Putin, Pussy Riot, Ted Nugent and the First Amendment

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Erin Nanasi is an avid underwater basket weaver, with a penchant for satire and the odd wombat reference.
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free pussy riot e1345336049978 Putin, Pussy Riot, Ted Nugent and the First Amendment

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Russian president Vladimir Putin enjoys being photographed with his shirt off, looking very macho. It turns out that all it takes to shatter little Vlad’s ego is an all-girl punk rock band/performance art group, protesting his policies.

Pussy Riot was sentenced to 2 years in Russian prison this past week, to the dismay of most of the planet. Musicians, politicians, activists and just normal folks are outraged that Putin’s Russia sentenced three young women to two years of hard time for staging a protest in a cathedral. The Russian Orthodox church has publicly “forgiven” the young women, but not fragile Putin. Those girls hurt his widdle feelings, and they must pay.

Interestingly, Pussy Riot did not threaten Putin, or tell him to “suck on” a machine gun. They prayed to the Virgin Mary to remove Putin from office. They pissed off a few people who were in the cathedral and angered law enforcement, but they didn’t hurt anyone or say they wanted to hurt anyone. And they are off to Russian prison. Luckily, here in America, we have the First Amendment, which protects our right to free speech. Unless it’s hate speech, or incites violence, then…oh wait, I’m sorry. It obviously protects that, too.

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Ted Nugent, the Motor City Pants Shitter and Pedophile, told an audience during the 2008 campaign that then-candidate Barack Obama could suck on his machine gun. Since Ted Nugent is not known for his ennui, he meant the actual semi-automatic rifle he was waving around in his hand. He also told then-senator Hillary Clinton to “ride” one of those guns, after calling her a bitch.

This year, Ted “I’m Too Good For Vietnam” Nugent told a bunch of NRA convention attendees that if President Obama is reelected, he (Nugent) will either be dead or in prison. That comment earned him a visit from the Secret Service, and got him on television, where he launched into an epithet filled tirade at a producer. But Ted “I Adopted My Own Wife” Nugent can say those horrible things, and threaten the life of a presidential candidate, all thanks to the First Amendment.

In his book, The Harm In Hate Speech, New York University law professor Jeremy Waldron details the disingenuous nature of America’s “right to free speech”. Waldron was interviewed on NPR in June of this year, and below are two of Waldron’s statements during the interview.

“Many of the things that people have a right to do in the United States are wrong,” Waldron tells NPR’s Rachel Martin. “They don’t have a right to do everything that’s wrong and I’m arguing that the category of things that they shouldn’t have a right to do should be somewhat expanded.”

This all started in Skokie, Illinois. In the late 1970′s, a neo-Nazi group from Chicago, assisted by the ACLU, sued for the right to march in Skokie, which at the time was home to many Holocaust survivors and their families. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the Nazis had a First Amendment right to their demonstration and march. In the book, Jeremy Waldron correctly points out that the United States is the only liberal democracy in the world without some form of hate speech regulation; regulations which would have kept the Nazis out of Skokie and kept Ted Nugent from threatening the life of Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign and again this year.

Waldron went into detail regarding the legal definition of hate speech in America:

“It’s usually defined first of all in terms of its intention, that it’s speech which is intended to cause the stirring of hatred and hostility towards a particular group. That’s not enough on most definitions; they also insist that it must be likely to generate such hatred and hostility. Thirdly, the speech must be offered in a threatening, abusive and insulting way. And fourthly, these statutes tend to define safe havens or places where such speech can be engaged in without incurring liability, for example a conversation in one’s home. Many of these laws bend over backwards to try to narrow down a particular range of damaging speech to the most egregious cases.”

As a writer and satirist, I enjoy the rights afforded me by the First Amendment. Thanks to Hustler magazine, I know that The Bachmann Diaries are protected and that as long as I cite sources and give attributions, my writing is safe. Google Hustler Jerry Falwell outhouse when you’re finished with this article. I owe a lot to Larry Flynt. Strange but true.

effigy 150x150 Putin, Pussy Riot, Ted Nugent and the First Amendment

However, I agree with Jeremy Waldron. A good example of hate speech that should not be protected is the tripe spewed daily by the Westboro Baptist Church. Or the effigy of President Obama Pastor Terry Jones hung from a gallows outside his church. The violence promoted by Ted Nugent. Glenn Beck inciting Byron Williams with his paranoid conspiracy theories about the Tides Foundation. Those should not be protected. But they are.

What Pussy Riot did does not qualify as hate speech anywhere. It just doesn’t. Pussy Riot protested Vladimir Putin; they did not use violence or threaten his life or the life of any other politician. Ted Nugent did threaten the life of Barack Obama, as a candidate and as president. Yet Ted Nugent roams free, able to continue his violent rhetoric and hate speech. There seems to be no line, no filter, no sense of right and wrong when it comes to the words we use in this country. The First Amendment gives us the right to free speech, not to lie or incite or yell “FIRE!” in a crowded theater. Yet that is exactly what happens, day after day after day.

Pussy Riot would not be going to prison if they had staged their protest in America. That’s the true spirit of the First Amendment, and that’s why America is a good country. But when people threaten violence or incite violence with their words, I truly believe they give up their First Amendment right to free speech. Ted Nugent is not exercising his rights, he’s spreading hate and violence in a country boiling over, and that needs to be addressed as a violation of the letter of the law.

Thanks to NPR for contributions to this article.

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Posted by on August 19, 2012. Filed under COMMENTARY/OPINION. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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2 Responses to Putin, Pussy Riot, Ted Nugent and the First Amendment

  1. Dale Fisk Reply

    August 19, 2012 at 11:36 am

    Russia has changed a lot in the last 40 years but she still has a long way to go. As long as Putin is in charge the old guard will be hiding around every corner.

  2. lincoln82 Reply

    August 19, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Ted Nugent is a dirt-bag. Unfortunately the press gives him a lot of attention.

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