Bloggers’ rights: A quandary


Freedom of expression is the key to all other rights in our American system of government, I am convinced. Defending the First Amendment becomes the way to defend all other rights. Telling the King he has no clothes, without fear of retribution, makes it possible to keep the King clothed.

I support most groups and efforts to defend and protect the First Amendment. I’ve been a member of the Society of Professional Journalists for most years since 1974, I’ve been a member of the National Freedom of Information coordinating committee, and I’ve worked in three states and the federal legislature to expand freedom of information, reporters’ access to information, and especially the people’s right to know.

In the press, there are few hard-core idiots. A few exist, but they are outweighed by the many who make sincere efforts to get the story right. That’s a long way of saying, it’s easy to support rights of people who aren’t always yapping at you.  Their existence puts me in a little quandary, and I need to resolve it.

Last night I found one more deluded, on-line writer working against the First Amendment and, IMHO, hammering away at the foundations of the Constitution in other ways. (Incredibly, this guy asked Jonathan Rowe to abandon commenting at his blog, suggesting Rowe’s carefully crafted, court-tested, generally take-’em-to-the-bank correct ideas about history are “lies.” Yeah, he has a right to hold foolish opinions.)

Does he have a right to do that, on-line?

Yes he does have that right. As I’ve often said before, I put a lot of stock into the old Ben Franklin maxim that truth wins in a fair fight. So we need to keep the fight fair.

We also need to defend the rights of bloggers whose work helps expose the truth, even at the expense of defending the deluded writers who get it wrong.

What are blogger’s rights and protections? The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) put together a concise and nearly complete legal guide for bloggers — you can find it here.

EFF campaigns to protect and defend bloggers’ rights. Bloggers, and other supporters of freedom, should join that campaign. Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub will display a badge of the campaign to encourage others to join it.

Bloggers' Rights at EFF

Do you like freedom? Do you read a lot? Do you read on-line? Do you express your opinions? Then you have a vested interest in supporting these groups. Since you’re reading this on-line, you have a vested interest in supporting the Electronic Freedom Foundation’s work to defend bloggers’ rights. Click over to EFF, get informed, lend some support, and get involved.

This blog is banned in Turkey, prohibited from viewing in China, non-grata in much of Singapore and Iran, and blocked from the Duncanville, Texas, Independent School District.  I appreciate the freedom to blog, and I hope we can keep blogging free everywhere else, and make blogging free in those areas darkened by bans on expression.

(Okay, I like the cat in the one badge from the EFF — would it kill them to put a dog in one?)

13 Responses to Bloggers’ rights: A quandary

  1. hannah says:

    I just wanted to say thanks for taking the time to write something worth my time to read. I am all over the net and I see so much pointless content that is just written for the sake of putting something fresh on their page. It takes devotion to make good stuff

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  2. Brad Hart says:

    I am really glad that you made this post, Ed. You bring to light a very important issue that most Christian Nationalists have so confused that they are unable to see from the correct perspective. While most Christian Nationalists will say that the United States is a Christian nation — and they have every right to do so — they scream foul whenever anyone raises a well-prepared opposing view. They will automatically go on the attack, pulling out the usual “WEAPONS OF MASS DISTRACTION” by calling their opponent, “unpatriotic,” “un-American,” “biased,” “a crazy liberal,” “brainwashed,” etc.

    For me, this is the most difficult factor when dealing with Christian Nationalists. It is as if any attack on their views is taken as a direct attack on the whole of Christianity — as if we are crucifying Jesus all over again.

    I have had the chance to read a great deal of what Hercules Mulligan and Jon Rowe have written over the past year or so and I have found them both to be passionate about the subject of early American religion and history. Though I generally favor Rowe’s conclusions, I feel that people like Herc. Mulligan can and do serve a great purpose, which is to challenge the “secularists” within the historical community. With that said, if it is true that Herc. Mulligan has banned Rowe from his blog, then I find this to be extremely disappointing. After all, what is the point of having a blog in the first place? For me, I find it much more enjoyable when a person has disagreed with me. It gives me the change to “stretch” my history muscles a little bit.

    One last point: When it comes to the Christian right, I think that their history is oven tainted by their desire to “protect” the legacy of our founding fathers. As a nation, the legacy of our founding fathers is “sacred” in the sense that it defines who we are in a number of ways. Naturally, many of us want that history to reflect who we are in the here and now. This reasoning, however, cannot and should not trump the historical record, which, sadly, is exactly what so many Christian Nationalists are currently doing.

    In the end, I hope that Christian zealots — along with everyone else — will refrain from “banning” people from their blogs or “boycotting” the opinions of those with whom they disagree. It is indeed a very childish thing to tell somebody that they are not welcome simply because they have a different view, lifestyle, etc. And, in the end, isn’t that the “Christian” thing to do?

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  3. […] Fillmore’s Bathtub features a post about some debates I did with blogger Hercules Mulligan. This post is based off a comment I left […]

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  4. Jon Rowe says:

    Hello all,

    Glad my prescence on the Interet is stirring things up!

    Some quick points. No doubt the 19th Century had a lot of hagiographers who promoted Christian America sounding ideas, which unfortunately made its way to the Supreme Court. The Holy Trinity decision illustrates something which I think we all understand and that is even the Supreme Court is capable of getting it utterly wrong.

    My latest post well illustrates a major flaw in the Christian America idea; that America’s Founding made such an idea impossible. First the premises: The “Christian America” idea is the notion of some type of indissoluble connection between America’s civil institutions (its government) and “Christianity.” Well in order for Christianity to have some kind of “special status” in this regard, you have to first define it. And that’s something government, arguably, is incapable of doing. Indeed Jefferson and Madison believed it violated the natural rights of the Declaration of Independence for government to do this.

    I know from communicating with Hercules that he defines “Christianity” very narrowly, with “orthodoxy.” And that’s fine because there is a strong tradition in Christendom for this. If you don’t believe in orthodoxy then you aren’t a Christian even if you call yourself one. See for instance, the Mormons.

    The problem is many of America’s Founders, notably John Adams, weren’t “Christians” even if, like the Mormons, they understood themselves as such. Given Adams rejected most of the doctrines of orthodoxy, I seriously doubt that Adams was promoting a system (orthodox Trinitarianism) in which he didn’t believe in his 1813 quotation. The context certainly belies this. But according to Mulligan he’d have to be because Christianity = orthodoxy.

    Likewise what Mulligan offered from the 33rd session of Congress seems to be based on Joseph Story’s observations. And Story, as a Unitarian, likewise was in that position of thinking himself a Christian but not really being one according to the understanding of the “orthodox”.

    So when Story noted that “Christianity” had some kind of organic connection to the civil state (a position in which Jefferson & Madison strongly disagreed) he certainly included his heretical Unitarianism into the understanding of “Christianity.”

    So in giving “Christianity” such special rights, government would necessarily have to define it to include that which the orthodox regard as utter heresy, and to the orthodox ruin the proper understanding of Christianity. Joseph Story and John Marshall, both Unitarians, probably give the most notable testimony in favor of that anti-Jeffersonian-Madisonian position.

    Could you imagine the orthodox thanking Joseph Story and John Marshall for their sentiments in arguing for an organic connection between Christianity and American government. And then saying but your false, heretical religion doesn’t get one iota of support because it’s not “Christianity.”

    This is a recipe for sectarian squabbles, what America was founded to overcome. Indeed those squabbles did happen. In the Dedham decision in 1820 in Mass. Trinitarians sued Unitarians for control over the benefits of the Mass. Establishment aid using very similar arguments (i.e., the aid is for we “real Christians”). And they lost. And yes, there were Unitarians on the Mass. Supreme Court whom the Trinitarians blamed for “bias.” And then seeing the Unitarians getting such public aid under the auspices of a “Christian establishment,” the Trinitarians got Mass. to finally end its state religious establishment, the last one in the nation.

    Like slavery, established churches or government established Christianity, though initially permitted at the state level, were incompatible with the Declaration of Independence.

    History vindicated the Jeffersonian-Madisonian understanding that held government cannot by right define Christianity. And if it can define it, it cannot protect “Christianity only.” If government, rather, protects “religion” in general, the problem is solved. That’s why natural religion (or reason) could serve as their public religion because it could unite all “good men,” regardless of their sectarian creed or status as a “Christian.”

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  5. mpb says:

    Hercules– In WordPress comments I often use Easy Text to html (from http://www.easyhtools.com) or a Firefox extension to convert a typed link into a hot link. The only part that stretches is the human visible part which you can interupt with spaces, etc.

    <a href="http://www.easyhtools.com">title is http://www.easyhtools.com</a&gt;

    Coding long URLs in comments

    I hope this shows up correctly after I hit the submit button.

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  6. As soon as I published my comment above, I noticed that the links run right across the page, and through the sidebar. I’s sorry. I don’t know of any other way, on a WordPress blog to present links which are necessarily long. If you know of a way to give these links without that problem, I would be more than happy to know, for the sake of your own convenience.

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  7. First of all, I wasn’t copying Barton’s citations or his footnotes. I didn’t have his books anywhere near me when I gave you the quotes. I don’t know why you are saying that I didn’t even give page numbers, when on my first comment on your old post, I gave the book title, the author, when the book was printed, and, yes, THE PAGE NUMBER.

    If you want to see the original book for yourself, it’s online. But for your convenience (and just to prove I’m taking them from the primary sources, not from Barton), I’ll present the links here:

    – John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, June 28, 1813 (The Works of John Adams, edited by Charles Francis Adams, his grandson; volume 10, page 45) published 1856:
    http://books.google.com/books?id=MZQ8AAAAIAAJ&pg=PA45&dq=john+adams+%22general+principles+of+christianity%22&lr=#PPA45,M1

    – Samuel Adams, “The Rights of the Colonists” (pamphlet, published 1772, with preface by Ben Franklin):
    http://www.constitution.org/bcp/right_col.htm

    – Chancellor James Kent’s decision in the case “People v. Ruggles” (1811) was the only source for which I could not find the entire text; but did find a part of it in the “Papers of the American Historical Association,” by Herbert B. Adams (Association’s secretary) in 1886; volume II, number I, page 60:
    http://books.google.com/books?id=WPwKAAAAIAAJ&pg=RA3-PA60&dq=james+kent+people+v.+ruggles+%22we+are+a+christian+people%22

    – “Reports of the Proceedings and Debates of the Convention of 1821, assembled for the purpose of amending the Constitution of the State of New-York: containing all the official documents, relating to the subject, and other valuable matter.” By Nathaniel H. Carter and William L. Stone, reporters; and Marcus T. C. Gould, stenographer. (1821) Page 463
    http://books.google.com/books?id=F-ETAAAAYAAJ&printsec=titlepage&dq=Reports+of+the+Proceedings+and+Debates+of+the+Convention+of+1821&source=gbs_summary_r&cad=0#PPA463,M1

    – “Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, 143 U.S. 457 (1892)” decision by Justice Brewer
    http://supreme.justia.com/us/143/457/case.html

    – “Reports of Committees of the House of Representatives, made during the First Session of the 33rd Congress, printed by order of the House of Representatives, in three volumes,” page 6
    http://books.google.com/books?id=zaoFAAAAQAAJ&pg=RA1-PA16-IA6&dq=%22revolution+would+have+been+strangled+in+its+cradle%22&lr=#PRA1-PA6,M1

    You made some claims, and yet never gave a page number in a book in a primary source. I asked for citations of your sources in my last comment, and you still haven’t given them. May I please see them?? If not, maybe I should consider applying your epithets to you. I have gone out of my way to source my state my sources, and yet you have complained that I have not done that, while you refuse to do that yourself. You talk about freedom of inquiry, and yet my inquiries are answered only with insults.

    I hope you will consider specifically sourcing the claims you made in your comment replying to my first. Maybe then we can actually have an intelligent discussion.

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  8. Ed Darrell says:

    On citations, Mulligan said:

    I don’t know how to cite sources, eh? Maybe you should read over my last comment, and bother to double-check! And maybe you should read my blog a bit more carefully. I don’t cite a quote without citing the source, and it’s usually ORIGINAL. CLICK THE HYPERLINKS AND YOU CAN READ THE BOOKS FOR YOURSELF.

    I expect a more scholarly citation rather than a Barton citation — don’t copy Barton. If you’re not going to use the law school Blue Book method of citation, which I prefer, at least use a common method: MLA, for example. Give the author, cite the source document so that it is findable, and give a page number so those unfamiliar with a citation aren’t left wondering which of 600 pages they should go to.

    None of your citations offered an easy way to find them. That’s a common method of deception Barton uses. He cites a quote to a person “in 1772.” Turns out that person published three essays on that topic in 1772, plus a bunch of other stuff. When I pointed out that he’d misquoted the source, he said he was quoting from a different essay (which of course did not exist). You’re more honest than Barton. Be more honest, and more clear, in your citations.

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  9. I don’t know how to cite sources, eh? Maybe you should read over my last comment, and bother to double-check! And maybe you should read my blog a bit more carefully. I don’t cite a quote without citing the source, and it’s usually ORIGINAL. CLICK THE HYPERLINKS AND YOU CAN READ THE BOOKS FOR YOURSELF. In fact, I have an entire blog dedicated to primary resources: http://foundersbookshelf.blogspot.com

    Oh and by the way, I was about to ask you to tell me where you got the sources for your response to that same comment of mine. I was also going to add that you made some very serious mistakes — including taking a statement of John Adams’ radically out of context. John Adams did not come to the conclusion that this world would be better off if it had no religion in it — secular historians took that one out of context, and I’ll bet from your response that you didn’t even read Adams’ letter, which is in “The Works of John Adams” (edited by Charles Francis Adams, his grandson), volume 10, page 254, (“To Thomas Jefferson, 19 April, 1817”). Here is the context:

    “Twenty times, in the course of my late reading, have I been on the point of breaking out, ‘this would be the best of all possible worlds, if there was no religion in it!!!’ But in this exclamation, I should have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly. Without religion, this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company — I mean hell.”

    Oh yes. And I take my quotes from the books themselves. Not from Anybody else.

    You say that Adams denied he ever made the statement that I quoted, about the general principles of Christianity. Funny, I got that quote from his letter, reprinted in an old edition of his correspondence!!! If he denied that statement, I would like to see the letter, which you FAIL to cite.

    It seems to me that you are doing the very thing you are FALSELY accusing me of doing — of referring to the Founders without citing sources. Do you just expect me to take your word for it? Or can’t you cite sources either?

    Oh yeah I forgot. You’re smart, and I’m a foolish brainwashed religious nut. I have to cite sources; you don’t.

    You say Kent later revoked his “Ruggles v. The People” ruling. May I see where the text is located?

    You also said that if I included several other portions of the quote, it would refute Barton’s claim, and mine — that our nation was founded on “the general principles of Christianity.”

    I don’t see how the portions you included REFUTED that claim. The portion of Adams’ letter which you included, only has Adams saying that most of the Christians and non-Christians in his audience were educated in the general principles of Christianity, and in the principles of American and English liberty. After saying that the principles of American liberty were based on the general principles of Christianity, he then says that he could fill sheets in DEFENSE of those principles from intellectuals well-known and not well-known, Christian and non-Christian. So can I. I know of Christians in Russia and North Korea who read the skeptical books of atheists, because seeing the foolishness of those skeptics helps them become more assured of Christianity’s truth.

    And one of our Founding Fathers was also equally assured of Christianity’s truth. In conversation with a friend, Alexander Hamilton declared:
    “I have carefully examined the evidences of Christianity, and if I was sitting as a juror upon the subject of its authenticity, I would unhesitatingly give my verdict in its favor. I have studied it, and I can prove its truth as clearly as any proposition ever submitted to the mind of man.”
    ~ “History of the Republic of the United States …” (by John Church Hamilton, his son), volume 7, page 790

    Rowe said the same thing you did, arguing that Adams believed that the “general principles of Christianity” encompassed unitarianism, arianism, atheism, etc., just because Adams listed them as several people who were listening to him, and as those who were educated enough to be familiar with the general principles of Christianity. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get him to see the difference between being aware of Christianity’s teachings, and actually believing them.

    DUH! Of course atheists don’t believe in the “general principles of Christianity”! And of course John Adams wasn’t so stupid as to think they did!

    And then you said that the 1892 Trinity decision (um, yeah, I read the text of the decision — that’s from where I cut and pasted the quote) made faulty citations. I would like to know how quotes from the various founding documents and charters and state constitutions are faulty. Please enlighten me.

    Oh and yes. If you’ve ever bothered to double-check you accusations, you’d know that Barton read the Trinity decision. How could he have written about it in his book “Original Intent” in so much detail, and then cited it, if he hadn’t read it?

    This is probably a gargantuan comment. I will reply to your comment in greater detail in another place and at another time.

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  10. Ed Darrell says:

    You have every right to do foolish things. That doesn’t make them right, and it doesn’t make them not foolish. Disinviting a good scholar of history and the Constitution as you did to Rowe is just stupid. If you don’t have the mental cojones to respond, I suppose stopping the discussion almost makes sense.

    The First Amendment doesn’t protect you from error. Listening to Jonathan Rowe would help. If you think he’s wrong, explain why and cite the documents. I gather from what I read, here and at your blog, you know you can’t do that. Heck, you could at least try.

    You’re welcome to comment here. We need examples all the time, even if it’s just an example of what not to do. I do not regard it as a waste of time to correct your errors. Innocent children may read your blog, and they need to know better. And miracles do occur — you could find yourself on the road to Damascus someday and find a way to get it right.

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  11. Anybody who can’t figure out that ASKING Rowe to stop leaving comments on my blog — I did not tell him to stop blogging, nor did I restrict his freedom to respond to my opinions on his own blog — is quite different from restricting his First Amendment rights, doesn’t deserve a detailed response.

    So I called his claims lies. He calls my claims lies and propaganda. So? the First Amendment does not prohibit either of us from doing that, although we should explain why we hold the opinions we do.

    If you like, I will stop commenting here, and I won’t consider your willingness to accept my invitation a breach of my First Amendment rights. I think that such a decision would keep you from wasting your time, and me from wasting mine.

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  12. […] Bloggers’ rights: A quandary from Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub by Ed Darrell […]

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