Free Speech Under Attack
As OZ Joins Net
Censoring Countries
From Steffan M. Bertsch
From Steffan M. Bertsch <
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