Politics & Other Mistakes

Free speech — with a twist you won’t like

Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it.
— Mark Twain

If you can’t say “Fuck,” you can’t say “Fuck the government.”
— Lenny Bruce

Most of us agree that hate speech is a bad thing. But when it comes to suppressing it, there’s serious disagreement between those who spew offensive comments and those on the receiving end of that spittle.

We can also agree that allowing kids access to pornography isn’t a swell idea. But when it comes to putting up online roadblocks for youth, there’s a sizable separation between prudes and perverts.

And when preparing bonfires, the majority of us agree that a cord of wood is less expensive and more efficient than a cord of books. But there’s not much common ground on whether the frightening flames of the latter are worth it to preserve our imagined virtue.

These divisions on free speech mean there’s no shortage of both liberals and conservatives willing to interfere with your ability to say, view or read whatever you choose.

According to the Maine Monitor, there have been 22 challenges of books in Maine school libraries since 2022. To date, only one has resulted in the removal of a volume from the shelves. Gender Queer: A Memoir, an illustrated autobiography by Maia Kobabe, is now banned from RSU 56 in Dixfield (town motto: Our Village Idiot Quit. Too Much Competition). In other school districts, officials rejected claims such material would turn kids into drag queens and found instead that the book offered students valuable insight into the tribulations of LGBTQ adolescence.

While it should be obvious to anyone with more IQ points than the average presidential candidate that Gender Queer isn’t pornographic, it’s less clear what to do about stuff that makes no excuse for its flagrant appeal to prurient interests — specifically, websites offering porn to everyone with an internet connection and neglectful parents. To prevent innocent children from seeing naked people, Democratic State Rep. Lois Reckitt, an avowed leftist from South Portland, has joined forces with the right-wing Christian Civic League to introduce a bill requiring anyone attempting to access adult content to provide proof of age by uploading photo identification.

Just show a copy of your driver’s license to some sleazy sex site, and enjoy all the erotic stimulation you desire, at least until your identity is stolen or hackers release your name and predilection for anal threeways with meth addicts.

A federal judge has already ruled a Texas law similar to Reckitt’s proposal unconstitutional because it “substantially regulates protected speech.” Lawsuits against nearly identical statutes in at least five other states are pending. Nevertheless, the civic league issued a statement praising Reckitt’s bill, saying, “In our desire to preserve both Biblical principles and the health of young kids, radical feminists and we conservative Christians are suddenly finding ourselves on the same team.”

On another front, city councils in Portland, South Portland, Bangor, Biddeford, Rockland and Hallowell have been assaulted during public hearings with comments from Zoom participants espousing racism, antisemitism, homophobia and other random hatred. Portland Councilor Mark Dion, a former cop and a candidate for mayor, told the Portland Press Herald these diatribes were “a form of emotional and psychological terrorism” and suggested reporting them to the police.

Really? If insulting the dumpster fire that is the Portland City Council is a crime, I should be serving a life sentence.

The most hand-wringing and pearl-clutching over offensive speech concerns the neo-Nazi “training camp” in rural Penobscot County. A couple dozen creeps may have established themselves in the woods to prepare for war against everyone who liked Gender Queer. The group, wearing masks, has also marched around the Blaine House in Augusta chanting anti-immigrant slogans and other racist crap.

In response, Democratic State Sen. Joe Baldacci of Bangor has proposed outlawing firearms training undertaken for purposes of causing “civil disorder.” How that would be determined remains vague, but nobody has yet proposed jailing Democratic House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, who called for “storming the Capitol” to protest the lack of Black subject matter in school lesson plans. Other legislators have suggested making it illegal to appear masked in public while carrying guns. That appears to be a court ruling of unconstitutionality waiting to happen.

“Hate speech can be criminalized only when it becomes incitement or another unprotected category of speech,” the New England First Amendment Coalition’s Justin Silverman said in a newsletter. “The law works this way to protect everyone from government censoring speech simply because it doesn’t like what’s being said.”

In short, none of these proposed laws is likely to rid the state of provocative books, porn or would-be Nazis. As white supremacist scumbag Christopher Pohlhaus gloated to a Bangor TV station: “If they want to take all of my guns, take ’em. I don’t care, because I can still run my mouth. See what I’m saying? None of this stuff affects me.”

Damn that free-speech thing.

Say whatever you like by e-mailing aldiamon@herniahill.net.

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