I’ve been quiet so far about the attack against Stanislav Shmulevich, a 23 year old Pace University student who was arrested for flushing a Koran down the toilet. Part of my silence was because this story happened while I was on vacation, which made blogging about it (heck, even thinking about it) difficult. And part of my silence has been that others have been blogging about it so effectively and eloquently that I felt little needed to be said. For example, here’s Robert Spencer summarizing what happened and including some of the most effective criticism of the police action against Shmulevich:
A 23-year-old student at Pace University, Stanislav Shmulevich, was arrested Friday and charged with two felony counts of Criminal Mischief in the Fourth Degree as a Hate Crime. Numerous analysts have been quick to recognize the cruel irony of these charges. Mark Steyn quippedMichelle Malkin responded with the grim truth: “Actually, no. The NEA would have turned Shmulevich in to the police, too. Now, if he had submerged a Bible in urine or coated a Torah in cow dung and submitted it for a federal grant, he’d be sitting pretty–and facing rave New York Times editorials instead of time behind bars.” that instead of flushing the Qur’an, “obviously Mr Shmulevich should have submerged it in his own urine, applied for an NEA grant and offered it to the Whitney Biennial. But to that
And that’s why, as Christopher Hitchens said, “This has to stop, and it has to stop right now. There can be no concession to sharia in the United States. When will we see someone detained, or even cautioned, for advocating the burning of books in the name of God? If the police are honestly interested in this sort of ‘hate crime,’ I can help them identify those who spent much of last year uttering physical threats against the republication in this country of some Danish cartoons.”
Indeed, it has to stop. For all the examples of the double standard that he, Malkin and others have brought forth – from Piss Christ to Chris Ofili’s Turner-Prize-winning, elephant-dung and pornography-bedecked Virgin Mary and the rest – emphasize the fact that the real agenda of today’s dominant politically correct culture is certainly not tolerance, or even anything-goes moral relativism. Some things most emphatically don’t go, as Stanislav Shmulevich’s two felony charges indicate. As a cultural movement, political correctness and multiculturalism are emphatically anti-Western and anti-Christian. And they are also suicidal.
I really can’t add anything to that, beyond saying that I agree wholeheartedly.
This whole episode, however, serve as a useful springboard to discuss a very disturbing trend in American law, which is the development of hate crimes law. Hate crimes laws initially said that, if you thought the wrong thoughts while committing a traditionally criminal act, your penalty ought to be greater than if you were thinking any other thoughts (or not thinking at all) while committing that same act. The Pace arrest seems to raise the whole thing to a whole new level, in that it makes a crime out of the thoughts alone, without the necessity even of an attendant criminal act. (Last I heard, destroying a book, even a religious book, is not a criminal act in America.) While the latter is infinitely worse than the former, both are disastrously bad for anyone who believes, as I do, in Free Speech.
The First Amendment, of course, is not shy about its overarching commitment to Free Speech:
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 proscription against placing limits on free speech becomes meaningless, however, if government is allowed to do an end run around actual speech and instead simply police free thought. In a free society, people’s thoughts should be their own. To the extent that we, the public, don’t like those thoughts, the marketplace of ideas, and the entire notion of free speech, demands that we counter those thoughts with other, better thoughts, not that we run crying to the State whining that someone has been thinking (not saying), but thinking something with which we disagree.
Fundamentally, the State’s only concern should be people’s actions. To the extent thought is involved, non-activist courts have identified those very limited situations in which certain types of incredibly inflammatory speech that threaten the core of all our liberties may be criminalized — e.g., sedition, threats to public generally, specific threats of death and violence.
The bottom line is that a robust Constitution, indeed a robust country, cannot survive if the Government starts policing thoughts that present no harm to the public well-being, but that might hurt someone’s feelings. What’s going on at Pace is not just a wrongful act against Mr. Shmulevich, it is an act that strikes at the heart of our core freedoms. We should therefore all be outraged and very vigilant.
UPDATE: The good news is that Mr. Shmulevich will have counsel representing him. You can stay tuned to various major blogs for more information if you’d like to help defray costs (counsel is acting pro bono).