- From Steffan M. Bertsch <email@example.com
- Attached is a letter I sent to Australia's
Prime Minister, John Howard. Australia has joined the ranks of those countries
who now censor "offensive" sites and "offensive" materials
from the internet. Free speech is on dangerous footing. There is a saying
that "as above, so below." Well, what they do down under is
certain to come up topside. We still have the Second protecting our First,
but, our rulers are getting quite daring and brash these days, in case
you hadn't noticed.
- Steffan M. Bertsch
- Attorney at Law
- P.O. Box 668
- Lake Stevens, Washington
- (425) 335-3765
- June 2, 1999
- Prime Minister John Howard Parliament
House Canberra, ACT 2600 Australia
- Dear Mr. Howard:
- Recently I learned that Australia has
passed a law which will allow the government to censor the Internet.
On the surface, this might seem a goodly act, with its stated purpose to
remove pornography and other vices from various Australian web sites.
But, dangerous indeed is the first step taken toward censorship. Whether
your intent is of the highest virtue makes no difference to any scoundrel
who might chance upon the power to edit what is "right" speech
from what is "wrong" speech.
- You might wonder why I, an American would
have any concern about censorship in Australia. It is not lightly that
I address this issue, and, in many ways, I believe it is my duty to address
it. In my country, we are protected by the First Amendment of our Constitution,
which guarantees the Congress will not pass any laws abridging the freedom
of speech. But, even with such a guarantee, Americans, rights of free
speech have been slowly diminished. The foundation of the First Amendment
came not only from the minds of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James
Madison and other Americans, but also from the consolidated wisdom from
the likes of John Locke, Jonathan Swift, Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine and
Lord Coke, among many, many others. It is not an American exclusive by
any means, and an affront to any free speech is an attack on all free speech.
- When there is freedom of speech, there
will always be troublesome opinions that must be dealt with, either by
rational argument from open discourse, or by some means of oppression of
the unwanted doctrines. It seems that Australia has elected by passing
its new censorship legislation to enter the realm of oppression rather
than discussion, and this has proven to be quite a dangerous and despotic
course in the past.
- Certainly, you may have the wisdom, and
hopefully the scruples, not to abuse the awesome power given a censor.
But, others in your position might not behave with your restraint. And,
even when you try to be fair, your perspective might be colored enough
in one direction or another, that from another point of view, your censorship
amounts to pure, unadulterated despotism. Imagine if the Vatican were
the censor of what was to be printed in Belfast. How long would Protestants
stand for that? What would happen if the Archbishop of Canterbury became
the official censor for the Dublin press? Can you not see how explosive
such events would be?
- Australia, you might say, has not the
religious division of Ireland, so those analogies are irrelevant. Then
consider the secular differences within your country. You have a party
represented by Pauline Hansen. The positions taken by that party are quite
offensive to many. Would you seek to censor such views? Many would be
those in your corner encouraging you to do just that. However, you must
realize that taking such an action could foment rebellion in your land.
But, even worse, what if One Nation obtained sufficient support within
your borders to wield the censor,s ax?
- Once you start down the road to censorship,
the destination is guaranteed to oppress liberty, and perhaps spell devastation
for the country. I urge you to push for reconsideration of this most dangerous
of bills to lovers of liberty throughout the world.
- Steffan M. Bertsch