington State signers of an anti-gay rights petition. Politics, the Justice went on, “takes a certain amount of civic courage. The First Amendment does not protect you from civic discourse — or even from nasty phone calls.”

Read more here.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Right to Offend: The Univiting of an Author

Recently, the news was abuzz about a young adult author who'd been invited to attend and speak at a Teen Lit Fest in a suburb of Houston. She was subsequently contacted by the superintendent, who uninvited her because some parents had objected to her inclusion because her subject matter was considered provocative. Her books deal with drug addiction, incest and teen prostitution. Ellen Hopkins blogged about her experience here:
Publishers Weekly blog reported on the situation here:

Several authors pulled out in protest, and Superintendent Sconzo (described as "no Atticus Finch" in one article) cancelled the festival altogether.

What do you think about this?

The Right to Offend: Nationwide Banned Book Events

A simple search of the internet yields many results for events celebrating Banned Book week, September 25-October 2nd. (Some celebrate the entire month of September or October.) Talk about great timing to look at this topic, huh?!

Here's the description of one at North Georgia College and State University, in which people read aloud from banned books:

Can you find some examples of events? Post them in the comments.

The Right to Offend: Sassy Librarians

What would Marian the Librarian think if she went into libraries these days? My son's high school librarian was wearing this little number the other day. She was publicizing Banned Books Month, an effort by the American Library Association to highlight attempts to censor books.

There's a great blog post about this from a teacher at Take a minute and read it now. Then tell me what you think about this in the comments.

Personally, I think Marian would have loved that shirt.

The Right to Offend: National Coalition Against Censorship

There are a variety of organizations devoted to opposing censorship. Let's take a field trip to the website of one of them, The National Coalition Against Censorship. The Coalition oversees a wide variety of projects:

Blogging Censorship: NCAC launches a blog where staff weigh in daily on current censorship issues, underreported censorship incidents, and policy decisions.

You might also want to check out these member organizations:

Participating Organizations

Actors' Equity Association
American Association of School Administrators
American Association of University Professors
American Association of University Women
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
American Civil Liberties Union
American Ethical Union
American Federation of Teachers
American Federation of Television & Radio Artists
American Jewish Committee
American Jewish Congress
American Library Association
American Literary Translators Association
American Orthopsychiatric Association
American Society of Journalists & Authors
Americans United for Separation of Church & State
Association of American Publishers
Authors Guild Foundation
Catholics for Choice
Children's Literature Association
College Art Association
The Creative Coalition
Directors Guild of America
Dramatists Guild of America
Educational Book & Media Association
First Amendment Lawyers Association

International Reading Association
Lambda Legal
Modern Language Association
National Center for Science Education
National Communication Association
National Council for the Social Studies
National Council of Churches
National Council of Jewish Women
National Council of Teachers of English
National Education Association
The Newspaper Guild/CWA
Office of Communication, United Church of Christ
PEN American Center
People for the American Way

Planned Parenthood Federation of America
Screen Actors Guild
Sexuality Information & Education Council of the U.S.
Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators
Student Press Law Center
Union for Reform Judaism

Union of Democratic Intellectual
Unitarian Universalist Association
United Methodist Communications, United Methodist Church
Women's American ORT
Writers Guild of America, East
Writers Guild of America, West

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Right to Offend: Librarians are Scandalous

Chaucer! Balzac! We must protect our youth!

Just a fun bit for you.