Anne Rice and the First Amendment-A Catholic Fan’s Perspective

Anne Rice and the First Amendment-A Catholic Fan’s Perspective

Yesterday as I was traipsing through the internet an article about author Anne Rice caught my eye. As a lifelong fan of Anne, I clicked on the story and discovered that there had been quite a flap over on her Facebook page with some folks who took issue with her congratulating actress Ellen Page (of Juno and XMen fame) for coming out at a recent event focused on LGBT youth. Now I understand that homosexuality is a hot button topic for many conservatives and I want to let you know that will not be the main focus of this posting. What really struck me about this issue was that it speaks directly to the issue of First Amendment rights in this country.

Author Anne Rice

For those of you who may not be acquainted with Ms. Rice’s writing she is the author of two phenomenally successful book series-Interview with a Vampire and the Witching Hour books. Both series focus on the supernatural, but she is also the author of Called Out of Darkness and Christ the Lord. You see Ms. Rice was, like me, born a Catholic and had some seriously rocky times in her life which caused her to doubt her faith. I am sure that most everyone here can identify with that on some level. I don’t know many people over the age of 21 who have not gone into a church, looked skyward and uttered “Really? What are you trying to tell me??”. The events that led Anne to her crises of faith were the death of her daughter from leukemia at the tender age of six and the death of her husband of brian cancer in 2002. When her husband died she briefly reunited with the Church and wrote one book based on the life of Jesus Christ and the other about her struggles with her faith.

The cover of Called Out Of Darkness

The later books were amazing and inspirational, and provided me much comfort in a difficult time in my life-my mother in law who has never read a book that was not about the Virgin Mother even read them and loved them. This is why it broke my heart to hear that Anne was having an issue with some folks on her Facebook page who posted less than kind words in response to a post on her Facebook page expressing support for actress Ellen Page on her coming out at the event I mentioned earlier in this posting. Anne received many supportive comments on the post, but also received many that were derogatory in nature.

This is where the First Amendment comes in for me. Like many celebrities who use their Facebook pages as communities to talk with their fans, Ms. Rice has set clear rules for the comments on her page. One of those rules is that everyone is treated with the same level of respect. Ms. Rice clearly felt that many of the comments on this particular post were less than respectful, and I would have to agree. Having been the target of less than respectful comments over the years of standing in support of my gay conservative friends, and their other straight allies, I understood why Ms. Rice felt it necessary to post a response to her detractors.

Now, I understand that living in a free society sometimes means that I will hear speech I feel is less than respectful, and at times even downright ugly. That is one of the prices I pay for living in the best country on this earth. However, when someone who owns a business, which Ms. Rice does since this Facebook page is to promote her writing, lays out clear rules of conduct about the use of that medium why should they not be justified in blocking those who are no longer following those rules?

Now please understand I am not attacking the people who were posting the negative comments, let me reiterate, I see this as a First Amendment issue. When I hear someone preaching hatred of whites (which I happen to be) or of women (which I also happen to be) I am horribly offended-but I understand that this is a price we pay for freedom. However, if I saw these comments on my Facebook page as a business person I would feel compelled to take similar action to Ms. Rice and ban those who were in violation of the policies of my page. As a business person that would be my right, just as it is the right of these folks who find Ms. Rice’s postings objectionable no matter what their content to leave the community on the page.

Free speech is indeed a double edged sword. Sometimes it means that people will say things that we find offensive, even hateful. When we hear these things we face a choice. We can continue to support the people who say them, or we can vote with our feet and chose to end our affiliation with them. I guess I am just asking folks that before posting a comment on Facebook on a business’s page, stop and consider your options. In a free society those who vote with their feet can make a huge impact.

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8 Comments
  • Xavier says:

    How interesting to open this page and see a picture of one of my favorite authors! I didn’t know about all the tragedy in her life but looking back it seems to explain the theological bent of the Interview series, especially Memnoch the Devil – which was essentially a treatise on the nature of good and evil and redemption. Now it all makes sense.

    As for the free speech and Facebook issue: I agree wholeheartedly but would go a step further. In my opinion, blogs too should have a posted policy statement as to what is acceptable behavior and language. Liberty Unyielding has an excellent posting policy that’s a header to the comments section.

    Though I’ve thought for years that blogs should have a written policy, I’ll share something that happened just a couple weeks ago. On a popular blog, without any written policy of any kind, another commenter asked me a question about street lingo which was pertinent to the post topic. My non-derogatory explanation contained a word that consisted of a single letter and a series of *s. (no, it wasn’t the N-word) Banned. No warning from a moderator. No explanation. No response to my email inquiry. Now, that’s fine – it’s their blog and they can do as they please. Apparently I broke some secret rule, lol. Had I known about their sensitivity I could have picked a different term or ignored the question. Oh well. [sigh]

    Abuse doesn’t seem to be a problem here at VG but like guns, it’s probably better to have a policy and not need it, etc. Something to think about, anyway.

    Good to see you posting again, Jennifer. You always seem to pick a topic that resonates with me.

    • Jennifer says:

      Xavier,
      Thank you so much for your readership! I am glad to meet another fan of Ms. Rice and am thrilled that my topic resonate with you. You are right in your point as well that our blog doesn’t have abuse. We respect everyone’s right to their opinions-even when we disagree with them to our core. It is still America and we support their right to speak them freely. I also agree that policies are good to have in the event that they are needed. Preventive is the best cure.

      I also loved Memnoch by the way and found it a fascinating trip through the mind and hearts of mankind. :0) I look forward to interacting with you on future posts, it is one of the things that makes VG special.

      All the best,
      Jennifer

  • wfjag says:

    Jennifer, please: The First Amendment has nothing to do with you or Ms. Rice’s rules for posting comments on Your Blog or FaceBook page, or any other site you or she operates. The First Amendment prohibits the government from setting rules of establishing censorship (and in 4 other areas, including worship).

    You, and she, are free to establish and enforce your rules according to your standards. This is a freedom that derives from two sources. First is your common law rights of expression. Next, is the negative implication from the First Amendment, since the government is prohibited from establishing rules either censoring or requiring posting (except in some limited areas, such as involving national security, and, “hate speech” – which has to be aimed at provoking violence against identifiable individuals to be prohibited). Accordingly, except for limited areas as to which censorship is permitted under the First Amendment, the government may not prohibit you selecting your own standards.

    The above may seem pedantic, until you understand the implications. If you believe the First Amendment, or other provisions of the Constitution, establish your rights, you’ve conceded the idea that the government has the right to grant, or withhold, freedom to you. If you understand that your rights come from the common law (which, Englishmen believed were granted by God), then you understand that by the Constitution, the government is delegated to act on your behalf in some areas, but, it is a government of limited powers, and any rights not delegated, are reserved to you.

    You, and Ms. Rice, may (and should) set rules for commenters. If I don’t like your rules, the response is — go set up your own blog, and set your own rules. Your blog is akin to your house. I am only a guest. If I don’t mind my manners, you show me the door and don’t invite me back. Similarly, if I don’t follow your rules in commenting, you hold the delete button and may block me. There is no authority other than you and the standards you set. That is your common law right, and you are not beholding to any government official to exercise that right. If I am uncivil, that reflects on me. Still, you have no legal, social or moral obligation to allow me to bring your blog down to levels below your standards.

    This is my second point: More resort to the Delete button might teach the lesson that there are consequences for bad manners. If my thoughts are so important (to me) to want to share, either I can do so respectfully, or, expect to be deleted and so no one will see them.

    I enjoy your blog entries, and that you do believe in standards of civility (and will try to meet them in my comments).

    • Jennifer says:

      wfjag,
      Thank you so much for your comments! I take it from your handle, and exquisite knowledge of all things Constitutional and lawyerly that you are, or were, a JAG. If I am right, thank you so much for your service! Now that’s out of the way, your comment below is also correct in that technically the First Amendment covers free political speech-but we all know that the expectation of protecting other types of speech is also assumed by most people. After all, as Americans we are blessed to live in a nation where we are literally free to speak our minds and should do that-passionately.

      I also thank you for applauding the setting of standards. I truly think that this is something our society in general has gotten away from and I do think that we should bring it back into vogue (maybe not Mad Men style) but I think you understand my meaning.

      Thank you also for reading, it is such a treat to speak with all of you each week. It is one of my favorite things about blogging.

      Best regards,
      Jennifer

  • Jen says:

    ‘Next, is the negative implication from the First Amendment, since the government is prohibited from establishing rules either censoring or requiring posting (except in some limited areas, such as involving national security, and, “hate speech” – which has to be aimed at provoking violence against identifiable individuals to be prohibited). Accordingly, except for limited areas as to which censorship is permitted under the First Amendment, the government may not prohibit you selecting your own standards.’

    Please show me where in the Constitution is the federal government permitted to silence speech as it involves national security or censor speech it deems “hate speech”.

    Here is the actual text from the 1st Amendment.
    AMENDMENT I

    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.

    I do not see any exceptions or asterisks written into this amendment delineating what you are purporting to be in the Bill of Rights.

  • wfjag says:

    No right under any provision of the Constitution is considered absolute. All are limited by other provisions. The leading case on “hate speech” not being protected by the First Amendment is Virginia v. Black, 538 U.S. 343, 358 – 360 (2003), where in the Court stated:

    “The protections afforded by the First Amendment, however, are not absolute, and we have long recognized that the government may regulate certain categories of expression consistent with the Constitution. See, e.g., Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568, 571–572 (1942) (“There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which has never been thought to raise any Constitutional problem”). The First Amendment permits “restrictions upon the content of speech in a few limited areas, which are ‘of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be devived from them is clearly outweighted by the social interest in order and morality.’” R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, supra, at 382 – 383 (quoting Chapinsky v. New Hampshire, supra, 572).

    Thus, for example, a State may punish those words “which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.” . . . Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, supra, at 572,; see also R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, supra, at 383 (listing limited areas where the First Amendment permits restrictions on the content of speech). We have consequently held that fighting words—“those personally abusive epithets which, when addressed to the ordinary citizen, are, as a matter of common knowledge, inherently likely to provoke violent reaction”—are generally proscribable under the First Amendment. Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15, 20, (1971); see also Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, supra, at 572. Furthermore, “the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.” Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444, 447 (1969) (per curiam). And the First Amendment also permits a State to ban a “true threat.” Watts v. United States, 394 U.S. 705, 708, (1969) (per curiam) (internal quotation marks omitted); accord, R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, supra, at 388 (“[T]hreats of violence are outside of the First Amendment”); Madsen v. Women’s Health Center, Inc., 512 U.S. 753, 774, (1994); Schenck v. Pro–Choice Network of Western N. Y., 519 U.S. 357, 373, (1997).

    “True threats” encompass those statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals. See Watts v. United States, supra, at 708, (“political hyberbole” is not a true threat); R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, supra, at 388. The speaker need not actually intend to carry out the threat. Rather, a prohibition on true threats “protect[s] individuals from fear of violence” “and “from the disruption that fear engenders,” in addition to protecting people “from the possibility that the threatened violence will occur.” Ibid. Intimidation in the constitutionally proscribable sense of the word is a type of true threat, where a speaker directs a threat to a person or group of persons with the intent of placing the victim in fear of bodily harm or death.
    Respondents do not contest that some cross burnings fit within this meaning of intimidating speech, and rightly so. As noted in Part II, supra, the history of cross burning in this country shows that cross burning is often intimidating, intended to create a pervasive fear in victims that they are a target of violence.”

    Plurality opinion by Justice O’Conner, in which The Chief Justice, and Justices Stevens, and Breyer joined. In a separate opinion, Justices Scalia and Thomas, also agreed with this. Still, Justice Souter dissented, and was joined by Justices Kennedy and Ginsburg, who would not have allowed even this exception to the First Amendment’s prohibition on regulation of content.

    The most recent case involving national security concerns and the protections of the First Amendment, is Clapper v. Amnesty Intern. USA, ___ U.S. __, 133 S.Ct. 1138 (Feb. 26, 2013). There the Supreme Court avoided deciding whether national security can justify infringing on First Amendment rights, and so recognizing an exception to the First Amendment’s prohibitions. Plaintiffs asserted that surveillance authorized by Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA), 50 U.S.C. §1881a, chilled their exercise of First Amendment rights. The majority of the Supreme Court held that plaintiffs lacked standing because they could not prove they had suffered no particularized injury [ironically, such proof would be in the possession of the NSA, DoJ and FISA court] and so plaintiffs cannot manufacture standing merely by inflicting harm on themselves based on their fears of hypothetical future harm that is not certainly impending.

    Justice Breyer, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, dissented. However, the reasons included concluding that with court authorization consistent with Fourth Amendment standards, such surveillance was proper.

    So, while perhaps it is technically true that there is no national security exception to the First Amendment currently recognized by the Supreme Court, the avenues for enforcing one’s First Amendment rights under such circumstances are very limited.

    Although my summary of First Amendment rights was limited by the inaccuracy of any summary, my points are valid.

  • ALman says:

    I tend to think of blogs as taverns, or whatever you call your favorite watering-hole. A blogger, like a owner, picks out the decor, hires any help, and determines the overall nature of the “establishment”. Also, directly or indirectly, the blogger (owner) sets the boundaries.
    Unlike these “watering-holes”, some take their place at the blog with libation in hand. Others have tea, milk, water, etc. Others won’t allow anything liquid near their computer. Anyway, you go, according to the sitcom “Cheers”, where everybody knows your name. So, you have discussions, your agreements, your disagreements, and even “knock-down-drag-outs”. There’s a group who are the glue that hold things together. Some leave, some new ones show up. Once and awhile, there’s someone who can “lick anybody in the house!” Usually, nothing more than banning the person is necessary.
    If I go to a blog and they’re talking over my head, I move on. If I go to one that’s filled with ##!!@# #@!!!! comments, I likewise move on. What I’m getting at is that if I don’t go into a tavern and tell them how to run their business, how could it be reasonable for me to tell someone how to run a blog? (This, of course, doesn’t preclude suggestions.) There was one I visited from time to time for the purpose of getting a different perspective. Yet, the “owner” had no control. It contained some of the most vile racist, sexist, and hate-filled comments I’ve encountered. Now, I gained nothing from this and, after seeing that it was going to continue, I deleted the bookmark for the site never to return. One difficulty, though, if I were to make some of the same remarks, I’m certain I’d be in jail.
    Well, time to call it a night. Here’s to “seeing” you next time ‘round. And, it’ll be on your dime! (grin)

  • Jennifer says:

    ALman,
    But we always appreciate “seeing you” in our virtual tavern. After all, you are a classy gent! (tips libation towards screen) here is to you!

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