“[...] I suggested in 'Repressive Tolerance' the practice of discriminating tolerance in an inverse direction, as a means of shifting the balance between Right and Left by restraining the liberty of the Right, thus counteracting the pervasive inequality of freedom (unequal opportunity of access to the means of democratic persuasion) and strengthening the oppressed against the oppressed [sic, should be "oppressors" -AMPP Ed.]. Tolerance would be restricted with respect to movements of a demonstrably aggressive or destructive character (destructive of the prospects for peace, justice, and freedom for all). Such discrimination would also be applied to movements opposing the extension of social legislation to the poor, weak, disabled. [...]”Hear John McCain say “talking about campaign finance reform....I know that money corrupts....I would rather have a clean government than one where quote First Amendment rights are being respected, that has become corrupt. If I had my choice, I'd rather have the clean government.” on the Don Imus Show (MSNBC), 2006-Apr-21, Portsmouth, NH, video courtesy of VMSdigital.com.
-Herbert Marcuse, in a 1968 postcript to his 1965 essay "Repressive Tolerance"
Read Lawrence Lessig's new (2004-Mar-26) book: Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity (PDF download). Lessig's bio (from lessig.org) opens: ``Lawrence Lessig is a Professor of Law at Stanford Law School and founder of the school's Center for Internet and Society. Prior to joining the Stanford faculty, he was the Berkman Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Lessig was also a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, and a Professor at the University of Chicago Law School. He clerked for Judge Richard Posner on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and Justice Antonin Scalia on the United States Supreme Court.''
Also read Defending the First Amendment from Antidiscrimination Laws, adapted from the book You Can't Say That!: The Growing Threat to Civil Liberties from Antidiscrimination Laws (Cato 2003), by David E. Bernstein.
Editor's note on free speech and the Internet: The Internet is like New York City, or in fact all the cities and towns and secluded cult and militia compounds in the world - plus, of course, all the libraries - all just milliseconds away. Parents of young children, indeed all adults entrusted with them, need to respect the Internet the way they respect the real world it reflects. It is their profound responsibility to do so. The state pursues lawbreakers whether the laws are broken on city streets or on the Internet, but it is neither a responsibility, nor indeed a permissible role, for the state to make city streets or the Internet safe for young children to explore and experience, unaccompanied and unguided by responsible, attentive adults. Children must not be left to fend for themselves in the marketplace of ideas. The Internet is not like a video game. When a young child sits in front of a networked computer, there should always be either a non-bypassable access control system gating network access (so that the child can only contact and be contacted by people approved by responsible adults, and web sites audited and approved by responsible adults), or a responsible adult at his side.
from the Wall Street Journal, 2014-Oct-31, by John O'Sullivan:com.mis.sar \'ka:m-*-.sa:r\ n [Russ komissar, fr. G kommissar, fr. ML commissarius] 1a: a Communist party official assigned to a military unit to teach party principles and policies and to ensure party loyalty 1b: one resembling a political commissar in attempting to control public opinion or its expression 2: the head of a government department in the U.S.S.R. until 1946
from the Wall Street Journal, 2014-Dec-19, by Tim Phillips and David Spady:
No Offense: The New Threats to Free SpeechOn Feb. 14, 1989, I happened to be on a panel on press freedom for the Columbia Journalism Review when someone in the audience told us of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's religious edict for blasphemy against the British novelist Salman Rushdie. What did we think? We didn't, as I best recall, disgrace ourselves. We said most of the right things about defending freedom of thought and the imagination.
The U.S. and Britain have long considered themselves the standard-bearers for freedom of expression. Can this proud tradition survive the idea that `hurtful' speech deserves no protection?
But the death sentence from Iran's supreme leader seemed unreal—the sending of a thunderbolt from medieval Qom against modern Bloomsbury—and we didn't treat it with the seriousness that it deserved. I recall, alas, making a very poor joke about literary deconstructionism. My colleagues, though more sensible, were baffled and hesitant. Was it even true—or perhaps just a mistranslation?
We knew soon enough that it was true. The literary, media and political worlds rallied in defense of Mr. Rushdie. He became a hero of free speech and a symbol—even if a slightly ambivalent postcolonial one—of Western liberal traditions. But he also went, very sensibly, behind a curtain of security that was to last many years.
And by degrees—when it seemed that not only Mr. Rushdie's life but the lives of his publishers, editors and translators might be threatened—his base of support in the literary world thinned out. Sensitive intellectuals discovered that, in a multicultural world, respect for the Other meant understanding his traditions too, and these often were, well, sterner than ours. Freedom of speech was only one value to be set against…ahem, several other values. Fear, cowardice and rationalization spread outward.
Twenty-five years later, we can look back on a long series of similar events, including: the 2002 anti-Christian riots in Nigeria, in which more than 200 people were killed because a local tabloid had facetiously suggested that Miss World contestants would make suitable brides for Muhammad; the 2004 murder of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh for his movie “Submission,” in which passages from the Quran were printed on women's bodies; the riots in Denmark and throughout the Middle East in 2005 in response to the publication of cartoons of Muhammad by a Danish magazine; the murder threats against Dutch politician Geert Wilders for his 2008 film “Fitna,” which interleaved passages from the Quran with clips of jihadist violence.
These events were threats to free speech, however, not only in themselves but also because they intimidated people and private organizations and gave governments an excuse to restrict free media. Over time, they encouraged others who had no interest in Islam whatsoever—from wealthy individuals to “dissident” minorities to democratic politicians—to try their hand at silencing opponents. Almost no newspapers published the Muhammad cartoons, for instance, though the story of them dominated the international media for weeks. Yale University Press especially distinguished itself by publishing a major study of the controversy in 2009—without the actual drawings.
Governments began to treat those threatened for their opinions almost as harshly as those attacking them. Dutch legal authorities tried repeatedly, if unsuccessfully, to prosecute Mr. Wilders for “inciting hatred” with his film. He was briefly prohibited from entering Britain. In 2006, Tony Blair's government passed the Racial and Religious Hatred Act—a kind of “blasphemy lite” law—ostensibly designed to protect all religions against threatening expression but generally understood as intended to limit hostile criticism of Islam. Both the U.S. and the European Union have entered into a dialogue in recent years with the 56 states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which is seeking an international law prohibiting blasphemy. In 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the OIC that, while the First Amendment prevented the U.S. from prohibiting speech, the administration might still “use some old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming so that people don't feel they have the support to do what we abhor.”
Admittedly, it is difficult to draw a clear line between criticism of an Islamic belief and an attack on Muslims who believe it. If you denounce a belief as absurd, you are implicitly criticizing the believers as credulous fools. Christians have to endure explicit denunciations of their faith all the time from such writers as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. And so they should. If you can't stand the heat, don't listen to hellfire sermons from atheists.
Hearing criticisms of your own convictions and learning the beliefs of others are training for life in a multifaith society. Preventing open debate means that all believers, including atheists, remain in the prison of unconsidered opinion. The right to be offended, which is the other side of free speech, is therefore a genuine right. True belief and honest doubt are both impossible without it.
It isn't just some Muslims who want the false comfort of censoring disagreeable opinions. Far from it. Gays, Christians, feminists, patriots, foreign despots, ethnic activists—or organizations claiming to speak for them—are among the many groups seeking relief from the criticism of others through the courts, the legislatures and the public square.
England's libel laws—long a scandalous system for enabling the rich to suppress their scandals—now have imitations in Europe and the U.S. In May 2014, the European Court of Justice created “the right to be forgotten,” enabling those with ugly pasts—a fraudster, a failed politician, an anti-Muslim bigot perhaps—to delete their crimes, misdemeanors and embarrassments from Internet records so that search engines cannot find them.
Surely such things can't happen in the land of the First Amendment? Not in quite the same way, perhaps, but a libel suit brought by the climatologist Michael Mann against the opinion writer Mark Steyn, National Review magazine (with which I am affiliated) and the Competitive Enterprise Institute for their criticism of his temperature projections still poses a chilling threat to free speech and scientific debate. Even if the case is ultimately resolved in favor of Mr. Mann's critics, they will have suffered a considerable loss in time and money. “The process is the punishment,” Mr. Steyn has said of such trials. It is also a deterrent to future critics.
Nor are conservatives free from sin on this issue. In recent years, their attacks on free expression in the U.S. have generally been prompted by a philistine discomfort with provocative art, from the “Sensation” exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in 1999 to the more recent flap over “The Death of Klinghoffer” at New York's Metropolitan Opera.
In Britain, the sitting Tory home secretary, Theresa May, long resisted efforts to reform a catchall law regulating speech that the police have enforced with extraordinary zeal and no sense of proportion. These police actions include arresting a protester for asking a policeman “Is your horse gay?”; prosecuting a drunken soccer fan who, from his sofa, attacked a player in a racist tweet; summoning a youngster to appear in court for a placard describing Scientology as a cult; and arresting a Muslim demonstrator for burning a Remembrance Poppy.
Under the new British law, an evangelical Christian also was fined for holding up a sign that read “Stop Homosexuality, Stop Lesbianism.” But he was lucky. A human rights tribunal in Canada imposed a lifetime ban on sermonizing about homosexuality on a clergyman who had similarly offended. In both countries, the restraints on speech have since been softened, but the concessions have been modest, and Canada's Supreme Court has clearly indicated a wish to retain the new speech regime in full.
This slow erosion of freedom of expression has come about in ways both social and legal. Before the 1960s, arguments for censorship tended to focus on sexual morality, pornography and obscenity. The censors themselves were usually depicted as benighted moral conservatives—priggish maiden aunts. Freedom of political speech, however, was regarded as sacrosanct by all. As legal restraints on obscenity fell away, however, freedom of political speech began to come under attack from a different kind of censor—college administrators, ethnic-grievance groups, gay and feminist advocates.
The new censors advanced such arguments as that “free speech can never be an excuse for racism.” These arguments are essentially exercises both in begging the question and in confusing it. While the principle of free speech cannot justify racism any more than it can disprove racism, it is the only principle that can allow us to judge whether or not particular speech is racist. Thus the censor's argument should be reversed: “Accusations of racism can never be an excuse for prohibiting free speech.”
Meanwhile, the narrowly legal grounds for restricting speech changed, too. Since the 18th century, the basic legal justifications for restricting political speech and publication were direct incitement to harm, national security, maintaining public order, libel, etc. Content wasn't supposed to be considered (though it was sometimes smuggled in under other headings).
Today, content is increasingly the explicit justification for restricting speech. The argument used, especially in colleges, is that “words hurt.” Thus, universities, parliaments, courts and various international bodies intervene promiscuously to restrict hurtful or offensive speech—with the results described above. In the new climate, hurtful speech is much more likely to be political speech than obscene speech.
The definition of political speech has changed too. The U.S. Supreme Court has expanded it to include nonspeech actions, such as nude dancing. Conservative judges such as the late Robert Bork had some fun pointing out that, under the Court's rulings, students couldn't lawfully pray before a football game, but they might dance naked—unless the dance included scarves, since this might constitute a prohibited “biblical” allusion to Salome's veils.
There is plainly scope for disagreement over what actions amount to protected speech, but in a landmark ruling in 1989, the Supreme Court decided that burning the American flag was among them. If one accepts the notion of nonspeech opinion, it is difficult to disagree. Burning the flag of the U.S., however odious, is plainly a statement meant to reject American power and legitimacy.
The Court's judgment in this case was the apogee of post-Vietnam free speech liberalism. But to bring the issue up-to-date: Burning the Quran also expresses a political opinion. Would today's justices reach the same conclusion as their predecessors did on the question of flag-burning? Would a U.S. administration that is discussing an international blasphemy law with the world's Islamic states tell the Court that burning a Quran is also protected speech? It is, at the very least, doubtful.
We know that today's British government wouldn't do so. Burning a Remembrance Day poppy is the British equivalent of flag-burning, and Ms. May, the home secretary, implicitly disagreed with the American precedent in her defense of Britain's restrictive laws. She explained that “a careful balance [had] to be struck between protecting our proud tradition of free speech and taking action against those who cause widespread offense.” Realistically parsed, this amounts to an acknowledgment that Britain's proud tradition of free speech will not in fact be protected. Speech that offends significant groups of people—as distinguished from speech that directly invites or threatens violence—will be censored or punished.
Some years ago, the liberal writer Michael Kinsley described the different attitudes to free speech in the U.K. and the U.S. as follows: “In a country like Great Britain, the legal protections for speech are weaker than ours, but the social protections are stronger. They lack a First Amendment, but they have thicker skin and a greater acceptance of eccentricity of all sorts.”
Today, both sorts of protection for speech—legal and social—are weaker than before in both countries. This year, official regulation of the press was passed into U.K. law for the first time since 18th-century juries nullified press prosecutions. These new restraints enjoyed the backing not just of all the parties but apparently of the public as well.
In the U.S., the case of Mann v. Steyn, let alone a hypothetical case involving Quran-burning, has yet to be decided. But Democrats in the Senate are seeking to restrict political speech by restricting the money spent to promote it. And in the private sector, American corporations have blacklisted employees for expressing or financing certain unfashionable opinions. In short, a public culture that used to be liberal is now “progressive”—which is something like liberalism minus its commitment to freedom.
The U.S. and Britain have long thought of themselves as, above all, free countries. If that identity continues to atrophy, free speech will be the first victim. But it will not be the last.
Mr. O'Sullivan is director of the Danube Institute in Budapest and a senior fellow of the National Review Institute in New York.
from Reuters, 2014-Dec-18, by Eric Kelsey, Lisa Richwine and Piya Sinha-Roy, with additional reporting by Jim Finkle in Boston, Mark Hosenball in Washington, Thomas Wilson and Reiji Murai in Tokyo, and editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Richard Chang and Raju Gopalakrishnan:
A California Assault on Free Speech That Would Shock the Founders`Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.”
The state's attorney general is attempting to silence a foundation that educates Americans on free markets.
Benjamin Franklin's warning is perhaps more apt today than at any point in American history. In the past four years, the Democratic Party and the progressive movement have been dealt devastating losses at the ballot box, in large part because voters rejected their policies as violations of fundamental liberties.
Yet rather than debate the merits of their policies, many on the left responded with a coordinated campaign to suppress free speech—primarily by intimidating, demonizing and silencing the people who opposed and defeated them. Examples include the Internal Revenue Services' targeting of conservative nonprofit groups, Senate Democrats' recent attempt to write a new constitutional amendment that would gut the First Amendment, and a host of other anti-free-speech efforts at both the state and federal level.
Our organizations, Americans for Prosperity, a nonprofit advocacy group that mobilizes grass-roots activists to support or oppose specific legislation and hold lawmakers accountable, and Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which educates citizens about the benefits of free-market policies, have been among the left's primary targets.
President Obama has personally leveled attacks on our nonprofits on numerous occasions, as has Majority Leader Harry Reid in speeches from the Senate floor. Their allies, whether in Congress, in the federal bureaucracy or affiliated groups, have gone to great lengths to discredit and destroy us.
On Dec. 9 the AFP Foundation filed suit in federal court to stop the latest such attack—California Attorney General Kamala Harris 's demand that we disclose our donors, including their names, addresses and contribution levels. Ms. Harris has indicated that the penalty for noncompliance will be financial penalties for our individual officers and directors as well as a denial of nonprofit status, essentially ending our work in the state of California.
Ms. Harris claims she will not disclose this information to the public. But this is a hollow promise. There is no provision of California law that ensures confidentiality. Indeed, California law appears to be to the contrary, requiring her to disclose information in her possession upon request from the public. The likely outcome is that her allies on the left will use the information to target and ultimately suppress our organization and those who support it.
Ms. Harris's demand derives no support from existing statutes or regulations. Neither state nor federal law requires nonprofits like the AFP Foundation to disclose the information she has requested. The organization has operated in California for more than 13 years, a period in which our donor and member information was never required or otherwise requested by state officials. We have fully complied with the laws and regulations that govern nonprofits. Nothing has changed, except perhaps the politicization of the office which Ms. Harris now holds.
Without any law to back up her demand, our conclusion is that the attorney general is attempting to silence our organization and its supporters.
The left has mounted a campaign against right-of-center organizations like ours for years. This trend began in the 2010 midterm election cycle when the left—facing a looming defeat at the ballot box—began characterizing nonprofits like ours as “dark” and “shadowy,” simply because our donors are anonymous. The IRS also began surreptitiously targeting many right-leaning groups that wished to use their First Amendment freedoms to speak about political issues.
Nevertheless, federal law expressly allows and protects anonymous membership for organizations of any political view, and organizations leaning both right and left operate in the same fashion. The Supreme Court has defended the First Amendment right of groups to maintain the privacy of their donors and members as well as their right to engage in anonymous political speech.
These attacks escalated in the 2012 election cycle. Among other things, the IRS began auditing people who donated to groups opposing President Obama's re-election. Such actions certainly benefited the president and his party, which emerged victorious on Election Day.
Perhaps the most alarming attack on free speech was unveiled earlier this year by the U.S. Senate. Fifty-four senators—all Democrats or independents who caucus with the Democrats—supported an unprecedented constitutional amendment to the Bill of Rights that would give Congress unlimited power to regulate, limit and suppress speech that affects politics. This potentially includes all speech. This measure—which ultimately failed to clear a necessary procedural vote in the Senate—is so sweeping that even the American Civil Liberties Union denounced it as essentially repealing the First Amendment.
Absent such an absurd new power, the left must instead rely on partisan politicians like California's Ms. Harris to harass organizations like ours. We are hopeful that the federal courts, starting with our suit in California, will rebuke such actions and recognize them as the unconstitutional assaults on free speech that they are. American democracy depends on a vigorous debate about the issues facing our country and the best policies to address them. Attempts to silence dissent and stifle disagreement demean our democratic process and weaken us as a nation.
Mr. Phillips is the president and Mr. Spady is the California state director of Americans for Prosperity.
from the Washington Post, 2014-Dec-23, by Hayley Tsukayama and Cecilia Kang, with Greg Jaffe contributing:
U.S. determines North Korea behind Sony attack as studio pulls movieU.S. investigators have determined North Korea was behind a cyber-attack on Sony Pictures, a U.S. government source said, an unprecedented act that has forced the studio to cancel releasing a comedy about the fictional assassination of North Korea's leader.
Hackers who said they were incensed by the film attacked Sony Corp (6758.T) last month, leaking documents that drew global headlines and distributing unreleased films on the Internet.
Washington may soon officially announce that the North Korean government was behind the attack, the U.S. government source said.
The $44 million raunchy comedy, "The Interview", had been set to debut on Dec. 25, Christmas Day, on thousands of screens.
"Sony has no further release plans for the film," a Sony spokeswoman said on Wednesday when asked whether the movie would be released later in theaters or as video on demand.
Earlier in the day, Sony canceled next week's theatrical release, citing decisions by several theater chains to hold off showing the film. The hacker group that broke into Sony's computer systems had threatened attacks on theaters that planned to show it.
North Korea has denied it was behind the hacking, but security experts in Washington said it was an open secret Pyongyang was responsible.
"The North Koreans are probably tickled pink," said Jim Lewis, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Nobody has ever done anything this blatant in terms of political manipulation. This is a new high."
Sony came under immediate criticism for the decision to pull the movie.
"With the Sony collapse, America has lost its first cyberwar. This is a very, very dangerous precedent," said former Republican House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich in a Twitter post.
However, Sony's shares traded as much as five percent higher in Tokyo on Thursday as investors said there was hope the movie's cancellation would help bring an end to the crisis.
"By not releasing the movie, they won't be hacked again. Investors think that from here on, further damage probably won't be done," said Makoto Kikuchi, CEO of Myojo Asset Management. "Whether that justifies a 5 percent jump in Sony's stock, I'm not so sure."
Macquarie analyst Damian Thong estimated last week, before the cancellation of "The Interview", that losses from the hacking including online leaks of other movies such as “Fury” and “Annie”, would likely be around 10 billion yen ($84.41 million). The worst case scenario, he said, would be an impairment of 25 billion yen.
The film industry showed support for the film in various ways. Hollywood filmmakers and actors, many of them friends of "The Interview" stars Seth Rogen and James Franco, also criticized the decision made by theaters and Sony.
Texas cinema chain Alamo Drafthouse said its Dallas-Fort Worth theater would show the puppet-comedy "Team America: World Police" in which a U.S. paramilitary force try to foil a terrorist plot by late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
The White House National Security Council said the United States was investigating the Sony breach and would provide an update about who did it at the appropriate time.
"The U.S. government is working tirelessly to bring the perpetrators of this attack to justice, and we are considering a range of options in weighing a potential response," NSC spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said, adding that the government was not involved with Sony's decision to pull the film.
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation warned theaters and other businesses associated with "The Interview" on Tuesday that they could be targeted in cyber-attacks, according a copy of the document reviewed by Reuters.
Still, several U.S. national security officials told Reuters the government had no credible evidence of a physical threat to moviegoers.
Sony said it was "deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company."
The studio said it stood by the film makers of "The Interview".
from the Wall Street Journal, 2014-Nov-26, by Sam Schechner and Frances Robinson:
Sony confirms The Interview' will have Christmas Day screenings after all"The Interview" is getting time on the big screen this Christmas after all.
In a statement Tuesday, Sony confirmed that it will be releasing the film in "limited release" in the United States on Christmas Day.
"We have never given up on releasing The Interview and we're excited our movie will be in a number of theaters on Christmas Day," said Michael Lynton, Chairman and CEO of Sony Entertainment. "At the same time, we are continuing our efforts to secure more platforms and more theaters so that this movie reaches the largest possible audience." Based on a screenplay by Dan Sterling, "The Interview" tells the story of two celebrity journalists (James Franco and Seth Rogen) who land an interview with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on their popular television show, only to have the CIA ask them to assassinate him. (Sony Pictures)
Sony initially put the movie's release on ice after threats of terrorist attacks from hackers who stole and released countless documents -- many embarrassing -- from the studio last month. The attack, which the U.S. government has attributed to hackers backed by North Korea, was allegedly prompted by the comedy, which revolves around two Americans' plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The studio did not say how many theaters will be a part of the release. A Twitter message from the chief executive of Alamo Drafthouse, a chain of movie theaters founded in Austin, Tex. with several national locations, confirmed that that chain will be a part of the film's release.
Another cinema, the Plaza Theater in Atlanta, also said on Twitter that it will be screening the film on Christmas. On Tuesday, both theater companies began listing Dec. 25 showtimes for the movie.
Star and co-director of "The Interview" Seth Rogen celebrated on Twitter.
The studio has been the target of harsh criticism following its decision to pull the film. Last week, President Obama called the decision "a mistake."
After the public blowback for its decision to cancel the Christmas day release of "The Interview," Sony scrambled in the last day to negotiate the limited release of the film to about 200 screens out of the originally planned release for 3,800 screens, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.
Sony Pictures Entertainment told theater owners it would do a simultaneous release of the film online for Christmas day but didn't disclose details on which vendor would provide streaming or downloads of the film, according to the source who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks were private.
It did not appear that the major theater chains, such as Regal and AMC, were part of the Christmas Day release plans.
A spokesman for Sony Pictures Entertainment said the studio is "still exploring other distribution options," and did not respond to questions about simultaneous online release plans. Netflix and Apple, which both have wide distribution platforms for streaming movies, declined to comment.
Movie theater owners have long balked at the idea of movies being released online at the same time they appear in theaters. Movie theaters have traditionally enjoyed first rights to show movies, part of a way to keep audiences coming to theaters when consumers have increasing options to watch movies at home.
Lynton did not address the question of whether the studio will release the film online over on-demand streaming services. But he did indicate this is not the last we'll hear of the film.
"While we hope this is only the first step of the film's release, we are proud to make it available to the public and to have stood up to those who attempted to suppress free speech," Lynton said.
The White House praised Sony's move on Tuesday.
"The President applauds Sony's decision to authorize screenings of the film,” said Eric Schultz, a White House spokesman. “As the President made clear, we are a country that believes in free speech, and the right of artistic expression. The decision made by Sony and participating theaters allows people to make their own choices about the film, and we welcome that outcome.”
North Korea's government did not immediately respond to Sony's decision. The isolationist nation's government has strongly rebuked "The Interview," but it has denied any involvement in the cyberattack against Sony.
But pressure has mounted against the North Korean government in the last few days. On Monday, North Korea's limited access to the Internet was shut down for more than nine hours. The UN General Assembly also held discussions on the nation's human rights abuses this week. In the past, North Korea has launched cyber and other military offenses around the holidays.
"There's a lot of stuff coming together now," said Victor Cha, a senior fellow at the Center for International and Strategic and International Studies. It's "hard for me to think North Korea will remain quiet, especially because they like to do things around U.S. holiday."
from Reason, 2014-Nov-8, by Brendan O'Neill:
EU Says Google Should Extend `Right to Be Forgotten' to `.com' WebsitesEurope's privacy regulators want the right to be forgotten to go global.
Guidelines Could Escalate Disagreement Between Regulators and Search Engine Giant
In a new set of guidelines agreed Wednesday in Brussels, the body representing the EU's 28 national privacy regulators said that search engines should apply the bloc's new right to be forgotten to all of their websites—in particular .com websites like Google . com, which Google Inc. had excluded from the new rule.
Representatives of the body also said that Google and other search engines should limit how they notify websites that their Web pages have been the subject of such removals, saying that there is “no legal basis” to make such notifications on a “routine” basis.
The guidelines escalate a disagreement between regulators and the search giant over how to implement a May decision by Europe's top court, which determined that individuals in Europe have an online “right to be forgotten” that applies to Internet search engines. That battle is only the latest Google is facing with European authorities: they had a hefty French bill for back taxes and a call from the EU parliament to “unbundle” its search business from other commercial businesses.
At issue in Wednesday's opinion is how broadly Google must apply the court ruling, under which people can demand that Google and other engines remove links to pages that come up when one searches for their names. Privacy advocates allege that Google has been undermining the new right by limiting its application, while free speech advocates say the rule is a gateway to Internet censorship that will whitewash the Web.
While Google moved quickly to apply the ruling over the summer, it has only applied removals to European domains, like Google.fr or Google.co.uk, but not Google.com, even when accessed in Europe. That can make it easier to find results that have been removed by comparing the websites.
Google also moved to send notifications to websites when they had been the subject of removals—a move that irked privacy regulators because it wasn't specified in the ruling, and made it possible to use a process of elimination to figure out who may have requested the removal of a given link.
“The court says the delisting decision has to be effective,” said Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, chairwoman of the pan-European advisory body that issued Wednesday's opinion, and head of France's data-protection regulator. “These decisions should not be easily circumvented by anybody.”
A Google spokesman said: “We haven't yet seen the Article 29 Working Party's guidelines, but we will study them carefully when they're published.”
It remains unclear whether Google will move to implement the regulators' opinion, the full text of which wasn't immediately available. The body that issued the Article 29 Working Party doesn't have any enforcement power. But its opinions reflect the consensus position of national regulators, which themselves can pursue enforcement action and lawsuits against companies under their own national laws.
Regulators in Germany, France and the U.K. have, for instance, already received 440 complaints from individuals regarding Google's implementation of the ruling, the regulators say. That could give them grounds to pursue the search giant, and eventually issue fines.
Google has already struck a defiant stance on the issues of where to apply the right to be forgotten, and whether to issue notifications. In early October, a federation representing Germany's multiple data protection authorities also asserted that the new right to be forgotten must be applied globally, and said that search engines aren't authorized to “routinely” notify content providers.
“The protection of the individual from the unauthorized circulation of personal data must apply everywhere,” the German regulators wrote.
In response, Google made no changes to its process. Speaking at a privacy conference in Brussels last week, Google's global privacy counsel, Peter Fleischer, said the company consciously chose to limit its application of the new rule. “Other courts in other parts of the world would never have reached the result that the European Court of Justice reached,” Mr. Fleischer said.
Google may consider a way to apply the ruling on Google.com without applying it globally, people close to the company said. The company could do so by returning different results depending on whether the person is searching from an Internet Protocol address located within the EU. But it is unclear if such a move would satisfy regulators, as it would only make it harder to sidestep the ruling inside the EU, not globally.
“These are fundamental rights. My rights don't go away at the border,” one data-protection official said of the idea of using IP addresses to apply the rule.
Google has also defended its notifications, arguing that the process laid out by the court, which gives a requester the right to appeal Google's decisions to local data-protection regulators, should be balanced by giving the people whose content is being removed the ability to appeal a removal.
“We are dealing with competing fundamental human rights,” Mr. Fleischer said last week. Without notifications, “this is not a court with two sides,” he said.
The ruling has already had an impact across Europe. Google says that more than 174,000 people have requested removal of more than 600,000 search results from searches from their own names. The company says it has removed about 42% of the links it has had a chance to evaluate from the requester's search results—though the rate varies from more than half of links removed from requesters' results in Germany and France, to barely a quarter in Italy and Portugal.
The rate is far lower in countries where more people request the removal of links to newspaper articles, rather than to information on sites like Facebook , according to a person familiar with the process.
from the Wall Street Journal, 2014-Oct-20:
Britain Poised to Muzzle 'Extremist' SpeechIn Britain, if you have extreme views on anything from Western democracy to women's role in public life, you might soon require a licence from the government before you can speak in public. Seriously.
The country that gave us free expression may be backpedaling.
Nearly 350 years after us Brits abolished the licensing of the press, whereby every publisher had to get the blessing of the government before he could press and promote his ideas, a new system of licensing is being proposed. And it's one which, incredibly, is even more tyrannical than yesteryear's press licensing since it would extend to individuals, too, potentially forbidding ordinary citizens from opening their gobs in public without officialdom's say-so.
It's the brainchild of Theresa May, the Home Secretary in David Cameron's government. May wants to introduce "extremism disruption orders", which, yes, are as terrifyingly authoritarian as they sound.
Last month, May unveiled her ambition to "eliminate extremism in all its forms." Whether you're a neo-Nazi or an Islamist, or just someone who says things which betray, in May's words, a lack of "respect for the rule of law" and "respect for minorities", then you could be served with an extremism disruption order (EDO).
Strikingly, EDOs will target even individuals who do not espouse or promote violence, which is already a crime in the U.K. As May says, "The problem that we have had is this distinction of saying we will only go after you if you are an extremist that directly supports violence. [This] has left the field open for extremists who know how not to step over the line." How telling that a leading British politician should be snotty about "this distinction" between speech and violence, between words and actions, which isn't actually some glitch in the legal system, as she seems to think, but rather is the foundation stone on which every free, democratic society ought to be built.
Once served with an EDO, you will be banned from publishing on the Internet, speaking in a public forum, or appearing on TV. To say something online, including just tweeting or posting on Facebook, you will need the permission of the police. There will be a "requirement to submit to the police in advance any proposed publication on the web, social media or print." That is, you will effectively need a licence from the state to speak, to publish, even to tweet, just as writers and poets did in the 1600s before the licensing of the press was swept away and modern, enlightened Britain was born (or so we thought).
What sort of people might find themselves branded "extremists" and thus forbidden from speaking in public? Anyone, really. The definition of extremist being bandied about by May and her colleagues is so sweeping that pretty much all individuals with outré or edgy views could potentially find themselves served with an EDO and no longer allowed to make any public utterance without government approval.
So you won't have to incite violence to be labelled an extremist —in May's words, these extremism-disrupting orders will go "beyond terrorism." May says far-right activists and Islamist hotheads who have not committed any crime or incited violence could be served with an order to shut the hell up. She has also talked about people who think "a woman's intellect [is] deficient," or who have "denounced people on the basis of their religious beliefs," or who have "rejected democracy"—these folk, too, could potentially be branded extremists and silenced. In short, it could become a crime punishable by gagging to be a sexist or a religion-hater or someone who despises democracy.
Never mind violence, you won't even have to incite hatred in order to be judged an extremist. As one newspaper report sums it up, the aim is "to catch not just those who spread or incite hatred," but anyone who indulges in "harmful activities" that could cause "public disorder" or "alarm or distress" or a "threat to the functioning of democracy." (By "harmful activities", the government really means "harmful words"—there's that Orwellian slip again.) This is such a cynically flabby definition of extremism that it could cover any form of impassioned, angry political or moral speech, much of which regularly causes "alarm or distress" to some of the people who hear it.
As some Christian campaigners recently pointed out, they are frequently accused by their opponents of being "extremists" and of "spreading hatred" simply for opposing gay marriage and taking other traditional stances. Will they potentially be silenced for saying extreme things and causing distress? It's not beyond the realms of possibility, given that May has said that anyone who wants to avoid being thought of as an extremist should "respect British values and institutions" and express "respect for minorities." Slamming gay marriage could very well be read as disrespect for a British institution (gay marriage was legalised here this year) and disrespect for a minority.
What the government is proposing is the punishment of thoughtcrimes, plain and simple. Its insistence that officialdom must now move beyond policing violence and incitements to violence and start clamping down on hotheaded, "harmful" speech that simply distresses people is about colonising the world of thought, of speech, of mere intellectual interaction between individuals—spheres officialdom has no business in policing.
But self-styled progressives, members of the left and those who consider themselves liberal, don't have much of a leg to stand on when it comes to challenging May's tyrannical proposals. For it is was their own arguments, their claims over the past decade that "hate speech" is dangerous and must be controlled and curbed, that gave legitimacy to May's vast silencing project, that inflamed the government's belief that it has the right to police heated minds and not just heated behaviour.
For the best part of two decades, so-called progressives have been spreading fear about the impact of dodgy words and dangerous ideas on the fabric of society. On campuses, in academia, in public life, they've continually pushed the notion that words hurt, that they cause terrible psychic damage, especially to vulnerable groups, wrecking people's self-esteem and making individuals feel worthless. From Britain's student-union officials who have banned Robin Thicke's 'Blurred Lines' in the name of protecting "students' wellbeing" to feminists who have demanded (and won) the arrest and imprisonment of misogynistic trolls, a climate of intolerance towards testy and vulgar speech has already been created in Britain, and the government is merely milking it.
May's proposal to set up a system of licensing for speech, essentially to provide a license to those who respect British values and deny it to those who don't, is the ugly, authoritarian endpoint to the mad obsession with hate speech that has enveloped much of the Western world in recent years.
We should defend extremists. Extremism can be good. I'm an extremist, especially on freedom of speech, which I don't think should ever be limited. Extremists enliven public debate; they sex it up, stir it up, forcing us all to rethink our outlooks and attitudes and sometimes to change our minds. A world without extremists would be conformist and dull and spiritually and intellectually dead.
Let's remember the words of the 17th-century poet John Milton in his impassioned argument against those authorities that last tried to license public expression: "Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties." Guess what was said about Milton after he said those words? Yep, he was called an extremist.
Brendan O'Neill is editor of spiked in London.
from National Review, 2014-Oct-15, by David French:
The Latest Speech AssaultSome of our readers have asked why we've devoted so much space to the Wisconsin prosecutorial probe of conservatives for supposed campaign-finance violations. One reason is to oppose a particular injustice, but Wisconsin is also on the front lines of the latest national offensive to regulate free political speech and assembly.
Liberals want to regulate `coordination,' but a judge blows the whistle in Wisconsin.
That came into stark view last week with a new and welcome judicial ruling in Wisconsin, only days after the Brennan Center issued a trumpet call for government to find more ways to criminalize campaign spending. The new liberal target is “coordination” between politicians and independent groups. This is dangerous stuff.
***First, the good news from Wisconsin, where federal Judge Rudolph Randa issued an order last week preventing prosecutors and the state's Government Accountability Board from prosecuting groups for coordinating on issue advocacy. The judge issued the order because he noted that the plaintiff against the state was “likely to succeed on the merits.”
That plaintiff is Citizens for Responsible Government Advocates, an advocacy group that wants to collaborate with politicians on a project called “Take Charge Wisconsin” to educate the public about fiscal responsibility and property rights. But the group was unsure it could proceed under Wisconsin law as interpreted by prosecutors, so it sought relief in federal court.
The problem is that Wisconsin and other states have set up elaborate bureaucracies like the Government Accountability Board (GAB) to police free speech and harass individuals and groups that want to run political advertising. Wisconsin's GAB and Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm “have taken the position that coordinated issue advocacy is illegal under Wisconsin's campaign finance law,” wrote Judge Randa.
That legal interpretation has already been rejected by state judge Gregory Peterson, but the state and Mr. Chisholm are appealing. Thanks to Judge Randa's ruling, at least the conservatives will be able to engage in issue advocacy without fear of prosecution in the few remaining days before the election.
Judge Randa notes in his order that the only permissible speech regulations are those that target corruption or its appearance. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with that logic earlier this year in Wis. Right to Life v. Barland. “As applied to political speakers other than candidates, their committees, and political parties,” the Seventh Circuit wrote, the definition of political purposes and political committee “are limited to express advocacy and its functional equivalent as those terms were explained in Buckley.”
Express advocacy is the legal term for advocating for or against candidates, and Buckley is the 1976 Supreme Court case that established the corruption standard for regulating speech. Issue advocacy, by contrast, gets the highest possible protection under the First Amendment.
It's important to understand that this political attack on “coordination” is part of a larger liberal campaign. The Brennan Center—the George Soros-funded brains of the movement to restrict political speech—issued a report this month that urges regulators to police coordination between individuals and candidates as if it were a crime.
The report raises alarms that independent expenditures have exploded since the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, as if trying to influence elections isn't normal in a democracy. The political left wants to treat independent expenditures as a “contribution” to candidates limited under campaign-finance law to $2,600 per election. That would essentially ban independent issue advocacy, since you can't buy much air time for $2,600.
Such regulation is also an assault on freedom of association. If like-minded people can't pool resources to influence elections, they are essentially shut out of modern political debate.
All the more so if citizens who do join together can be harassed by regulators or prosecutors. That's clearly the intention of the Brennan speech enforcers, who survey state efforts to regulate speech and urge others to pick up the truncheon.
The authors recommend that regulators require “`cooling off' periods” before advisers to a political candidate can raise money for an independent group. So David Axelrod would have been barred for some period after he left the Obama campaign from raising money for a pro-Obama operation. We don't recall seeing “cooling off period” in the First Amendment. How long is reasonable for giving up your free-speech rights? Two years?
Another regulatory gem would create “firewalls” between candidates and outside groups—that is, “written protocols” that would bar the two from sharing advisers or campaign services. Imagine the opportunities for political harassment as regulators searched high and low for evidence that their protocols were violated. The cost of answering subpoenas alone would deter most sane people from taking the risk of doing issue advocacy.
What's going on here is a concerted political effort to use government to inhibit speech that politicians don't like. Kudos to Judge Randa for blowing the whistle in Wisconsin, but look for more mischief soon in a state near you.
from Religion News Service via the Washington Post, 2014-Oct-17, by Scott R. Murray:
City of Houston Attacks Pastors, then Doubles DownThe story sounds like something you'd read on a crazed e-mail forward — the city of Houston demands to see the contents of pastors' sermons on the topic of homosexuality, gender identity, and . . . restroom access. In fact, when I first heard the story from a parent at my kids' school, I didn't believe it.
But, yes, it's true. In fact, the reality is even worse than the reports. Houston — as part of its litigation strategy opposing a voter lawsuit filed after the city rejected voter petitions to repeal a law that allows members of the opposite sex into bathrooms — has issued subpoenas that don't just demand pastors' sermons on the topics of “equal rights, civil rights, homosexuality, or gender identity,” (and, of course, “restroom access”), they also demand all documents including ”emails, instant messages, and text messages” on those same topics.
So, if a pastor is engaged in a theological discussion with a fellow pastor on the covered topics, that will have to be produced. If a pastor texts a friend his position on “restroom access,” that has to be produced.
Oh, and did I mention that the pastors aren't even parties to the lawsuit?
The sexual revolution, apparently, brooks no dissent. Not even from the pulpit, or in Skype chat boxes.
As I looked closer at the issue, the best-case scenario was this was “merely” (as Ed Whelan points out) big-firm scorched-earth litigation tactics, the kind of harassment that veteran litigators engage in almost without thinking, and certainly without thinking through the First Amendment implications.
But then I saw this tweet from the Houston mayor:
If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game. Were instructions given on filling out anti-HERO petition?-AUmm, no. Pastors are not “fair game” simply for doing their job. First — and contrary to popular leftist belief — pastors can absolutely educate their flock, engage in issue advocacy, and even endorse ballot referenda from the pulpit. That does not make them “fair game.” Under IRS rules, they have an unlimited right to engage in issue advocacy, and they can endorse ballot referenda so long as the endorsement-related activities do not constitute a “substantial part” of the church's activities in a given year. But those are IRS rules and utterly irrelevant to a state-court lawsuit regarding the validity of voter signatures.
— Annise Parker (@AnniseParker) October 15, 2014
Second, there is a degree of constitutionally protected privacy in your First Amendment–protected speech. For example, in DeGregory v. New Hampshire, the Supreme Court quashed a state inquiry into a citizen's past ”subversive” activities with the Communist party. In the words of the Court:
The Attorney General further sought to have him disclose information relating to his political associations of an earlier day, the meetings he attended, and the views expressed and ideas advocated at any such gatherings.The Court noted that compelled disclosure was “objectionable and damaging in the extreme to one whose associations and political views do not command majority approval” and held that in the absence of an “overriding and compelling state interest,” Mr. DeGregory could, in fact, keep his views to himself. Speaking more broadly, the Court declared that “The First Amendment prevents use of the power to investigate enforced by the contempt power to probe at will and without relation to existing need.”
And what, pray tell, is the “existing need” here? To hear the mayor of Houston tell it, the “existing need” is to find out if pastors used their First Amendment–protected speech (including sending personal e-mails and text messages) for “political” purposes, something they had the right to do. If there is a specific allegation of wrongdoing against a specific pastor, then make that allegation. Otherwise, the fishing expedition is unconstitutional, and chillingly so.
I agree with Eugene Volokh when he says, that “at the very least, the subpoena seems vastly overbroad.” But his post on the topic spends most of its time exploring a question that's not really at issue — whether a pastor's sermons are always off limits in civil discovery. The issue here is entirely different — whether the mere existence of civil litigation regarding a contentious ballot issue can be a pretext for publicly exposing the public and private communications of pastors who are not even parties to the litigation. What's next, subpoenaing all political donor emails when there's an election challenge?
The message Houston is sending is clear: You'll agree with our dictates or you'll be humiliated.
My good friends at Alliance Defending Freedom have filed a motion to quash the city's subpoenas. May God bless their efforts. We'll soon see whether, as Mark Steyn predicts, our First Amendment isn't robust enough to survive a transgendered bathroom ordinance.
from the Houston Chronicle, 2014-Oct-29, by Katherine Driessen and Mike Morris:
Why I stand with the Houston FiveHOUSTON — Recently, Houston city attorneys, acting on behalf of Mayor Annise Parker and the City Council, issued subpoenas to five area pastors requiring they hand over copies of all communication with members of their congregations about a gay rights ordinance. The subpoena asks for communications from the pastors related to the mayor, the ordinance, and “gender equality” issues.
What are pastors to do when coerced by a government entity like the city of Houston? It seems to me that there are a two possible responses: one from a Christian pastor, who serves in Christ's kingdom, and another from a citizen of the kingdom of this world.
How did we get here? These five pastors were at the forefront of an effort to get a referendum on the November ballot to overturn a city ordinance, which among other things would give people access to the restrooms of their choice in public accommodations as a matter of “gender equality.”
Opponents of the ordinance gathered about 50,000 signatures in a petition drive to get the issue on the November ballot. The city secretary reportedly has certified that there were sufficient signatures — it takes 17,269 certifiable signatures to add the referendum. The mayor and the City Council declined to follow the city charter, refusing to place the referendum before the people of Houston.
A group that supports the ballot initiative is suing the city to force it to follow the city charter. As a way of fighting the suit, the city subpoenaed the communications of the pastors, who are not even parties to the lawsuit.
So what is a Christian pastor to do?
The mayor or members of the City Council are always welcome in my congregation. Sermons aren't exactly private or privileged communications; they are proclaimed to audiences in public and placed on our website for people to listen to any time. Christian preachers condemn human sin and call people to repentance. They proclaim the forgiveness of sins for the sake of Christ, who died for us, to those who mourn their sin. Sexual immorality is sin. Christian preachers will call it what it is. If that offends the politicians, then so be it.
Christian pastors have been offending powerful authorities since Jesus angered the establishment of his day. If my sermons are subpoenaed, I would be tempted to print all of them and hand deliver them all, tied up in a ribbon, with the hope that the mayor might read them. We Christians are called by God to make our testimony before kings, and we should not be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. A pastor should be delighted when he is given an opportunity to deliver publicly the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is what those who belong to the kingdom of Christ hope and pray for.
It may be a slight variation on President Obama's line of a few months ago, but it applies here: “Go ahead, subpoena me!” Put my sermons before a court of law, please! The rage and spite of those who hate the Christian worldview might well benefit the church and her Lord.
But that's not the whole story.
Pastors are also citizens of the kingdom of Caesar. In the bare-knuckled realm of American politics, the mayor and City Council are not really interested in reading a bunch of Christian sermons to find out what they say. They are attempting to stop Christian pastors from commenting on moral issues that are important to politicians. They are using the coercive power of the city's legal department and turning it on the speech of the church. Not only is this an effort to shame the pastors for their principled stand on sexual mores, but it is a naked attempt to silence them.
Lawyers from the Alliance Defending Freedom, who are defending the pastors, have called the city's action a “witch-hunt” and an “inquisition” — both terms dripping with irony.
The effort by the mayor and the City Council attacks two of the freedoms protected in the First Amendment: the free exercise of religion and the right to political speech. And while it has been argued that the city is not silencing speech, the abuse of state power will have a chilling effect on both the free exercise of religion and freedom of speech.
When will ordinary citizens exercise their right to organize a petition drive in the city of Houston again? The fear of being attacked by the unlimited resources of a bully state keeps people from speaking their minds against the wishes of their political masters. These rights remain the peoples' rights. And as citizens, the five pastors have every right and every reason to resist these bullying tactics.
Against this bullying, I am glad to stand with them — both as a Christian pastor and as a citizen. You should too.
(The Rev. Scott R. Murray is senior pastor of Memorial Lutheran Church in Houston, and is the fourth vice president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.)
from the Daily Signal, 2014-Oct-18, by Ryan T. Anderson:
Pastors speak up on city's decision to drop subpoenasThe city of Houston will withdraw its controversial subpoenas of five pastors tied to a lawsuit over the city's equal rights ordinance, Mayor Annise Parker announced at a news conference Wednesday.
The decision comes amid a national firestorm over the subpoenas, which have prompted outrage among Christian conservatives. Parker last week had left the subpoenas in place with narrower wording, removing any mention of "sermons." However, Parker said two Tuesday meetings, one with local pastors and another with national clergy, persuaded her to pull the subpoenas altogether.
The move is in the best interest of Houston, she said, and is not an admission that the requests were in any way illegal or intended to intrude on religious liberties. The subpoenas were part of a discovery phase in a suit filed by opponents of the equal rights ordinance, who largely take issue with the rights the law extends to gay and transgender residents.
"I didn't do this to satisfy them," Parker said of critics. "I did it because it was not serving Houston."
Regardless, the mayor's critics were not quieted. Grace Community Church pastor Steve Riggle, who was among the subpoenaed pastors, said, "If the mayor thought the subpoenas were wrong she would have pulled them immediately, not waited until she was forced to by national outrage."
Parker said she was persuaded in part by the demeanor of the clergymen she met with Tuesday, saying they were concerned not about the ordinance or politics but about the subpoenas' impact on the ongoing national discussion of religious freedoms.
"That was the most persuasive argument, because to me it was, 'What is the goal of the subpoenas?' The goal of the subpoenas is to defend against a lawsuit, and not to provoke a public debate," Parker said. "I don't want to have a national debate about freedom of religion when my whole purpose is to defend a strong and wonderful and appropriate city ordinance against local attack, and by taking this step today we remove that discussion about freedom of religion."
When news of the subpoenas first surfaced, Parker and City Attorney David Feldman said they did not know about the request for sermons and said the wording of the documents was "overly broad." That led to Friday's announcement that the wording had been narrowed, which did little to dampen the outcry.
Among the seven pastors who flew to Houston to meet with Parker on Tuesday was the Rev. Myke Crowder, of Christian Life Church in Layton, Utah. He described the meeting as "honest, respectful and serious," and said it focused not on politics but on the theological implication of the subpoenas. While the group left the meeting unsure about whether Parker would pull the subpoenas, Crowder said they were confident that she was taking it under serious consideration.
"What we did was to simply respectfully articulate our concerns," Crowder said. "And I believe what we did was help her to understand a broader picture than what she might have seen before. She honestly listened, she asked hard questions, fair questions, and we gave her fair and honest answers."
Parker admitted she is concerned dropping the subpoenas may impede the city's legal defense, but said the city would pursue an aggressive defense.
The plaintiffs' attorney in the lawsuit, Andy Taylor, called Parker's announcement a "head fake," and challenged her not only to pull down the subpoenas but to drop the city's defense of the lawsuit and put the ordinance to a vote. The city last summer ruled opponents' petition to submit the equal rights ordinance to a repeal referendum fell short of the legal requirements spelled out in the city charter, prompting the lawsuit.
"The truth is she's using this litigation to try to squelch the voting rights of over a million well-intentioned voters here in the city of Houston," Taylor said. "It's very simple why we filed a lawsuit: Because they won't do what the city constitutional charter requires them to do."
Plaintiff and conservative activist Jared Woodfill said he was glad the mayor had "finally seen the light on subpoenas," but he and other opponents said a Sunday rally at Riggle's church protesting the subpoenas - and urging an immediate City Council vote to place the item before voters - will still go forward.