Freedom of speech means sometimes you shut up

There have been a lot of discussions lately about freedom of speech. Some of this has centered around the question: Are we hurting the Nazis (Golden Dawn) in Greece by signing and circulating a petition to ask WordPress to take down their web site? (More on this below, there have been interesting developments.) What about (intentionally) offensive comedians, hired to perform at conventions and conferences? Are we right to get mad at the organizers for organizing that, or do we just assume that somebody out there finds it funny, so we should just back off and maybe go sit by the pool for a while or something? (You need to know what satire is to really understand.)

Often, people jump into any discussion where it looks like speech is being questioned, silenced, affected in any way, dare I say ‘repressed,’ with strong admonitions that at all costs one must not interfere with anyone’s freedom of expression. Those who jump in first and hardest are often lost causes. No amount of discussion, no slew of examples, no pile of evidence, no plethora of historical facts will talk them down from the position that all speech must be protected at all times no matter what the speech is, who is saying it, the context in which it is said, its consequences, how it is being “said,” or anything. Not only that, but that which damages or represses speech is generally over-defined to include any call for putting a lid of any kind on any thing.

Those people, with their blind rage against repression, need to do one thing: Shut up. Continue reading

A question for you about humanism, atheism, skepticism, and politics

This issue, for various reasons, is on my mind lately, and a current news story focuses the question. The Center for Inquiry has issued a statement urging the “Obama Administration Not To Retreat Any Further on HHS Regulation.” This pertains to the recent dustup over reproductive health services (in particular birth control).

From the CFI:

On Friday, Feb. 10, the Obama Administration announced that it would continue to require health insurance providers and organizations providing health care plans to cover preventive health services, such as birth control, without charging a co-payment. However, it indicated that it would allow religiously affiliated employers not to offer contraceptive coverage directly—although their insurers would still have to offer such coverage.

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is pleased that the Obama Administration has continued to hold firm to the principle that employees must have access to contraceptive services as part of any employer-sponsored health plan and has decided to keep in place the substance of guidelines that require health insurance providers and organizations providing health care plans to cover preventive health services without charging a co-payment. …

With regards to Advocasy, the CFI makes this statement about itself: “The Center for Inquiry advocates for science, reason, freedom of inquiry and humanist values…” and does so via a number of programs, and the mission of the CFI is stated as “…to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.

Here are my questoins: Is something like funding of birth control a political issue? Is it the proper role of an organization like CFI to engage in political issues, and if so, is there some subset of issues they should leave alone vs. focus on? What about other organizations with a somewhat different mission, such as JREF?

In short, do Secular Humanism, Skepticism, other Secular movements or groups, or Atheism have a Political Agenda? Are these movements politically agnostic? Are the goals and philsophies of these organizaitons incompatible with certain political orientations?

Why do I ask? Because in a few weeks I’m going to be engaged in a debate about this topic and I’d like to know what you think about it.

Discordant Democrats vs. Republican Dittoheads

I was disturbed by a recent discussion on my favorite cable TV news channel. Anchors and pundits were discussing the different approaches used by the Republican vs. Democratic Party in the heath care reform fight. An anchor was pressing the two guests about this difference in strategy, challenging them with the idea that the Republicans were better at this sort of thing because they were coordinated and in lockstep. The word “lockstep” was used. Every single Republican will vote the same exact way on the health care reform bill (against health care). The Democrats, on the other hand, will be more diverse in their voting patterns and are currently more diverse in their arguments and positions on various aspects of each issue. This was clearly and unquestionably seen by these youngsters (I think everyone in the conversation was under 40) as a sign of weakness in the Democratic Party and strength in the Republican Party. Lockstep = good. Diversity of opinion and open, rational dialog = bad.

Continue reading