[MODERATOR: In The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky includes a famous scene, “The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor.” The Inquisitor imprisons Jesus for allegedly interfering with the mission of the Church. Jesus's arrival is disturbing the church’s mission. By interviewing both sides of the antiabortion protest Will Reilly reminds us
a) why free speech is important (its mission is to encourage debate); and
b) why some people—today’s Inquisitors—would ban objectionable speech in the spirit (if not name) of that "French twerp Herbert Marcuse."
Read Reilly’s account and make up your own mind]
So, today, I went to an anti-abortion rally.
As those of you who can see already know, there is a huge pictorial display called "Abortion as Genocide" currently up on the SIU campus. Sponsored by the pro-Yahweh RSO Warriors for Life, the display features the usual gory pictures of aborted fetuses and weeping non-mamas. The stated purpose of this exhibit is comparing abortion to historical genocides like the Holocaust. For the past two days, a group of 60 to 80 counter-protesters has been camped across the street from the display - carrying signs featuring bloody coat-hangers and unflattering descriptions of men.
Viewing this whole event as a living example of "conflict under law," I took my law class to see it earlier today. We spoke to both pro-lifers and pro-choicers, in order to hear them defend their respective positions. Our group talked to "pro-choice escorts" walking women around the display, pro-life advocates who had bused down to see the thing, and a brace of preachers. We politely questioned both sides. Almost everyone we hit up was willing to explain why they felt as they did; both conservatives and liberals were actually pretty difficult to quiet down.
But, there was one major exception to this rule. The very first group of people we spoke to was a bunch of liberal counter-protesters, dressed in typical "I'm-at-a-rally" gear. Two of them wore yellow "choice escort" signs stapled to their shirts. One had a piece of tape over her mouth - probably to symbolize that she was (like so many people at a public riot) unable to express herself. Another guy had a huge pink sign taped to his chest, with SIU Chancellor Sam Goldman's home number written on it. Apparently, passerby were supposed to call the Chancellor and demand that the anti-choice photos be taken down.
My students and I asked these liberal counter-protesters a few questions, mostly about whether demanding the photos be removed was anti free speech. The head of the liberal counter-protesters (let's call him the "Inquisitor") chased down a couple of my undergraduates and demanded that they give him my name and title. When I went back to confront him about this, he told me that he had been "horribly offended" by the questions I and my students had been asking. He noted that there was "no place at college" for questions like mine - much less speech like pro-life signs. Inquisitor told me that he planned to call the Chancellor's office and file a formal complaint about my "abuse" of him and his pals, and huffed off.
I called the Chancellor, who tells me that his office doesn't take too many unsolicited complaints from street protesters, but am still annoyed by this. The behavior of the liberal counter-protesters is a classic example of what French twerp Herbert Marcuse called repressive tolerance. In a famous essay, Marcuse argued that liberals should be totally tolerant of left-wing behaviors, but should feel comfortable not tolerating conservatives because conservatives are evil. Thus, the counter-protester and his friends expected people to be okay with them standing in the middle of a public road screaming about abortion, but literally attempted to fire me for asking whether his position made sense. Ah, sweet reason.
An additional note of humor is provided here by the fact that this self-appointed Inquisitor is in no position to push for limits on free speech. According to a brief Google search for the name of the person yelling at me, he's a well-known far-Left blogger. His blog is publicly available on MySpace and Blog-Spot. Even taking Marcuse into account, the Inquisitor would be one of the first victims were we to do away with the First Amendment. As I support his free speech rights, I will refrain from the ol' law school urge to post links to the most humiliating portions of the blog (here). I suggest that he and his friends extend the same courtesy to others.
In the interests of free speech from all directions, I will note that the Chancellor's number is 618-453-2341. Feel free to call him and criticize protesters, criticize conservatives, or note how awesome I am.
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