Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Presidential Election and Free Speech

I spent a relaxing few days in the country this past weekend. Well, relaxing until politics, free speech, and morality came into play.

Sunday night, my mom's friend came into the house huffing and puffing and carrying a sign that she pulled up and threw into her car when she spotted it by a rotary on a drive to get some groceries. This wasn't just an ordinary political sign that said "Vote for McCain" or "Obama for Change."

The sign proclaimed, "Al Qaeda for Obama."

It's common to see signs proclaiming one group's or another's support of political candidates. Examples include "Catholics for McCain/Palin," "Arab Americans for McCain," "Veterans for Obama/Biden," or "Teachers for Obama."

My mom's friend was so shocked by what she saw on this sign, however, that she just grabbed the sign and ran. Would the sign be ok in her eyes if it were actually put up by a member/supporter of Al Qaeda, instead of who it likely was, which is someone who doesn't support Obama and is just trying to associate the candidate with a terrorist group?

Or either way, does that person have the right to put up any sign they please, the truth sign's contents put aside?

My personal optinion: Politics is a dirty business, but we shouldn't have to resort to tactics like associating one candidate with a terrorist group. Law-wise, though, we do have a thing called "free speech."

What do you think?

All signs are not controversial! Take a look at this non-partisan sign
encouraging people to get out and vote.

Related Posts: Are you making your decision based on looks?; Passive Electioneering; Presidential Election, Registering to Vote, and the Ballot Questions; Absentee Voting; A biased opinion?; Handgun Bans and Dogs; How to be Happier; Who is Happier?
Photo courtesy of robbmitchell.


Bob said...

As much as I am offended by the libelous association of Obama with a terrorist organization, I do not agree with her yanking the sign. That Obama is associated with al qaeda is patently absurd and anyone voting would know this. Instead, I might counter with a sign of my own-- "Absurdists for McCain"

Noah said...

Many nations have compulsory voting where you are fined if you don't vote. Australia fines you 75$ if you don't vote, and has the highest voter turnout according to wikipedia.

My Australian friend claims that compulsory voting keeps out the special interests by coercing the general populace to vote, thus eliminating polarizing candidates.

Anonymous said...

Before you start claiming something as 'false' you should do your homework. First, they are not associating Obama with Al Qaeda as much as they are saying which candidate the terrorist group perfers. This can easily be determined by a simple Google search, where Al Jazeera tells you what candidate Al Qaeda prefers:


What's wrong with a sign telling the truth?

Back to your question, freedom of speech means accepting speech even when you don't like it. This point is more important when considering the fact that an Obama presidency will likely attempt quash right-wing radio with the Fairness Doctrine:


Casey said...

I agree with part of your statement - accepting free speech even when you don't like it is a must, it's just hard.

As far as the "truthfulness" of the sign, I suppose that is really a side note. It's not important so much whether the sign is true or not, it's my mom's friend's action that's under judgment here.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry for the misunderstanding.

Your mom's friend was wrong I believe.

Casey said...

Valid point, Senor/a Anonymous. I made a slight edit to the post, see above. :-)

John R said...

Removing the sign, wrong.

Using the NY Post to support your argument, interesting.

If voters choose their "pocketbooks over their prejudices" Barack Hussein Obama will be the 44th President of the United States.

Krystle said...

I like the idea that Noah mentions above. But I don't know about fining people especially in this difficult economy now. But it does give an interesting perspective on how other countries handle politics.

I also agree that your mom's friend should not have taken down the sign, despite her personal opinion on the matter. It is after all free speech. Great Post Casey!

Terrence M. said...

I still think it would have been better to make a sign that said "A scared and insecure fear-monger made this sign" with an arrow pointing towards the "Al Qaeda for Obama" sign.

TWSusan said...

The Constitution and Supreme Court protect free speech -- but not libelous speech.

Unless the Taliban came to Central Massachusetts and erected the sign, it is libelous, in my opinion.

The person who designed and built the sign took his/her time, and it showed. It demonstrates how deep the fear and racism are in this country -- even in Massachusetts.

--Casey's Mom

Casey said...

I read an argument the other day about how voting should be restricted just to smart informed people.... now that could be a whole other blog entry.

I wonder what the definition of "libelous" speech is? Any lawyers out there? Also, is it libelous if deemed "true"? The easiest way to handle it would be to do what Terrence suggested.

A Lawyer said...

LIBEL - defamation by written or printed words, pictures, or in any form other than by spoken words or gestures.

IMO if the sign said - Al Qaeda for Casey - the sign would be an actionalbe as libel. Casey is a private citizen, not associated with Al Qaeda, and the act of associating someone with Al Qaeda is defamatory.

However, this country is no so quick to condemn speech that criticizes our public figures. Speech concerning public officials is perhaps the most protected speech out there and a cornerstone of why free speech is protected in the first place. If you don't allow Al Qaeda for Obama, then you would have to remove "Bush / Halliburton '04" bumper stickers, kick out people with "Al Qaeda Recruiter of the Year - President George W. Bush" signs and so on.

Free speech during the politcal process is essential and must be protected even at the cost of leaving stupid signs up...

Anonymous said...

First of all, Casey is hot.

Now on to my main point. Yes, we have free speech, however we do have laws that protect said free speech from being used inappropriately to defame someone, such as Obama.

When your own party (Republicans) have no political basis other than to incite hate, racism, and bigotry then you resort to the type of antics in this post.

Usually, ignorance breeds this type of behavior because what we don't know we figure might hurt us. All it takes is a little educating these people to get them to realize that Obama is really not a terrorist and he's not socialist just because he's for universal health care.

Supporting a secure, healthy future for Americans is hardly socialist. Even if you classify his stance on health care as socialist, this simply doesn't mean he's going to turn the U.S. into the former Soviet Union. Any implication to this outcome is purely fantasy and without merit. Again, what you don't know you figure might hurt you. It's easier to lie than to take time to read and educate yourself.

John said...


People who believe that there are any connections between Al Qaeda and Obama are already voting McCain, with or without seeing the sign. Lets move on.

Could the sign poster have been someone pointing out how absurd these types of suggestions really are? Similar to the cover of the New Yorker... http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/toc/2008/07/21/toc_20080714

Casey said...

Thanks, Anonymous, for your comment about my online photos and your "main point." This 'free speech' line is hard to define.

Anyway - my brother's girlfriend sent this interesting article: Pizza Parlor Gives Away Pizza for McCain Signs. Now is that legal? Is it moral?

Anonymous said...

Well I think anything involving free pizza is both moral and legal. Who could resist free pizza?

I think you travel down a dangerous road anytime you interfere with free speech in the political process. I may not agree with everything that everyone says, but I think they have a right to say it - even if I think what they are saying is ridiculous, defamatory, racist, sexist, etc.

Kristen said...

In response to what casey said about only having "informed and intelligent" people vote:

The electoral college was originally formed because the founding fathers believed that the male white land owning voters were not informed enough to make the correct and intelligent vote.

However, the electoral college has proved to be archaic and an instrument for those in a position of power to manipulate elections. CoughJEBBUSHcough.

Right now I wish I lived in Ohio or Pennsylvania because maybe my vote would count for more than it does in Massachusetts, which will most definitely go blue for Barack. My vote is worth less than someone else's... am I an American or WHAT? Shouldn't I have an equal oppurtunity vote?

We need to abolish the electoral college and establish the popular vote. Imagine if Al Gore became the leader of the "free world," what a beautiful place it might be.

Casey said...

As far as the "truthfulness" of the sign, perhaps we hsould now put up a sign that says "Al Qaeda for McCain"....

Casey said...

Jackie sent me this link: Professor Resigns over Theft of Political Signs

So don't take down signs, even if you don't agree with them!