A lot of folks are now altering photographs of Augusta state Rep. Earnest Smith to make him look silly.
But nothing can compare to how he’s making himself look.
In supporting a fellow Democrat’s bill banning the “obscene” Photoshopping of a picture of someone else, which might be done to mock or tease someone or just have fun, Rep. Smith had this to say:
“No one has a right to make fun of anyone. You have a right to speak, but no one has a right to disparage another person. It’s not a First Amendment right.”
This is a lawmaker, folks.
It’s hard to believe, even in a state that gave rise to U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson – who once worried the island of Guam might tip over – that an American citizen would be so ignorant of our rights. It’s mind-boggling to think that people who help write our laws are that out to lunch.
Must we? Really? Must we refute the representative’s asinine assertion?
First, it should go without saying that Americans have a fundamental right to mock others. It’s an integral part of free speech; ridicule and satire simply cannot be boiled out and separated from free speech. It’s impossible.
And while parody and sarcasm are something of an art that probably shouldn’t be tried by amateurs, they are no less protected under the Constitution.
All you have to do to understand this simple fact is watch television for a day. The late-night shows alone are savage when it comes to teasing and even tormenting public officials and celebrities for their tomfoolery.
In truth, exposing incompetence, absurdity and nonsense with biting humor is an honored talent as old as civilization itself. It’s certainly a great American tradition, perhaps best exemplified by the beloved art of editorial cartooning.
But even if all this is lost on someone, there’s plenty of case law to be found. In one landmark case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that even the disgusting Hustler magazine was protected by the First Amendment in its lampooning of the Rev. Jerry Falwell.
You don’t have to be a lawyer to know of the case, either. It was quite widely covered in the news and debated in society. Where was Mr. Smith?
The representative’s position, and how ridiculously he supports it, will no doubt be fodder for much mocking about the land. Indeed, national news outlets began hearing about it this week, with one using a bit of understatement to conclude that Smith possesses “an unconventional grasp of the First Amendment.”
But his ignorance of the law and his arrogance toward his fellow Americans is not funny.
It is symptomatic of a tin-pot tyranny that would have the government decide what is and what isn’t allowable in our discourse. It’s the same kind of oppression that attempts to say you can’t publish cartoons of Mohammed.
The bill in question isn’t any more acceptable by banning photo manipulation that “causes an unknowing person wrongfully to be identified as the person in an obscene depiction.” Do you really want to leave it up to Earnest Smith to say what “obscene” is?
A people cannot be said to be truly free without the freedom to think and speak as he or she sees fit.
Some Americans understood that in the 1770s. Most understand it today.
Frighteningly, there are some roaming the halls of power even now who do not.