Councilman Brad Lander
Speaker Christine Quinn
Comptroller John Liu
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio
Borough President Marty Markowitz
Congresswoman Yvette Clarke
Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez
Congressman Hakeem Jeffries
Senator Kevin Parker
Senator Daniel Squadron
Assemblywoman Rhoda Jacobs
Assemblyman Karim Camara
Assemblyman James Brennan
Assemblywoman Joan Millman
Assemblyman Walter Mosley
Councilwoman Tish James
Councilman Steve Levin
Former Comptroller Bill Thompson
Above is a list of signatories to a letter written by Congressman Jerrold Nadler condemning the Brooklyn College Political Science department for co-sponsoring an event featuring advocates of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS). For a thorough account of the hypocrisy and inanity surrounding this controversy, you can consult Glenn Greenwald’s blog or Amy Schiller’s article at The Daily Beast.
All policy disputes aside, the notion of self-identified “progressive” politicians attempting to intimidate and coerce an academic institution is so repulsive that a refusal to support any of the above officials (several of whom are currently running for mayor of New York) seems justified. Clearly there is much to gain politically from ardent displays of allegiance to Israel and perhaps much to lose from perceived support for pro-Palestinian views. But one need not endorse the BDS movement to support this event. One need only support academic freedom and the free and open airing of intelligent opinions concerning a divisive and often deadly political issue.
I am reminded of a campus controversy at my alma mater in which some students caused an uproar over a scheduled lecture to be given by Angela Davis, an academic and one-time leader of the U.S. Communist Party. Hearing Davis speak did not morph me or anyone else into a Communist nor did it cause an armed insurrection on my campus. It was an event in which a variety of ideas were politely discussed and debated. Such is the purpose of receiving an education.
For me, and I would suspect for most people, the right to my own ideas and the right to expose myself to whatever ideas I find important or intriguing, is non-negotiable. A government that desires to limit or censor these ideas (perhaps cynically for political gain) is clearly authoritarian. No one who genuinely values progressivism or civil liberties should allow an intrusion into their own mind by power-hungry politicians.
President Barack Obama signed the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 into law on Monday…enacting new restrictions on protests of service member funerals.
“We have a moral sacred duty to our men and women in uniform,” Obama said before signing the bill, according to a pool report. “The graves of our veterans are hallowed grounds.”
Under the new legislation, protests must be held at least 300 feet from military funerals and are prohibited two hours before or after a service. The law counters a 2011 Supreme Court ruling, which found that displays such as Westboro’s were protected under the First Amendment.
Let us examine for a moment the rationale behind the Supreme Court’s ruling. Chief Justice John Roberts stated it well:
The “content” of Westboro’s signs plainly relates to
broad issues of interest to society at large, rather than
matters of “purely private concern.”
While these messages may fall short of
refined social or political commentary, the issues they
highlight—the political and moral conduct of the United
States and its citizens, the fate of our Nation, homosexual-
ity in the military, and scandals involving the Catholic
clergy—are matters of public import. The signs certainly
convey Westboro’s position on those issues, in a manner
designed…to reach as broad a public audience as possible.
Indeed. The protesting of military funerals should not be banned. If, for instance, a soldier responsible for a My Lai-style massacre was honored for his service despite his destructive and criminal actions, a protest of his funeral could very well be an effective and morally justified method of demonstrating outrage. If an anti-war group conducted such a protest, it might be considered an inappropriate venue to make a political point, but no one should desire to see the right to protest war crimes banned. Now that Obama has signed this law, such a protest would not be possible.
It should by now be common knowledge that there is no such thing as the right not to be offended, nor is there such a thing as the right to ban political protests because it hurts someone’s feelings. Deny the right of protest to the Westboro loons and one day the same right could be denied to a group with an important message.