Tag Archives: law

Freedom of speech, freedom of expression


A 91-year-old woman has been charged with 260,000 counts of accessory to murder at Auschwitz

“An unnamed woman in Germany has been charged with 260,000 counts of accessory to murder for alleged Nazi activity at Auschwitz from April to July of 1944, the Associated Press reports. The 91-year-old is being accused of working as a radio operator for the concentration camp’s commandant.”

Source: A 91-year-old woman has been charged with 260,000 counts of accessory to murder at Auschwitz

Religious liberty and thought crimes

When the mechanism for punishing conscience is established by law, any political power that takes control will use the mechanism to punish those with opposing ideas. The mechanism is neutral, and eventually, you’ll be on the opposite side of the controlling power. You could avoid this by not allowing the mechanisms for punishing conscience to be established by law. Has anyone ever changed another person’s conscience by coercion? Forced underground, conscience eventually re-emerges, angrier and stronger. Beware of well-intended mechanisms that can be turned against you when the center of power shifts. Beware of politically suppressing a group with which you disagree.


A protester wearing breathing gas mask. Photo by Mstyslav Chernov

Ideology and language: Why a gun columnist was fired

[Updated 8:51 p.m., Jan. 6]

Today’s (Sunday, Jan. 5) New York Times reports:

BARRY, Ill. — The byline of Dick Metcalf, one of the country’s pre-eminent gun journalists, has gone missing…. 

In late October, Mr. Metcalf wrote a column that the magazine titled “Let’s Talk Limits,” which debated gun laws. “The fact is,” wrote Mr. Metcalf, who has taught history at Cornell and Yale, “all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be.”  

“Let’s Talk Limits” had a subtitle not mentioned in the Times article, and it could have been inflammatory enough to draw ire from Second Amendment advocates. The subtitle: “Do certain firearms regulations really constitute infringement?”

With that and what others have called warmed-over anti-gun arguments, Metcalf’s column in Guns & Ammo magazine was ended.

Most online articles about the incident (many of which appeared in November) have been either mainstream reportage or gun-rights outrage. I found one article that actually took the time to refute Metcalf’s premises, which was A.W.R. Hawkins’ explanation at Breitbart.com.

At the business level, the reason for Metcalf’s firing should not have surprised anyone: “two major gun manufacturers” threatened to pull advertising, the Times reported. 

At the idea level, however, something else is going on, as illustrated in this paragraph from the Times article:

“We are locked in a struggle with powerful forces in this country who will do anything to destroy the Second Amendment,” said Richard Venola, a former editor of Guns & Ammo. “The time for ceding some rational points is gone.” 

There you have it, the paradigm of all ideologues. It’s only applied to one side of one issue, but that’s actually perfect, because its form is the only universally shared ideological belief in our time, regardless of position or point of view.

This ideological belief, or perhaps meta-belief, says, “Things are so bad, we are so threatened, we cannot grant any rational points to the other side.”

I will quickly concede some circumstances call for uncompromising, absolutist, inflexible positions, but do you not see that unwillingness to cede “some rational points” in every debate these days, about every social, political, or cultural issue?

So Venola says, “The time for ceding some rational points is gone.” I wonder how many people reacted to that sentence as if fingernails were scraping down a chalkboard.

However, I think a person can hold a very strong, uncompromising belief without being ideological about it, without ever ignoring “rational points” on the other side.

That’s possible because, as Dr. Thomas Sowell once said, it’s not enough to identify a problem. Identifying a problem is the easy part. A person must also determine whether a solution is possible.

You’re stuck on an island with a friend, the Sowell argument goes, and your friend has acute appendicitis. Your only tool is a wooden spoon. The available tool, in this circumstance, can’t fix the problem. The problem is real and serious — that appendix is going to burst, and your friend faces a certain, painful death. But what is a wooden spoon going to accomplish? A fast-track to rupturing? Sometimes we just don’t have what we need, and maybe our emotional, non-rational populace just can’t accept unsolvable problems.

Maybe that’s the deal with gun rights in our society — as Hawkins points out, the right to self-defense is a natural right that’s too basic to violate. Some analogies, like one Metcalf used about automobile licenses, fail because transportation by car is neither a natural right nor protected in the Constitution. We might just always have problems with guns, but maybe the alternative — violating the natural right to self-defense — is just too risky and problematic.

How risky and problematic? Well, let’s put it this way. If drug cartels and gangs can smuggle heavy-duty weaponry into the United States, I want the option of having heavy-duty weaponry in my home. I have three children. If I need to defend my home, I won’t ask Jimmy Carter to drop by for a chat with gang members and a probe of their childhoods. I’m not expecting the cops to be quick enough, either.

For that matter, consider the general failure of prohibitions. Drug laws haven’t kept drugs away — why does anyone think gun laws will keep guns away? Abortion is legal, and one of the arguments for keeping it legal is that women will get abortions regardless of the procedure’s legality, so our society ought to give them presumably clean, safe, sanitary places for abortions (despite this sicko’s once-legal clinic) instead of “back-alley” abortions.

So I’m not convinced that even the most restrictive gun laws in the world would keep guns away from the outlaws. Whether the argument seems tired and over-used or not, I don’t think law-abiding citizens win in a society of gun restrictions. (A new study out of Quinnipiac University offers interesting information along these lines.)

But I’m also willing to cede “some rational points,” and I hope that willingness never goes away. I want to be able to understand and even feel the other person’s point of view, even if I can’t give it rational assent.

But any understanding of Metcalf’s point of view was lost in anger and outrage. Following the offending column, the Times reports:

The backlash was swift, and fierce. Readers threatened to cancel their subscriptions. Death threats poured in by email. His television program was pulled from the air.

Just days after the column appeared, Mr. Metcalf said, his editor called to tell him that two major gun manufacturers had said “in no uncertain terms” that they could no longer do business with InterMedia Outdoors, the company that publishes Guns & Ammo and co-produces his TV show, if he continued to work there.

Driscoll copied Holcomb who copied the New Bible Commentary *UPDATE

New turn of the screw in the Pastor Mark Driscoll plagiarism controversy, especially regarding minister’s book Trial:

Warren Throckmorton has viewed a PDF of a new statement on Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church website (a PDF which, at the moment, won’t open in my Google Chrome for some reason; update, 11:53 p.m.: I can’t open it in Firefox, Explorer, or Chrome; was it taken down?).

The statement apparently shows the research notes taken by Justin Holcomb of Docent Research Group.

Throckmorton writes: “…Holcomb might better get the credit for the sections discussing the background of the books of 1 & 2 Peter.”

Throckmorton also writes, “It appears the Holcomb borrowed [see below] the material from the New Bible Commentary and then Driscoll changed a few words and included it under his authorship. There are multiple instances of this practice throughout the memo. What started in late November with Janet Mefferd’s accusations of plagiarism against Mark Driscoll has morphed into broader concerns over authorship and use of research materials.”

UPDATE — Throckmorton changed the above “borrowed” to “quoted.” He explains: “I changed this word from “borrowed” to “quoted” in the section above because there are quotes around the material starting just under the heading Who Wrote 1 Peter? also on page 147. Then the quote closes on page 148 with a footnote. However, the footnote is not to the New Bible Commentary but to a book by Peter Achtemeier. It is possible that the confusion is a matter of a mistake in this footnote which Driscoll just carried over to his book. In any case, with this new information, the focus seems to be more on Driscoll’s adopting this research report as his own work in the Trial book.”

When Throckmorton says “Holcomb might better get the credit for the selections,” I wonder if the researcher had become the ghost writer.

Ghost writing has been common — and controversial — in evangelical circles, wrote David Moore back in August. Moore called ghost writing “unethical.”

Apparently, Driscoll never has hidden his use of researchers. On the other hand, one wonders about the hand-off from Holcolmb to Driscoll — what assumptions were made, what was assumed about the information.

At any rate, U.S. Copyright Law applies to copyright infringements whether they are intentional and accidental.

For example, “I didn’t know I was speeding, officer!” You’d still get a ticket, right? And would you be right to denounce the officer for bringing up the matter?

Copyright infringement and plagiarism in the Mark Driscoll controversy

Mars Hill Church has added an online statement to a webpage, and that statement says Pastor Mark Driscoll’s book Trial suffered from “citation errors.”

The latest news on the Driscoll plagiarism controversy, blogged by Jonathan Merritt, answers questions regarding the minister’s book Trial but does not answer questions about other books suspected of plagiarism

Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church added a statement about Trial to one of its webpages, according to Warren Throckmorton at Patheos (Merritt’s source for the church’s statement).

“Citation errors” might be unintentional, but unintentional mistakes are not necessarily free of legal consequences.

To explain the possibility of legal consequences, we have to get some official definitions.

We might say plagiarism is unethical and dishonest, but not necessarily illegal.

We might say copyright infringement is illegal and actionable.

On its website, the Digital Media Law Project (DMLP) at Harvard University explains copyright infringement and plagiarism.

“Plagiarism is the act of using another’s work and passing it off as your own,” says the Digital Media Law Project. “While such a use could open you up to a copyright infringement claim, there is no legal liability associated with the act of plagiarism.”

Legally, copyright infringement is a different matter.

According to “Copyright Basics,” a fact sheet from the U.S. Copyright Office, “Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U. S. Code) to the authors of ‘original works of authorship,’ including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works.”

The person who produced a work has the “exclusive right to… and to authorize others to… reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords” and “prepare derivative works based upon the work,” says the U.S. Copyright Office.

Later on the fact sheet, the U.S. Copyright Office says, “It is illegal for anyone to violate any of the rights provided by the copyright law to the owner of copyright.”

Use of material without permission very easily could constitute copyright infringement.

DMLP offers the following examples to explain the differences between plagiarism and copyright infringement (read the third example closely):

“If an author publishes a poem on his blog in which he substantially copies from Dante’s Inferno but passes off the words as his own, he has committed plagiarism. However, the author has not committed copyright infringement because Dante’s work is in the public domain.

“In contrast, if a website owner publishes a compilation of contemporary short stories on her website without the permission of the original authors, she would be liable for copyright infringement, even if the compilation properly notes the original authors and thus avoids plagiarism.

“Finally, if a journalist uses content from yesterday’s daily newspaper as his own original article in a weekly online magazine, the journalist has committed both plagiarism and copyright infringement.”

Based some of the examples available here (they’re in Google Drive, so you might have to sign-in to your Google account to read them), Driscoll could easily be guilty of both plagiarism and copyright infringement.

According to DMLP, copyright infringement, once proven, can be legally actionable.

“If [a defendant in a copyright suit] is found liable for copyright infringement, the copyright holder will be entitled to recover his or her actual damages (e.g., lost profits) or, if certain conditions are met, statutory damages between $750 to $30,000 per infringement.  If the plaintiff can prove the infringement was willful, the statutory damages may be as high as $150,000 per infringement,” says DMLP.

Let’s look at that last sentence again, with my emphasis added: “If the plaintiff can prove the infringement was willful, the statutory damages may be as high as $150,000 per infringement.”

In other words, copyright infringement does not have to be intentional to bring legal trouble.

In light of what InterVarsity Press told Christianity Today (apparently just this morning), Driscoll and Mars Hill Church have plenty still to explain — and they’re not necessarily off the hook for legal problems, either.

Also see: 

Following Mark Driscoll’s plagiarism, it’s time to ask serious questions about Tyndale House’s credibility

Active Shooter Training

Prohibition agents destroying barrels of alcoh...

Prohibition agents destroying barrels of alcohol (United States, prohibition era) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week, I get to go to “Active Shooter Training,” as required by the university. I thought this was grim and cynical, but then maybe I’m grim and cynical: I think gun laws, like drug laws, like our ill-conceived attempt at alcohol Prohibition, will just make the underground market more powerful. If people want something, someone will supply it, legally or not. Demand and desire make common ground for anything prohibited. So, with despair and resignation, I guess “Active Shooter Training” will always be a good idea.