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The Free Exercise of Stupidity Dr. Laura, the Ground Zero Mosque, and the 1st Amendment

Recently, two of the biggest media story brouhahas were Dr. Laura’s N-word gaff and the Ground Zero mosque, both of which commentators insist are First Amendment issues. They are not. Here’s why. First, let’s review the First…

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

(Most people forget that there are actually five freedoms protected in the First Amendment: religion, speech, press, assembly, petition.)

Laura Schlessinger says that she is quitting her job as the biggest female radio show host in the galaxy because, she told Larry King: “I want to regain my First Amendment rights. I want to be able to say what is on my mind.” Sarah Palin chimed in on Twitter that Schlessinger’s First Amendment rights “ceased 2exist thx 2activists trying 2silence her.”

Wrong. The First Amendment applies only to what the government can and cannot do. No government agency is demanding that Dr. Laura step down. No laws are being passed to silence radio talk show hosts (at least not yet—recall last year’s cultural scuffle over whether liberals should be given equal time on all radio shows, including conservative talk radio). This is not a First Amendment issue in the least. Dr. Laura is free to exercise her First Amendment rights to say what is on her mind, including her stupefyingly ignorant opinion that blacks are being hypersensitive when called the N-word by whites. In turn, blacks, whites, and anyone else not from another planet are free to remind Dr. Laura what has transpired over the past half century here on Earth since she’s been away on Mars.

The Ground Zero Mosque issue is equally clearly not a First Amendment issue because, near as I can figure, it is not being built on government land, it is not being funded by tax-payers dollars, and it is not a public building. To that extent, it’s none of the government’s business what the owners and financers of the building want to do with their private property, so they are free to build a mosque near Ground Zero (it’s two blocks away, by the way, not “at” Ground Zero), and by the 4th right of the First Amendment, people are free to peacefully assemble to remind said private land holders and building builders what happened in that neighborhood a scant nine years ago next month.

The government is not—and never should be—in the business of regulating stupidity or making laws respecting the free exercise thereof.

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Expelled Exposed

A film challenging evolution, by game show host
and financial analyst Ben Stein, is a case study
in antiscience propaganda
magazine cover

“Should I be worried about the Crips and the Bloods up here?” These were the first words out of the mouth of Ben Stein as he entered my office at Skeptic magazine, located in the racially mixed neighborhood of Altadena, Calif. I cringed and hoped that the two black women in my employ were out of earshot of what was perhaps merely Stein’s hamhanded attempt at humor before he began interviewing me for what I was told was a film on the intersection of science and religion entitled Crossroads. (continue reading…)

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Testing Tenure: Let the Market Decide

This article was part of an invited open peer commentary on an article entitled “Is Tenure Justified? An Experimental Study of Faculty Beliefs About Tenure, Promotion, and Academic Freedom” by Stephen J. Ceci, Wendy M. Williams, and Katrin Mueller-Johnson, published in a 2006 issue of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, volume 29, pages 553–569.

Abstract of Ceci, et al.

The behavioral sciences have come under attack for writings and speech that affront sensitivities. At such times, academic freedom and tenure are invoked to forestall efforts to censure and terminate jobs. We review the history and controversy surrounding academic freedom and tenure, and explore their meaning across different fields, at different institutions, and at different ranks. In a multifactoral experimental survey, 1,004 randomly selected faculty members from top-ranked institutions were asked how colleagues would typically respond when confronted with dilemmas concerning teaching, research, and wrong-doing. (continue reading…)

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