Mike Godwin (EFF) anti-censorship speech [cr-951213]


Richard Moore

>From: "Craig A. Johnson" <•••@••.•••>
Date:          Wed, 13 Dec 1995
Subject:       Godwin on Free Speech

(From The American Reporter, No. 177, Tue., 12 December 1995)

 *      *       *

by Mike Godwin
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Washington, D.C.


 (Note:  The following is the advance text of a speech to be
 delivered to a rally at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco
Thursday, December 14, on behalf of the effort to stop censorship of the Net.)

 Listen. Take a moment now and listen. (Sound of ripping paper.)
That's the sound of what the United States Congress has been doing to the
Constitution in the last few months, all in the name of protecting our
 But do they really care about our children? I doubt it.
 What they care about, for the most part, is being "seen" as
pro-family and pro-children. And since the religious right has seized much
of the high ground of pro-children-and-family rhetoric, guess who they're
afraid of.
 Were their votes grounded in an intelligent appraisal of the
technology and functions of the Net? Were they based on knowledge and
reflection? The short answer to these questions is "No." The votes of
Senators and Representatives were driven, for the most part, by fear and
 Last Thursday I was sworn in as a member of the state bar of
California. This is the third jurisdiction I'm admitted to practice in,
but it was only the first time I'd ever attended one of the group
swearing-in ceremonies. Like all the other new admittees, I echoed the
words of the attorney at the front of the auditorium. In unison, we all
swore to dedicate ourselves to upholding the United States Constitution.
 This oath is not terribly different in wording or philosophy from
that taken by each member of the United States House of Representatives,
or each member of the United States Senate, or the Governor of any state,
or the President of the United States. We have all sworn to uphold the
 Part of the Constitution is the First Amendment. And whenever you
think about the First Amendment, the first thing you should remember is
that it was designed by the Framers of the Constitution to protect
offensive speech and offensive speakers. After all, no one ever tries to
ban the other kind.
 And this was what I was thinking about as I stood in that
auditorium and took my oath -- that I was once again swearing to uphold
the First Amendment and the Constitution of which it is a part.
 But where are all the Representatives and Senators who have sworn
to uphold the First Amendment, I asked myself? Now that we face the
greatest attack on the freedom of speech of the common man that this
nation has ever seen, where are the other defenders of the Constitution?
Are they educating themselve about the new medium of the Net? Have they
read a word of Howard Rheingold's book on virtual communities? Have they
logged in themselves? Have they surfed the Web? Have made a friend on the
Net? Or are they satisfied with doing something that doesn't require any
online time at all -- passing bad laws?
 One senator from my state, Dianne Feinstein, is ready to ban
information from the Net that is legal in every library -- perhaps because
she's under the impression that it costs nothing to create the fiction
that she's preventing another Oklahoma City. But it does cost something --
it costs us the freedom that our forefathers shed their blood to bequeath
to us. Here's the sound of what Senator Feinstein is ready to do to the
First Amendment. (Sound of ripping paper.)
 And what about Senator Jim Exon from Nebraska? Is it any surprise
that Senator Exon gets all nervous and antsy when interviewers ask him
whether he personally has logged on? Is it any surprise that, for Senator
Exon, the Net is just another place to make an obscene phone call? Here's
the sound of what Senator Exon is ready to do to the First Amendment.
(Sound of ripping paper.)
 And the issue of shutting down free speech on the Net is hardly
one that divides liberals and conservatives.  Here's the sound of what
Rep. Pat Schroeder, a liberal Democrat, and Senator Orrin Hatch, a
conservative Republican, have already voted to do to the First Amendment.
(Sound of ripping paper.)
 You may wonder, by the way, why I'm using the sound effect of
ripping paper to symbolize what Congress is about to do to online speech,
which involves no paper at all. The answer, of course, is that most of
Senators and Representatives who voted for imprisoning the Net in a new
censorship regime don't know enough to find the Delete key. You'd think
that if they're going to legislate in cyberspace, they'd at least learn to
use computers themselves, so that the sound we hear as our freedoms are
whisked away would be the click of a keyboard or a mouse. But no.
 We may also hear, of course, the occasional voice of someone to
whom the Constitution still has meaning.  Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont
and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich have gone on record as opposing any
broad ban of "indecency" on the Net. Which goes to show you: the cause of
freedom of speech is not a partisan issue either.
 For the most part, the issue is one of ignorance of the
Constitution and what it protects. The First Amendment, so the courts tell
us, does not protect "obscenity" -- and the word "obscenity" has a special
legal meaning. It doesn't mean profane language. It doesn't mean Playboy
 According to the Supreme Court, it has something to with community
standards, with "prurient interest," and with a lack of any "serious"
literary, artistic, scientific, or political value. What is the sound of
obscenity? I'm not sure, but I'm told that if you dial up a certain 900
number you just might hear some of it.
 But Congress isn't even trying to outlaw "obscenity" on the Net --
they're banning something called "indecency," which is a far broader, far
vaguer concept. Unlike "obscenity," indecency is protected by the First
Amendment, according to the Supreme Court. But that same Court has never
defined the term, and Congress hasn't done so either.
 Still, we have some notion of what the sounds of indecency are.
Thanks to George Carlin and a case involving Pacifica Radio, we know that
sometimes indecency sounds like these seven words:  "sh-t, p-ss, f-ck,
c-nt, c-cksucker, motherf-cker and t-ts."
 Now, this isn't the politest language in the world -- on that
point I agree with the Christian Coalition. But I must say, as the father
of a little girl, that I lose no sleep over the prospect that Ariel will
encounter any of these words on the Net -- she is certain to encounter
them in the real world, no matter how or where she is raised.
 What causes me to wake up in the middle of the night,
white-knuckled in fear, is the prospect that, thanks to Senator Exon and
the Christian Coalition, my little girl will never be able to speak freely
on the Net, for fear that some bureaucrat somewhere doesn't think their
language is polite enough -- that it's "patently offensive" or "indecent."
 What is the sound of the indecent speech? Thanks to my friend
Harvey Silverglate, a lawyer in Boston, we know part of the answer. Harvey
wrote the following last week:
 'As a result of the FCC's ban on "broadcast indecency", Pacifica
Radio has ceased its broadcasts each year, on the anniversary of the
publication of Allen's Ginsberg's classic poem, "Howl", of a reading of
Ginsberg's poem by the poet.  Pacifica and Ginsberg and others have sued
the FCC, and while they won a small modicum of relief in the Court of
Appeals, they have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for review.  The
Supreme Court should act within the month.  Meanwhile, high school kids
read "Howl" in their English poetry anthologies, but it cannot be read on
the radio!'
 What is that the FCC thought was indecent? Try the sound of these

 "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,
starving hysterical naked, /dragging themselves through the negro streets
at dawn looking for an angry fix/angelheaded hipsters burning for the
ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of

 And if they found Allen Ginsberg indecent, is there any doubt
they'd come to the same opinion about James Joyce's ULYSSES, whose
character Molly Bloom closes one of the most sexually charged monologues
in the English language with this passage?

 "... and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought
well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again
yes and then asked would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I
put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my
breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said
yes I will Yes."

 That's the sound of indecency for you. And it's a measure of the
climate of fear created by Congress that America Online felt impelled to
delete all user profiles that include the word "breast" in them -- much to
the dismay of countless breast-cancer survivors. Now I ask you, don't be
mad at America Online, whose management has already apologized for this
gaffe -- be angry at Congress, whose crazy actions have created a world in
which the word "breast" is something to be afraid of.
 Now at this point the proponents of this legislation will cavil --
they'll say "Look, we're not trying to ban artists or literary geniuses or
brilliant comedians. We're just trying to protect our children."
 To which I have two answers: First, if you really want to protect
our children, find a better way to do it than to force all of us who
engage in public speech and expression to speak at the level of children.
There are laws already on the books that prevent the exposure to children
of obscene speech, and that prohibit child abuse -- before you start
passing new laws, make sure you understand what the old laws do. It may be
that no new legislation is required at all.
 Second, remember that freedom of expression isn't just for artists
or literary geniuses or brilliant comedians. It's for all of us -- it
provides a space for each citizen to find his own artistry, his own
genius, his own comedy, and to share it with others. It also provides a
space in which we can choose -- and sometimes must choose -- to say things
that others might find "patently offensive." And the First Amendment
protects that space most. Don't pass laws that undercut the very
foundation of a free society -- the ability to speak freely, even when
others are offended by what we have to say.
 I'm speaking now to you, Congress. If you pass a
telecommunications bill with this "indecency" language in it, we will
remember. And we will organize against you and vote you out.
 This isn't single-issue politics -- it's politics about the
framework in which "all" issues are discussed, and in which even offensive
thoughts are expressed. And you, Congress, are threatening to destroy the
framework of freedom of speech on the Net, the first medium in the history
of mankind that holds the promise of mass communications out to each
individual citizen.
 At this point, Congress, I'm not afraid of sexual speech on the
Net. And I'm not afraid that my little girl will encounter sexual speech
on the Net. What scares me is what you will do to the First Amendment on
the Net if we don't stop you.  That's more of a perversion than any
citizen of the United States should have to witness.
 And I'm telling you now, Representatives and Senators, we stand
ready to stop you. Listen to us now, or soon you will be listening to this
sound: (Sound of ripping paper.) That's the sound of what we will do to
your political future if you forget the oaths you swore.
 Long live the First Amendment and the Constitution. And long live
freedom of speech on the Net.


   (Mike Godwin is a lobbyist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.)


 Posted by Richard K. Moore (•••@••.•••) Wexford, Ireland
 CyberRights co-leader  | Cyberlib=http://www.internet-eireann.ie/cyberlib