Ed Driscoll

Our President Reluctantly Rediscovers the First Amendment

James Lileks returns to vintage Screeeeedblog form. This is just a warm-up:

I believe that it is boorish to lampoon in public other people’s religious beliefs, no matter how preposterous you find them; I have great respect for the American military. That said, when you get a call from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that requests you to tone down your public criticism of another faith, the only proper response is to quote another great general: “Nuts.” Then you hang up the phone.

If it rings? Let it ring. To save anyone any additional shame, just let it ring, like it never happened in the first place.

Meanwhile, at the Daily Caller, “Obama caves to Romney, embraces free speech for critics of Islam:”

President Barack Obama used Air Force One to conduct a policy loop-de-loop Wednesday, asserting in a CBS interview that he supports Americans’ right to criticize Islam, following almost 18 hours of determined condemnation from Team Romney and damaging news from Egypt and Libya.

“We believe in the First Amendment,” Obama told CBS’s Steve Kroft during an interview arranged days earlier.

“It is one of the hallmarks of our Constitution that I’m sworn to uphold, and so we are always going to uphold the rights for individuals to speak their mind,” he said, according to a transcript narrated by White House spokesman Jay Carney.

The transcript was released several hours after Obama had a Rose garden statement to condemn criticism of Islam.

Could there be a more grudging and reluctant defense of the First Amendment, from a president with two books to his name?

Law professor Eugene Volokh writes, “All of You Who Harshly Condemn Anti-Homosexuality Religious Beliefs, Take Note:”

And same for all of you who mock young earthers, or devout Scientologists, or believers in miracles — and all who say that, for instance, racist or sexist religious beliefs are contemptible — and maybe even all those who, even politely, contend that rival religions’ views are wrong and will deny salvation to the holders of those views:

The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.

So says the Secretary of State, in quite categorical terms. After all, in all the examples given above, you would presumably be intentionally denigrating the religious beliefs of others: saying that they are immoral and foolish. The U.S. government deplores your speech. It’s not just that the government doesn’t endorse the speech, not just that it deplores a limited and narrow category of blasphemous acts (e.g., burning a Koran, treading on a crucifix, and the like), but rather that it deplores any attempt to denigrate religious beliefs. Religious beliefs, which are routinely used by billions as a guide to private action and a guide to lawmaking, are supposed to be somehow immune from the denigration that is a commonplace and necessary part of debate about ideological beliefs generally.

According to Israel’s Ynet Website, “Egypt to take legal action in US against Prophet film makers.” I await the Vatican ordering similar action against the incontinent anti-religious* offerings of Andres Serrano and similar “artists.”

* And thoroughly New York Times-approved.