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Good reads: Freedom of speech, YouTube cats, and campaign strategy

This week's good reads include deciphering what our forefathers meant by protection for free speech, one man's quest to find a feline Internet sensation, and the 'invention' of political consulting.

By Staff writer / September 21, 2012

Did the Founding Fathers truly intend for the First Amendment to provide absolute protection for free speech?  No, argues First Amendment legal scholar Eugene Volokh on his website, The Volokh Conspiracy.

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Europe Editor

Arthur Bright is the Europe Editor at The Christian Science Monitor.  He has worked for the Monitor in various capacities since 2004, including as the Online News Editor and a regular contributor to the Monitor's Terrorism & Security blog.  He is also a licensed Massachusetts attorney.

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“Which part of ‘make no law’ don’t you understand?, some people colorfully argue. Well, I understand ‘make no law’ just fine…. The real difficulty is with ‘the freedom of,’” Mr. Volokh writes.

In the Founders’ era, “nearly everyone, as best I can tell, saw ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘freedom of the press’ as providing less than complete constitutional protection for spoken or printed words. And this suggests that the term ‘freedom of’ referred to some understanding that there is a proper scope of such freedom (even if the scope was unsettled in some particulars), rather to unlimited freedom to say or print anything one pleases.”

Volokh notes that there are clear problems with absolute protection for speech.  “A threat to kill the President is literally speech. So is ‘your money or your life,’ said to someone in a dark alley…. Attempted fraud is often nothing but speech. The list could go on.

“There are, I recognize, arguments for barring the government from punishing any of this speech.… But if one is to appeal to the wisdom of ‘the Founders,’ one should recognize that the Founders almost certainly did not understand ‘the freedom of speech, or of the press’ as embracing absolute protection for speech and press.”

Respected for her ideas

Pakistan is unlikely to be first to spring to mind for Westerners considering gender equality.  But in a reflective article written by Hani Yousef for Himal Southasian, the Pakistani journalist notes that she feels better treated at home than in Germany, where she has worked since early 2011.

Ms. Yousef recounts a recent conversation she had with an Austrian woman at a party in Berlin. “When I mentioned I was from Pakistan, her reaction was the oft-expressed assumption that it must be very difficult to be a woman there. I have lived and worked in journalism in Berlin for a year and a half, and the experience has made me appreciate the way I am treated back home as a career woman. I told her as much – that I find that I am more respected back home.

“Conversely, visiting Pakistan this winter after a year of living in Germany, I was overwhelmed by the respect I got for being a woman of intelligence. People – men, women, professors, analysts and relatives – wanted to know what I thought of the Euro crisis, and what my take was on political issues. … At a book festival in Karachi, an important defence analyst, a man, overheard my remarks about British analyst Anatol Lievin’s new book about Pakistan, and sought me out after the reading to ask if I had considered writing my views. The shock and surprise I experienced when he approached me made me realise how my self-esteem as a woman journalist had suffered in Germany."


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