Philly’s Mayor Nutter is living up to his name. And more troublingly his language quite clearly summons up the censorship used in countries such as Canada and the UK to suppress freedom of speech.
This isn’t about the content of the article. That’s not even the point now. It’s about the mayor of a major city threatening a magazine without the usual Freedom of the Press types having much to say about it.
Nutter has the right to be angry about the content of the article. He has the right, which he uses, to strongly criticize it and write a rebuttal to it.
But this is where he crosses a dangerous line.
I therefore request that the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, which is charged by the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter with a mandate, among other duties to “institute and conduct educational programs… to promote understanding among persons and groups of different races, colors, religions and national origins,” conduct an inquiry into the state of racial issues, biases and attitudes within and among the many communities and neighborhoods in the City of Philadelphia.
Finally I ask that the Commission consider specifically whether Philadelphia Magazine and the writer, Bob Huber, are appropriate for rebuke by the Commission in light of the potentially inflammatory effect and the reckless endangerment to Philadelphia’s racial relations potentially caused by the essay’s unsubstantiated assertions.
While I fully recognize that constitutional protections afforded the press are intended to protect the media from censorship by the government, the First Amendment, like other constitutional rights, is not an unfettered right, and notwithstanding the First Amendment, a publisher has a duty to the public to exercise its role in a responsible way. I ask the Commission to evaluate whether the “speech” employed in this essay is not the reckless equivalent of “shouting ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater,” its prejudiced, fact-challenged generalizations an incitement to extreme reaction.
Only by debunking myth with fact and by holding accountable those who seek to confuse the two, can we insure that the prejudices reflected in the essay are accorded the weight they deserve: none at all.”
In the United States, we don’t hold people accountable for unpopular views. We debate them. We don’t forward them to commissions and accuse them of incitement.
Mayor Nutter invokes Shouting Fire in a Crowded Theater, an outdated standard that no longer applies, but whose meaning is that some people can be locked up if their speech is “dangerous”.
Combine that with language about the First Amendment not being an unfettered right and Nutter is entering some very dangerous waters.
There are no specific legal grounds for him to demand prosecution of the author and the magazine, but he appears to be doing his best to manufacture a legal theory for those grounds.
The best possible interpretation of Mayor Nutter’s behavior is that he is practicing simple intimidation. The worst is that he has decided to ignore the First Amendment. Either way it’s clear censorship.
Nutter is obviously angry, but we can’t ignore the implications of what he is saying. Not when Obama Inc. locked up a filmmaker for making a movie that offended Muslims.
Freedom of Speech is under siege and as America begins to look like Europe, there is a very real danger that censorship will be implemented in the guise of tolerance and that Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press will be curtailed in its name.
Standing up to outrageous threats from Democratic politicians will make it clear that the American people will not accept any attack on the First Amendment.