Thursday, December 07, 2006

"As Maine goes..."

Starting in about 1840, Maine became known as a political 'bellweather' state, largely because Mainers voted for Governor and Congress in September, not November. With a two month jump on the rest of the country, pundits jumped on the Maine vote to look for voting trends, and indeed, Maine appeared to be a reliable predicter of the national mood up until the FDR years. Somewhere along the line, someone coined the phrase, "As Maine goes, so goes the nation."

Let's hope not.

In the name of political correctness (from the liberals), fighting terrorism (from the neoconservatives), and moral propriety (from the social conservatives), Free Speech is dying an ugly death throughout the state.

The University of Maine at Presque Isle’s Residence Hall Guide contains a policy that prohibits harassment. Part of that policy reads: “Even if the harassment is unintentional, it still occurs and will not be tolerated.”

Excuse me? You can now harass someone, and not even know you're doing it - and be punished for it?! Since when did people gain a right to never be offended by someone? I guess if you're not enlightened in matters of the latest politically correct words, you may be punished simply for plain-speaking. You are guilty if someone doesnt like what you said, no matter what your intention was.

As the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education states on their webiste, "...As a public university, UMPI cannot prohibit speech that is protected by the First Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court has defined what schools may legitimately prohibit as harassment: conduct “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively bars the victim’s access to an educational opportunity or benefit.” By definition, then, an unintentional, off-hand comment or joke cannot be harassment, making this policy legally untenable. This policy is also completely ridiculous. How can a college prepare its students for the real world if it shields them from even the most mild offense? Society is full of people with different personalities and different viewpoints, and being offended is a part of everyday life. It is a disservice to lead young adults to believe they can breeze through life free from offense, because that simply does not reflect reality."

But Maine's assault on free speech is not rrestricted to the campus.

In Portland, Tom Connolly faces charges of terrorizing, reckless conduct, and criminal threatening. Why? Because on Halloween he dressed up as Osama bin Laden, and even carried a plastic squirt gun.

Oh my, imagine that. For 5 years Osama has eluded world wide military scrutiny, and there he was, sauntering down the street in Portland Maine. Yup, I would have believed that he had just flown in for a glass of wine in the Old Port District.... Might the costume have been in poor taste? Yup. Is poor taste illegal? Nope. Have we become so obsessed with terror that now we arrest people playing dress-up on Halloween? Was thatscarier than some of the blood-dripping, eye-ball festering, razor-tooth masks worn at Halloween? Perhaps Maine could outlaw all offensive Halloween costumes, even if they offend unintentionally..that would be consistent with the campus rules, at least...

But the latest blow to free speech came when a British Beer Company attempted to sell "Santa's Butt" in Maine. The label shows Santa from behind, sitting on a Butt (a barrel used in beer fermentation) hoisting a glass of ale.

The Maine authorities prohibited its sale in the state. The Maine Bureau of Liquor Enforcement said the label was considered "undignified and improper."

Since when is "Undiginified and Improper" a legal reason to stifle speech? I can think of many political rants that are both 'undignified and improper.'

The point is, it really shouldnt matter whether someone considers something 'undignified and improper.' That speech which is MOST offensive is PRECISELY that speech that needs to be vigilantly protected under the US Constitution. If it wasn't offensive, it wouldnt need to be protected! Someone may feel that espousing Nazi or Eugenicist philsophies is offensive, and so be it, they are. But it is still protected speech.

NO ONE HAS A RIGHT TO "NEVER BE OFFENDED." Deal with it, Mainers....

In a twist, Maine and other states (notably New York) have realized that they really can't prohibit something because its in 'poor taste.' Now both states are changing their tactic, suggesting that having Santa on the label would 'attract children' to drink it.

Nice try, guys...but there are already 12 Christmas-themed beers in both of those states, including Sam Adams "Old Fezziwig's Ale" and Anchor's "Merry Christmas" Ale. Other brands shows elves. And what 6-year old, enamoured of the picture of Santa, is going to saunter out of the grocery store with a 6-pack under his arm?

The problem here, as always, is that someone with the power of the state behind them believes it is their solemn duty to protect the rest of us: to protect us from being offended, upset, mislead, or scandalized.

Well, that's not your job, buckos. Get off your high horse and let the market determine whether Santa's Butt has a place at the table. We're adults, we can make our own decisions, and don't need you to make them for us.