In “protecting the rights of all people to worship the way they choose,” then–secretary of state Hillary Clinton vowed “to use some old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming, so that people don’t feel that they have the support to do what we abhor.”
Mrs. Clinton required translation into the language of truth, as she generally does when her lips are moving. By the “rights” of “all people” to “worship” as “they choose,” she meant the sharia-based desire of Muslim supremacists to foreclose critical examination of Islam. Madame Secretary, you see, was speechifying before her friends at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) — the bloc of 56 Muslim countries plus the Palestinian territories.
What they choose, after all, is to honor Christian tenets about sexuality, freedom of conscience, and the sanctity of life. Those tenets, just like honest criticism of Islam, are consigned to the category Clinton calls “what we abhor.” And if progressives abhor something, it somehow always becomes everyone’s duty to make certain that those who embrace that something “don’t feel that they have . . . support.”
Of course, they do have support . . . at least on paper. The First Amendment protects all of us against government suppression of speech. But the amendment is just a parchment promise if the government against which it is a safeguard actively undermines it. That is today’s United States government: rendering free expression an illusory right by inciting the mob, by extortionate lawfare tactics that exhaust the resources and energy of the citizen.
That brings us to the most compelling of all the points Mark Steyn made this week in his trenchant defense of free expression: When it comes to stifling speech, and thus suppressing thought, it is increasingly frivolous to distinguish between “state coercion” and “cultural coercion.”
Yes, it is textbook true that the First Amendment applies only against the government — indeed, only against the federal government as originally understood. The constitutional free-speech guarantee is literally irrelevant against private actors, including bullies like GLAAD, the gay-rights agitators who intimidated A&E into suspending Phil Robertson from a show about his family — which, I suppose, is the absurd reality when you’re producing a “reality” program (Duck Dynasty) about a family business.
But as long as we’re talking about reality, what if the “private” actors are really the deadly point of a coercive government’s spear? Mrs. Clinton proclaimed that the Obama administration would unleash “old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming” to squelch speech it disapproved of. We call these “techniques” extortion and intimidation when they are used by mafia families and other like-minded racketeering enterprises.
A corrupt government has some direct ways of undermining our rights. It can bring vexatious lawsuits, knowingly enact unconstitutional laws, or sign international agreements transparently intended to erode constitutional liberties. Theoretically, we can fight these tactics in the courts and by lobbying our lethargic lawmakers; as a practical matter, though, it takes years of anxiety at prohibitive expense. Few will be up to the task.
Secretary Clinton’s collaboration with the OIC is a good example: They jointly came up with a resolution that would make it unlawful to engage in speech that incites “discrimination” and “hostility” toward “religion.” More translation: “Religion” here does not mean religion; it means Islam. The Obama administration, itself no stranger to incitements against traditional Christianity, is not worried about that kind of hostility.
But put aside the hypocrisy of bashing Christians for merely holding beliefs while turning a blind eye to Muslims who kill over theirs. The point here is: It is pluperfectly palpable that the resolution negotiated by the Obama State Department and the OIC violates the First Amendment.
Free speech cannot work if the government it is designed to restrain does not respect it. A lawful American government — one that takes seriously its sworn obligation to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution — would not only enforce the First Amendment; it would refrain from engaging in unconstitutional schemes in the first place.
When it instead leads the pack in assaulting the Constitution — when, to take another example, the government repeatedly, publicly, and mendaciously blames a jihadist mass murder in Benghazi on an obscure movie; when, under the guise of a “supervised release” violation, it then trumps up a prosecution against the filmmaker precisely to sell the “Muslim world” on its commitment to imposing anti-constitutional sharia blasphemy standards — it is implicitly endorsing and obviously encouraging mob suppression of speech.
That is how this government indirectly assaults the First Amendment, in tandem with its “private”-actor allies. The GLAADs and CAIRs of the world are the government’s partners in “peer pressure and shaming,” the cultural coercion that is every bit as insidious as the administration’s official lawlessness. A government that creates the climate for bullying is one of the bullies — the most culpable one.
The radical shock troops seeking to “fundamentally transform the United States of America,” as their pied piper puts it, make up a distinct minority of the country. To advance their transformative program, they need the mob — and a president who knows how to use the mob’s “peer pressure,” who knows that telling a room full of jittery bankers that “my administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks” is akin to Don Corleone making them an offer they can’t refuse.
Consequently, we are not in ordinary times — times when speech competes with speech in Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s “marketplace of ideas,” and when we are simply trying to arrive at the best policies within an agreed-upon constitutional framework. We are in an us-versus-them time when the radicals are out to annihilate traditional culture and constitutional principles.
There are no Marquess of Queensbury Rules for confronting such a threat, since a fair fight is not what the mob has in mind. The threat and the aggressors making it need to be exposed, debated, mocked, and otherwise discredited whenever the opportunities present themselves. Nothing else will do, for the mob is immune to peer pressure and it has no shame.