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Censoring vs. Censuring
Apr 7th, 2018 by Dr Karma

I teach my students about the difference between the words censor and censure–because I want them to know what words mean and because I want them to be able to participate in conversations about the 1st Amendment.

This is especially important with my freshmen, many of whom are Chinese, learning here in a system that throws around “free speech” like everyone knows what it means.

The problem is that most Americans don’t seem to know what it means.*

I was disappointed by Bill Maher’s show last night,** because it seemed that he doesn’t know what it means.

He was furious that people are calling for a boycott of Laura Ingraham’s sponsors after her awful comments about the Parkland protestors.

I understand Maher’s anger–he is sensitive about this topic, since he lost his job–and his show–after a statement he made on Politically Incorrect after 9/11. Many people were calling the attackers “cowards.” Maher disagreed. The attackers were many things, but they were willing to die for their beliefs, which means they didn’t fit the definition of coward.

Maher’s opponents falsely claimed that he praised the attackers.

No–he was making a semantic point. (A correct one.)

Which is why I’m disappointed that he equated calling for a boycott of Ingraham’s sponsors with attacks on “free speech.”

Free speech means the government can’t shut you down, can’t imprison you.

It doesn’t mean you get to say whatever you want without consequences.

It doesn’t mean that you get to have other people pay you to say those things.

Laura Ingraham gets to say whatever she wants. She can blog about it, self-publish about it, yell it to people walking by, mumble it to herself in the insane asylum where she belongs.

But if her speech is no longer profitable, no one has the obligation to pay her to say it.

The old man on the quad who calls women “sluts” when they walk by gets to do that–free speech!

We can call him an asshole–free speech!

But the university doesn’t have to invite him to give a talk, no one has to publish his rantings, and I don’t have to let him follow my students into the classroom, give him “equal time,” or turn the other cheek.

When we disapprove of speech, by saying, “hey, that’s racist,” we’re not censoring anyone–we’re censuring them. Disapproval is not censorship.

My grandparents liked to remind people that my grandfather served to protect free speech–this was of course a form of censure–an attempt to tell liberals they didn’t have the right to speak if the speech didn’t agree with my grandparents’ view of the world.

Like it or not, my grandfather’s job was to fight for my right to criticize his party and to advocate for minorities and for women’s rights.

My job is teaching writing and critical thinking.

Words have meaning. Which is why the 1st Amendment is important in the first place.

 

 

 

*Of course, the 1st Amendment isn’t the only misunderstood one. Ummmm . . . militias . . . ?

** I have to add that Louie Anderson was on the show. And I love him. Desperately.

 

 

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Imperfect Analogies for Birth Control
Mar 5th, 2012 by Dr Karma

This morning, I heard it again–the new talking point about mandating birth control coverage. A caller to NPR said that mandating birth control coverage for religious institutions that take federal funds was akin to forcing a kosher deli to sell pork.

In logic, that’s what we call a faulty analogy.

There’s no perfect analogy for this situation that I could think of. However, a less imperfect one would go like this:
I work at a kosher deli, but am not kosher. My boss has to give me a break because of the hours I put in. My kosher boss knows that I will totally chow down on some ham. My chowing down on ham won’t de-kosher his business, but he doesn’t like it, so he decides that I don’t get my break. Or maybe he decides that I don’t get my paycheck–he doesn’t want any of his money going toward eating that unclean animal.

He doesn’t get to do that, right?

Especially if he took federal money.

My birth control is covered through work. I work for UC Davis, meaning I work for the State of California, which means that there are some people in this state who are funding my birth control right now. They don’t get to not pay taxes because they don’t think I should have access. Students don’t get to not pay tuition because they object to my birth control. Even if the student is a Christian Scientist and believes that all medication is forbidden, I still get to have my asthma meds and the student and the state still help me to pay for it. Why? Because religious freedom doesn’t just mean you get to worship in your own way; it means you can’t foist your religion on me. This isn’t a theocracy.

And I don’t buy for a second that my pay (in either money or insurance form) violates your worship. Pray for me; pray against me; whatever. But unless I’m forcing you to take birth control against your will, I’m not making you do anything against your conscience by my working a job and getting the benefits I’m entitled to by law.

To think through the fallacy, we need only think about really allowing people’s religious beliefs to dictate how they treat their employees.

Believe, as the Bible says, that women should be segregated at their time of the month? Does that mean that allowing me to come to work and paying me for that work at my time violates you?

Believe that women must be fully covered? Does that mean UCD has to change my dress code for you if you’re a member of my state and thus contribute to my salary?

This all reminds me of all those movements some years ago when pharmacists refused to fill prescriptions for medications if they objected on moral grounds. Many states said that was fine. No matter what insurance a woman had, no matter what medical needs, no matter what was legal, no matter what a doctor was recommending.

Let’s go back to the restaurant analogy, because it does work here. Say I don’t eat pork, but I work at a restaurant that serves it. If you order pork, either I bring it to you or I get fired, don’t I? I don’t get to call you names or explain that my religion prevents me from doing my job.

The Bible doesn’t say that I shalt not bring others pork, only that I shouldn’t eat it. But what it says isn’t even germane to the argument, because this isn’t a theocracy.

Even though I think people who want it to be shouldn’t breed, I don’t get to force my beliefs on you–you can keep having babies. Don’t try to force your stuff on me–allow me not to if that’s my choice. (Besides, if you really disagree with what I’m saying, you don’t want me raising a whole mess of kids, do you?)

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