Bloomberg, An Unreliable Ally of Free Speech

Posted on September 8, 2010

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Hizzonor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has come out with yet another bold defense of civil liberties. They’re really going to have to make a “greatest hits” album. In today’s Wall Street Journal, he defends Terry Jones’ planned Koran burning:

“In a strange way I’m here to defend his right to do that. I happen to think that it is distasteful. I don’t think he would like it if somebody burnt a book that in his religion he thinks is holy,” Mr. Bloomberg said during a news conference updating the public on the progress of rebuilding at the World Trade Center site.

“But the First Amendment protects everybody,” Mr. Bloomberg said, “and you can’t say that we’re going to apply the First Amendment to only those cases where we are in agreement.”

“If you want to be able to say what you want to say when the time comes that you want to say it, you have to defend others no matter how much you disagree with them,” Mr. Bloomberg said.

As I noted here, however, Bloomberg is an intermittent ally of free speech. In fact, the lever for the chicken-heading furor that ousted Debbie Almontaser was her exercise of her free speech rights, when she tried to explain the context of a t-shirt slogan —Intifada NYC–that she had once been in the same building with (yes, it’s that absurd).  Rather than condemn the word intifada–as she should have according to Bloomberg (see below)—she exercised her free speech rights and explained it in context during an interview with the New York Post.

At the time, the noble Bloomberg had not yet discovered his love for free speech; he was figuring out how to sucker New Yorkers into allowing him to be Mayor for another four years. This is what he said then, on the Mayor’s weekly New York radio show, in marked contrast to his defense of Koran burning:

she tried to explain a word [intifada] rather than just condemn. But I think she felt that she had become the focus of — rather than having the school the focus, so today she submitted her resignation, which is nice of her to do. I appreciate all her service and I think she’s right to do so. But now, let’s look to the future.

Aside from the appalling mendacity–Bloomberg himself stepped in and forced out Almontaser–this is really a completely different Bloomberg than the one who claims Koran burning is a legitimate use of free speech. The most ironic thing to me is that Bloomberg champions this exercise of free speech, even though he claims it will put “our young men and women overseas and America itself in greater danger than it was already.” Yes, endangering our men and women overseas is one thing…but don’t endanger my prospects for re-election!

A last note. Almontaser was later vindicated, although the media were rather listless in reporting that fact, especially when compared to the full-throated pitchforking that they dealt her during the “madrassa” fake controversy. The EEOC declared that:

Acting on a complaint filed last year by the principal, Debbie Almontaser, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that the department “succumbed to the very bias that creation of the school was intended to dispel and a small segment of the public succeeded in imposing its prejudices on D.O.E. as an employer,” according to a letter issued by the commission on Tuesday.

The commission said that the department had discriminated against Ms. Almontaser, a Muslim of Yemeni descent, “on account of her race, religion and national origin.

I don’t mean to cast a pall on Bloomberg’s defense of the so-called “ground zero mosque”, nor even this legitimate defense of free speech. I’m a big fan of free speech. The same freedoms that allow this Koran burning would theoretically protect me as I burn the Old Testament on cable access television–if I were petty, insensitive and incomprehensibly angry enough at the world to even contemplate such a phenomenal waste of my time.

But Bloomberg should be held accountable for his actions in the past. He tried to ruin the life and career of a person trying to do good in the world. He very well may have succeeded. And he certainly desecrated the idea of free speech. That shouldn’t be forgotten.

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