The Metropolitan Opera in New York on Monday will present John Adams ’s opera “The Death of Klinghoffer. ” The organization’s decision to mount the production has already spurred protests, with more to come.
A too-brief summary: In 1985 Leon Klinghoffer, a 69-year-old disabled man, and his wife, Marilyn, were passengers on an Italian cruise ship, the Achille Lauro. The ship was hijacked by Palestinian terrorists, who shot Klinghoffer in the head and threw him overboard in his wheelchair.
John Adams is a serious artist, recognized as a leading creator of modern operas. “The Death of Klinghoffer,” first produced in 1991, contains a running debate between the killers—who voice a number of undisguisedly anti-Semitic slurs in the course of justifying their conduct—and their victim. Protesters are demanding that the opera be canceled; defenders couch their position, as has the New York Times , in terms of artistic freedom or—as one letter-writer to the Times put it—of helping us “understand the anger, frustration and grievances of other people.” ...
But the controversy over the Adams opera cannot be dealt with by simple reference to the First Amendment or artistic freedom. Those who direct the Metropolitan Opera made a choice when they decided to offer Mr. Adams’s opera, and it is altogether fitting that they be publicly judged by that choice.
Suppose the opera had been about a different murder and the Met offered an intense, two-sided operatic discussion of the desirability of the murder of, say, President Kennedy in a work called “The Death of JFK. ” Or a production about the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in which singers on the “side” of that assassination offer racist views in support of the murder. Or how about one on the death of one of the thousands of victims of the 9/11 attack that contained an extended operatic debate between her killers and herself about whether her death was justified.
Surely we recoil at all of these. They all would be protected by the First Amendment. The First Amendment is basically—and gloriously—content-neutral. It protects not only enduring works of art but also the dregs of human imagination, ranging from films of animals being tortured and killed to the publication of “Mein Kampf.” But it is inconceivable that the Metropolitan Opera would have chosen to offer the public any of the operas I have just hypothesized.
The other day a unanimous Supreme Court ruled that a First Amendment challenge to an Ohio law should be heard in the lower courts. While the decision may have seemed a minor one, it represents an important advance for freedom of speech.
The question that the Court answered in the affirmative, with Justice Clarence Thomas writing, was whether Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life advocacy organization, has standing to challenge an Ohio statute that prohibits false statements made during a political campaign.
Last week, George Will wrote a column about how progressive politics have fomented "rape culture" on college campuses. The column was not well received by some, or even, as a great many of the histrionic responses would indicate, well understood.
Looking for issues to push in this year’s congressional elections, Senate Democrats are proposing a constitutional amendment that would enable government at the federal and state levels alike to heavily regulate campaign contributions and expenditures. The effort is driven by the Democrats’ intense disagreement with Supreme Court decisions on campaign finance. The amendment likely will fail, as it certainly should. As in so many areas of governance these days, liberty—here the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment—is at stake.
Last week in these pages (“Unfree Speech”), editorializing on the shamefully canceled commencement addresses of Condoleezza Rice and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Philip Terzian noted, “Both are identifiably conservative, and therefore, so far as the left is concerned, persona non grata. . . . But as it broadens and proliferates, as this culture of bigotry takes root and wields power, such campus intolerance will become a problem for the left as well.”
Yesterday, THE WEEKLY STANDARD reported on the New York City human rights commission's dubious case against seven business owners in the Hasidic community Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The commission alleged that these Jewish stores were guilty of religious and sexual discrimination for posting dress code signs requiring "No Shorts, No Barefoot, No Sleeveless, No Low Cut Neckline," and the stores were facing $75,000 in potential fines. The commission had already been slapped down last year by an administrative judge for alleging that the posted dress code was an attempt by the Orthodox Jewish business owners to impose their religion on others—after all, no one disputes that similar dress codes in courtrooms and other private establishments are acceptable.
Ted Cruz has sparked a Republican civil war. He has done the bidding of the GOP fringe, in a self-aggrandizing crusade. And while he has enhanced his own position in the conservative fantasyland he seeks to rule, the practical effect of his quixotic campaign to defund Obamacare has been to elevate the president and jeopardize the 2014 elections for his own party.
The Johns Hopkins University office of institutional equity has determined that pro-life students who want to conduct sidewalk counseling outside of a Baltimore abortion clinic are not engaging in harassment under university policies.
The students in Voices for Life have requested recognition from the student government association (SGA) but were turned down because the student government believed that the group would be harassing members of the public, in violation of school policies.
Muslim Americans in Michigan, including a local newspaper editor, will be rallying Friday in Dearborn to protest the YouTube film, "Innocence of Muslims" and advocate for blasphemy laws. Here's an image of a poster advertising the rally:
"I think it's not good enough to say it's free speech, it should be allowed. I think if this does provoke action against American citizens or Americans anywhere else in the world then maybe we do need to think how much freedom is OK."
It was bad enough, two years ago, that Defense Secretary Robert Gates called fringe Florida pastor Terry Jones to ask him not to burn copies of the Koran, or last week, that chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey took his turn to call Jones to ask him to stop publicizing a YouTube video, The Innocence of Muslims.