Tag Archives: freedom of speech

Should the news industry be regulated?


Regulation for the news? Some say yes. Photo by Flickr user NS Newsflash.

Here at Backward Messages, I spend a lot of time writing about how journalists get it wrong, whether it’s playing up someone’s Wicca or Satanism faith or linking mass shootings with violent video games or heavy metal music. In some cases, they’re not getting it wrong by accident, but willingly focusing on “sexy” angles that will get more people to read or view a story, even if journalists are bending the truth in the process.

Over in Britain, where many journalists have been charged with crimes in the large-scale phone-hacking scandal at News Corp., a judge has recommended some changes in the way news agencies are run.

This week, Judge Brian Leveson delivered a long-awaited report sparked by British journalists’ misdeeds, and one of his top recommendation is for the news industry — in Britain at least — to establish a regulatory agency to keep reporters on the straight and narrow:

The British press should be regulated by an independent group supported by law and with the power to fine … Leveson said he was not recommending that Parliament set up a press regulator, but that the industry should create its own, which would be backed by legislation to make sure it meets certain standards of independence and effectiveness.

News International, a subsidiary of News Corp., responded with support for the idea in a statement, saying, “We accept that a new system should be independent, have a standards code, a means of resolving disputes, the power to demand prominent apologies and the ability to levy heavy fines.”

Rightly so, there are concerns that such an agency could stifle freedom of speech and freedom of the press, which are highly valued in Britain even without the backing of a doctrine like the First Amendment in the U.S. But the idea is a reminder that, other than laws against libelous or slanderous reporting, the news world is very lightly regulated, and journalists get away with a lot — even though their task is to properly inform the populace.

So, what do you think? Should the news industry — in any country — be regulated? If so, should it be regulated by peers, by the government, or by someone else? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Polish metaller faces jail over Bible-tearing


Behemoth frontman Nergal, AKA Adam Darski, has been found guilty in Poland’s Supreme Court of “offending religious sentiment” over a Bible-tearing performance. He could go to jail for 2 years.

In 2007, Polish blackened death-metal band Behemoth took the stage in Gdynia, Poland, and did the exact same stage show they’d done everywhere else on tour. But that show included a moment in which frontman Nergal, also known as Adam Darski, tore up a Bible and called the Catholic Church “the most murderous cult on the planet.” As he tore up the Bible, he said, “they call it the Holy Book. I call this the book of lies. Fuck the shit, fuck the hypocrisy.”

Ryszard Nowak, head of the All-Polish Committee for Defence against Sects, took him to court. The crime? “Offending religious sentiment,” a law that remains on the books in Poland although some legislators would like to see it repealed. Darski prevailed when the judge found that his Bible-destruction was a form of artistic expression consistent with Behemoth’s style. But it didn’t end there; Catholics saw him booted from his role as a judge on The Voice of Poland, due to his “provocative behaviour, showing a lack of respect not only for religious beliefs, but also for illnesses and the disabled” in another performance in which he pretended to heal someone in a wheelchair.

The case against Darski went all the way to Poland’s Supreme Court where, late last month, a judge found him guilty of “offending religious sentiment,” a crime that can carry up to two years in jail:

The Supreme Court was asked to rule on legal arguments
thrown up by the musician’s trial in a lower court on charges of
offending religious feelings.

It said a crime was committed even if the accused, who uses
the stage name Nergal, did not act with the “direct intention”
of offending those feelings, a court spokeswoman said.

That interpretation closed off an argument used by lawyers
for Darski, who said he had not committed a crime because he did
not intend to offend anyone.

Both sides held their ground: “(The decision) is negative and restricts the freedom of speech,” Jacek Potulski, a lawyer for Darski, told Reuters. He said he was not giving up. “We are still arguing that we were dealing with art, which allows more critical and radical statements,” the lawyer said.

“The Supreme Court said clearly that there are limits for artists which cannot be crossed,” Nowak told Polish television.

Here’s Darski’s own take:

After emerging from court, Darski himself said that on the one hand “one should respect the court’s verdict.” However, he also claimed that his country’s mentality “is immature, trying to gag people,” and that he was in court for “the good cause”, namely the right to “freedom of speech.”

What do you think? In a country where laws against blasphemy rub shoulders with freedom of speech, which should prevail? Should people go to jail for these kinds of performances? Or should religious groups just look the other way?

Help EFF fight unconstitutional game labeling

I recently posted about Congressmen Joe Baca and Frank Wolf’s ill-conceived effort to put warning labels on video games. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has come out strongly against the proposal, calling it unconstitutional.

They write:

In a recent Supreme Court decision to strike down a California law restricting the sale of violent video games to minors, the justices emphatically rejected studies that purport to show such a link: “California relies primarily on the research of Dr. Craig Anderson and a few other research psychologists whose studies purport to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children. These studies have been rejected by every court to consider them, and with good reason.”

Not only that, but the Court expressly affirmed the robust First Amendment protection due to video games: “Video games qualify for First Amendment protection. Like protected books, plays, and movies, they communicate ideas through familiar literary devices and features distinctive to the medium.”

The page also provides you with a quick and handy way to tell your local Congressperson to oppose Baca and Wolf’s bill.

Legislator: If prayer bill passes, “[Kids] could say whatever they want. That scares me.”


Opponents of a Florida bill say it would allow kids to deliver “Satanic messages” at school events. Photo by Flickr user allthecolor.

The prayer-in-schools debate has revived in Florida, where a bill that would allow students to deliver “inspirational messages” at school events has passed the house and senate and awaits the vote of Gov. Rick Scott.

According to the Washington Post, Scott “hasn’t promised to sign the bill, but he did say this: ‘I haven’t seen the bill, but I believe in Jesus Christ, and I believe individuals should have a right to say a prayer.'”

However, some have pointed out that the law would permit students to include “Satanic messages” in school alongside those of other faiths. One such detractor was Democratic Rep. Jeff Clemons, who read from the “Aryan Satanic Manifesto.” He then asked Rep. Charles Van Zant, who supports the law, if the passage was inspirational.

“That would be the students’ prerogative because of our constitutional freedom of speech,” Van Zant replied.

The Sunshine Sentinel stated:

While supporters are largely viewed as trying to open up a channel for school prayer, both sides in the debate agree it could also allow messages that include Holocaust denial, racially-charged speeches, uncomfortable beliefs of some fringe religions or endorsements of sex and drugs… If backers of the bill want students to be able to give Christian prayers as an inspirational message, they have to be prepared for Satanic, Muslim and other messages.

“They could say whatever they want,” said Rep. Marty Kiar. “That scares me.”

I’m not sure if this is genuine sentiment, or a last-ditch effort to make this bill fail. In either case, it comes down to a few things: One, some legislators are afraid of the beliefs and statements of people who follow Satanism and other religions they consider “fringe.” (By the way, it’s worth stating that Aryan Satanism is not the only kind — it’s not even the most popular kind.) Two, they’re willing to restrict the free-speech rights of citizens in order to quell this fear, just because the citizens in this case happen to be minors. And three, this is apparently their most potent argument against allowing “inspirational” religious messages in schools.

I’m not a proponent of prayer in school, but for once, I find myself siding with those who are.

What do you think? Would this bill allow Satanist kids to have their say? And would that be a bad thing?

Christmas sign might force parents to explain their belief in Satan to their children


Jackie Blevins’ Christmas lights, and their unorthodox message, are making his Tennessee neighbors angry. Photo by Tim Davis.

Humans have a variety of responses to rejection. Some withdraw. Some tell themselves they’re better off anyway. Some get revenge. And some, apparently, put up Christmas lights with Satanic messages in them. That’s what Jackie Blevins did, and his neighbors in Carter County, Tennessee, aren’t so happy.

The message reads: “The Devil’s Inn rules. Closed until Judgement Day. Satan Satan hear my plea. Satan Satan come to me.”

Here’s how Blevins explained the whole thing to a WCYB reporter:

“[I] put this sign up here on the building because of what has happened right here,” Blevins said as he pointed to cars he refinished with skulls and devil’s horns.

Blevins told News 5 his cars were banned from area car shows, and in response he built the sign as a way of showing his anger.

While his decorative choices may rub some people the wrong way, he tells News 5, it’s just his personal form of expression. “It is my freedom of speech, my freedom of religion for these cars out here. They don’t mean nothing. They’re just a chunk of lousy metal,” Blevins explained.

But some folks who live nearby are upset with the message:

“I was just horrified, horrified,” Deborah Jones said of the first time she saw the sign. “Knowing that a child could ask a parent is Satan really there? Is Satan in his home? What is a parent supposed to say to a child?”

… I would assume that a parent in that position would answer in accordance with his or her beliefs. If you don’t believe in Satan, say so. If you do, explain who he is, what his background is, and how you (and other people of your faith) feel about him. Why someone would spend so much time and energy on a figure like the Devil, and yet be unwilling to discuss those feelings with a curious child? In either case, it’s also a good time to discuss the First Amendment, and the freedom to speak out and to practice whatever faith makes you happy.

Someone else has already beat me to blogging about this. You can read a more Christian take over at Fellowship of the Minds. The comments are particularly interesting.

“Satanic” singer booted from Polish reality TV show


Adam Darski, who performs as Nergal with the Polish metal band Behemoth, tears pages from a Bible. Photo by Flickr user mithrandir3.

Last month, I championed Polish metal singer Nergal, AKA Adam Darski, for appearing on a popular reality television show despite pressure from Polish Catholics that he be removed. Unfortunately, TVP, the broadcaster which airs Polish television show The Voice of Poland, yanked Darski from the program last week.

Recently, Darski was exonerated of “offending religious feeling” — a charge stemming from a performance in which he tore up a Bible on stage. A Polish judge said the act was a protected form of expression, and that Darski had not broken any laws. He recently earned more scorn for an onstage performance in which he dressed as a priest and “healed” several musicians from another band, all of whom were sitting in wheelchairs.

Following the Oct. 1 “healing,” TVP Chairman Juliusz Braun described the incident as “provocative behaviour, showing a lack of respect not only for religious beliefs, but also for illnesses and the disabled.”

Braun did not wait for another court challenge. Last week his station announced, “Adam Darski, aka Nergal, will not be given his own programme on TVP, nor will he be a juror in a second series of Voice of Poland, even if the network decides to commission one [a second series],” said spokesperson for TVP, Joanna Stempien-Rogalinska. Darski will appear in already-taped episodes, which will continue into December.

Poland has a longstanding tradition of freedom of religion — and is brand-new to freedom of speech — so it’s a shame that Darski’s theatrics would cost him a job. Even though he legally has the right to criticize religious institutions in this way (which has already been proven in court), apparently different rules apply when you’re a television star. What a message to send to Poland’s minority religions, and to the people who practice them in good faith.

Did Darski go too far with his staged “healing?” Should he — or other Thelemites and Satanists — be forbidden from appearing on television?

In Poland, Catholics go to war against Behemoth’s Nergal — for giving Satanism a voice


Catholic leaders in Poland took Nergal to court after he tore up a Bible on stage. Nergal won, but the fight isn’t over.

Catholic leaders in Poland, which has been a stronghold of Catholicism since World War II, have been on the warpath. Their target? Adam Darski, also known as Nergal, frontman for the Polish metal band Behemoth.

In 2007, a group called the All-Polish Committee for Defence against Sects circulated to political leaders a list of bands the committee claimed “promote Satanism.” The committee and its leader, Ryszard Nowak, hoped leaders would ban performances by these groups. They didn’t.

That same year, during a performance in the Polish city of Gdynia, Nergal destroyed a Bible and called the Catholic Church “the most murderous cult on the planet.” As he tore up the Bible, he said, “they call it the Holy Book. I call this the book of lies. Fuck the shit, fuck the hypocrisy.”

You can view the act, at roughly the 45-second mark, in this video:

You can’t hear about this without thinking of Sinead O’Connor tearing up a photograph of the Pope on Saturday Night Live in 1992. Even in America, where such acts have been protected for centuries, O’Connor’s move touched off a major controversy that damaged her career permanently.

The All-Polish Committee for Defence against Sects took Nergal to court over the Bible-tearing incident, claiming he “offended religious feeling.” On August 18 of this year, a Polish judge ruled that Nergal’s destruction of a Bible during a show was a form of artistic expression consistent with Behemoth’s style.

In a statement on the band’s web site, Nergal wrote, “I’m so glad to see that intelligence won over religious fanatics in my home country. Tho there’s still so much work to be done to make things right. But I’m sure that I’m on the right path to ultimate freedom! The battle is won, but the war ain’t over. Heil Satan!”

Of course, that wasn’t the end of it. Darski is starring in The Voice of Poland, a reality-TV show in which celebrities assist in the search for an outstanding singer. That offended Bishop Wieslaw Mering, head of the diocese of Wlocawek in northern Poland, who urged Polish television to pull the program from the air:

“A blasphemer, Satanist and lover of evil incarnate has the screen of public television at his disposal, and thus he will be able to spread his poisonous teachings more easily,” the bishop declared in a statement. “Non possumus! [This cannot be!].”

The Association of Catholic Journalists has circulated Mering’s statement.

Freedom of speech is a very new protection in Poland; censorship was abolished in 1990, while freedom of speech was officially added to the constitution in 1997. Freedom of religion, however, has been guaranteed by law in Poland since 1573. Of course, the same freedom of speech that protects Nergal’s right to criticize the Catholic Church also protects the Catholic Church’s right to criticize Nergal, his on-stage performances, and his negative views on Catholicism.

This whole situation is a reminder that, to many, Satanism is not a legitimate faith; it is one to be scorned, maligned, and silenced. Fortunately, Nergal is not backing down from the limelight. Particularly in his role on The Voice of Poland, he dresses pretty much like an everyday guy. Such visibility on what is likely to be a widely viewed television program, for someone who is a known Satanist, will hopefully show viewers that Satanists are normal, everyday people.

Readers, do you know any Satanists? What, if anything, have you learned about Satanism from spending time with them? Have your feelings on the faith changed because of it?

EDIT: As of October 17, Adam Darski has been forced to leave Voice of Poland. Read the update here: https://backwardmessages.wordpress.com/2011/10/17/satanic-singer-booted-from-polish-reality-tv-show/