Father of the Constitution
I went to the human rights training a few days ago faced a conundrum: How much trouble am I going to sow? (Check out the deviltry I did last time here.) Regular readers of Purgatory understand that this is a common riddle that I need to answer. Back in the day I spent much time in high school, undergraduate, and graduate classrooms, crafting the perfect subversive question. To tell the truth as the classes became more difficult and the teachers became more adept I took time writing various generations of a query until it was perfect (or at least perfect enough). Then I would innocently raise my hand and spring my very own pop quiz. The human rights training class would be easy to ply my trade.
The class was running smoothly with reviewing the various protocols and paperwork when the topic of obscene clothing came up. The rule states that those clients who live in the residences the company runs can't wear offensive clothing. For example, a client can't wear a t-shirt that reads AIDS Kills Queers around the house. On the face of it, the policy seems perfectly rational until one thinks about who decides what is obscene. I wanted to open the topic up for discussion.
And yes, I was the only one who thought this was a topic worthy for to be talked about.
"Well, I would think the company would be a bit more specific about what obscenity is," I gently brought up. "Let's say I have a t-shirt that says I like chocolate ice cream and have a big chocolate ice cream cone pictured on it. What happens if all the other people I live are lactose intolerant and hate chocolate and find it offensive? Doesn't this all simply boil down to a mobocracy?"
Being in a minority (or a majority of one in my own mind) I'm always sensitive to the fact that the US Constitution does not state that one has a right not to be offended. Say you find it offensive that gays marry? Or for that matter black and white Americans choose to marry? Maybe you find it offensive when someone burns the flag? What about criticizing something like religion? A majority of people don't like that here in the States. Perhaps that should be banned -- just so that no one gets offended.
Thank my fictitious God for the Bill of Rights and specifically the First Amendment that clearly states
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.The Supreme Court has had many rulings that support a person's right to speak their mind and express themselves in a variety of ways: Texas v. Johnson - a 1989 ruling that struck down state laws that prohibited burning the flag; Brandenburg v Ohio - a 1969 ruling that states that people (in this case the KKK) have the right to incite revolution against the US government as long as the language does not aim to produce imminent violence; Loving v Virginia - the 1967 landmark ruling that states that people of different races can get married -- it really doesn't matter how offensive the South may find it.
The moderator of the seminar floundered a bit. "Well... of course it isn't a mobocracy."
She muddled through the next few minutes with the usual bureaucratic line that Policy is good! The Policy is fine! Don't criticize the Policy!
And then one of the other attendees had actually listened to my statement and said, "I've worked at a lot of residences where the clients gang up on someone and nitpick everything. They could get angry because that person is wearing a button down shirt instead of a t-shirt."
I nodded my head and smiled. The moderator quickly went to another subject, and I felt satisfied with at least saying out loud that the man behind the curtain is no wizard and that the Emperor has no clothes. I wasn't there to argue Constitutional law, rather to point out that the question of obscenity is not cut and dry. Asking questions openly about company policy is very similar to asking questions about our government as well as religion.
I was simply advocating the freethinkers stance.