Garland Terrorist Attack: Was It a Distraction From Attacks on Free Speech?

Garland, Texas
An aerial view shows the area around a car that was used the previous night by two gunmen, who were killed by police, as it is investigated by local police and the FBI in Garland, Texas, May 4, 2015. Texas police shot dead two gunmen who opened fire on Sunday outside a free-speech event that included an art exhibit featuring caricatures of Muhammad. |

Many Americans are bursting with pride over the recent exhibition in Garland, Texas. The event featured a contest for drawing insulting cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed, along with talks on Free Speech by Dutch politician Geert Wilders, an opponent of Shariah law, and activist Pam Geller.

Security was tight, and as feared (or possibly hoped) a couple of terrorists showed up to defend the prophet's "honor." In Texas, unlike Paris, the police have guns, so there was no mass slaughter like at Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris. Instead, the two would-be avengers were shot down. Some Americans proclaimed publicly that their two favorite drawings were the police chalk outlines of the fallen bodies.

This was not exactly a defense of the First Amendment, which prohibits Congress from passing laws that abridge freedom of speech. Geller and other conference organizers never expected federal agents to swarm in to shut it down. In America, you can freely insult Mohammed, the Pope, the Dalai Lama, or any other religious figure, without fear of the federal government. You can even get a federal grant for disgusting "art" like a crucifix in a jar of urine. So does the world look up to America as a beacon of high culture, civilization, and freedom?

Freedom of speech of course is not absolute. You would probably get arrested for shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater if there is no fire, but maybe you could get away with inciting a riot by shouting fighting words to a mob. It would seem to depend on perceptions of "social justice," which increasingly seem to override considerations about equal application of the law.

Some speech, while not illegal, is decidedly imprudent. For example, you would not use the epithet for a female dog to apply to the mother of a Mafia don. Such words do not justify murder, but the victim might not get much sympathy.

The Garland event is a distraction from the real issue, which is not really a cherished right to mock people of faith, but the undermining of American law and replacing it with Sharia. That would give Muslim men the right to perform "honor" killings, say if their sister talks to a man. Or in less extreme forms it would undermine the rights of all, subjecting them to arbitrary foreign law with no constitutional protections.

But Sharia is not the most immediate threat to American freedom.

If Geller is truly interested in Americans' right to free speech, she needs to focus more, not on some would-be Muslim martyrs, but on the entity the First Amendment is supposed to protect us from.

She should try going to a school board meeting to denounce Common Core. Parents have been hauled away by police for that.

How about defending students in American public (government) schools who face the ruin of their prospects if they don't abandon their faith and adopt the politically correct orthodoxies? Here it is not a Muslim imam but Science as defined by our government that circumscribes the limits of speech.

Will she speak up for young patients who want help in dealing with unwanted same-sex attractions, and therapists who want to help them? State governments want to ban that, and government licensure boards will deprive practitioners of their livelihood if they defy the law. The U.S. Supreme Court will not intervene. Free speech is limited by the demands of the homosexual rights lobby.

And would Geller support pro-life advocates on government-funded college campuses or on public streets outside abortion clinics? Or is it ok for abortion rights advocates to trample pro-life displays, steal literature, rip up signs, and even assault praying demonstrators? Is it ok for police to imprison these activists in cordoned-off "free speech" zones?

And what about government courts severely punishing small businesses for declining to speak, through their products, in celebration of same-sex wedding ceremonies? There is apparently no longer a right to remain silent where even that might offend certain sensibilities.

In the Middle East, Christians are being slaughtered for refusing to renounce Christ. In America, the penalties are not so harsh.

In Garland, activists stood up for threatened cartoonists. Does anybody care about the others—whether threatened by radical Muslims or radical secularists?

ane M. Orient, M.D., executive director of Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, has been in solo practice of general internal medicine since 1981 and is a clinical lecturer in medicine at the University Of Arizona College Of Medicine.

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