Tag Archives: free speech

Lawyer Ads Weren’t Legal Until 1977

Toward the end of the fifth episode of Better Call Saul, Jimmy is talking to his brother Chuck about his right to advertise, at which point Chuck mentions that the practice “wasn’t even allowed until five Supreme Court justices went completely bonkers in Bates vs State Bar of Arizona“. And indeed, bar associations until that time had traditionally banned all forms of lawyer advertising — the thinking being that good work is its own advertisement through the word of mouth it generates and that discussing money matters was beneath the professionalism of a lawyer.

Chuck McGill explaining Bates vs the State Bar of Arizona, in the fifth episode of Better Call Saul

Chuck McGill explaining Bates vs the State Bar of Arizona, in the fifth episode of Better Call Saul


Well in 1976, an Arizona legal clinic which only handled basic legal matters placed an ad with prices for some services it provided, such as uncontested divorces and basic adoptions. The State Bar of Arizona sued them, and the Arizona Supreme Court found in their favor. But, the United States Supreme Court, having recently ruled that laws prohibiting pharmacists from advertising their prices were unconstitutional, took up the case and ruled that the same bans are unconstitutional for lawyers also. The thinking was that the rules were not only anachronistic, but that they constituted a disservice to the common man in that they prohibited the free flow of information.

It was an early ruling on the concept of commercial speech, which has since evolved quite a bit, and was most recently the reason behind the landmark ruling of Citizens United vs FEC, in which the ban against corporations spending money on political campaigns was lifted.

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From Wikipedia

Thai Guy Convicted Of Insinuating Something About His King

First, some background: Thailand‘s government is not exactly the poster child of stability, and coups d’état happen about once a decade. But the country has been a constitutional monarchy since 1932, and for most of that time, they’ve had the same king — the world’s longest-reigning monarch. Also, like most countries that aren’t America, unfettered freedom of speech is as foreign to them as Phuket is to us. Case in point: there’s a law, which gets used quite a lot, making it illegal to insult the king. Most of the time, the accused pleads guilty and they get a pardon for saying they’re sorry.

Red shirt protest in 2010 in Bangkok, like the one this guy attended


In 2010, an adviser to the Commerce Ministry took part in a protest against the administration and gave a speech in which he listed a number of people that were against the dissolution of the administration. which is something that happens in parliamentary democracies. At the end of the list, he said there was one more person to name, but that

“I am not brave enough to say it. But I know what are you thinking right now. So I will keep my mouth shut.”

The insinuation being he was talking about the king without actually talking about the king, so that he wouldn’t be guilty of insulting the king — because apparently saying the king is a proponent of the administration is some sort of insult. Well, the authorities weren’t just going to let him skirt the law by not actually committing any crime, so they arrested him anyway. And then a judge convicted him, because his silence spoke volumes. In the Newspeak from 1984, this was known as thoughtcrime. He’s currently awaiting an appeal, after which he can get up to 15 years in prison — for not saying something.

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From The New York Times, via Slashdot

Hard Times Are Causing Blasphemy Laws To Be Used Again In Europe

When you hear the term “blasphemy law”, the countries that come to mind are probably Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. But in reality, most European countries also have blasphemy laws. That rather large group includes Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, and Greece. (Until recently, the UK and the Netherlands also had blasphemy laws.) Still, just because outdated laws are on the books, it doesn’t mean they get used. In most of the countries above, the last prosecutions for blasphemy were decades ago. Not in Greece though. In Greece, they had two of them in the past year. Spain also had one in 2012, Finland’s last prosecution was in 2008, and Germany’s in 2006.

The prosecutions in Germany and Finland were against people that made comments about Islam, probably in retaliation for terrorist attacks. The more recent ones in Spain and Greece were against people that made comments about Christianity. What’s interesting about this is that in both Spain and Greece, the unemployment rate is as high as it was during the Great Depression: 26%. Times are hard, and during hard times, people turn to religion, and then use religion as a “righteous” channel for their anger to form mobs against the infidels who are drawing God’s wrath and destroying the economy. During the Great Depression in Germany, Hitler won a lot of support in part by blaming the Jesus-killing Jews for the country’s problems. After Afghanistan’s devastating war with the Soviets, the Taliban also blamed the infidels, and instituted Sharia law. Yemen, another haven of religious tolerance, has an unemployment rate of 35%.

NPR has an article highlighting the two blasphemy cases in Greece:

  • One was against a 27-year old scientist who created a Facebook page making fun of a famous monk
  • The other was against the author and cast of a play, called Corpus Christi, which portrays Jesus and his disciples as gays in modern-day Texas

The scientist faces six months in jail, and the author, two years. In October of 2012, the Greek neo-fascist party Golden Dawn led a mob — which included priests — to a production of the blasphemous play, where they screamed about God’s love and threw forgiveness at the patrons. Just kidding: they screamed obscenities and threw rocks — because their hearts are filled with Jesus, not hate.

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone” — John 8:7, the verse that Golden Dawn forgot

via NPR

Big Tobacco Won Their Lawsuit Against New FDA Graphic Warning Labels

Back in June of 2011, the FDA announced new warning labels for cigarettes that were pretty gruesome on purpose, to shock people into not buying cigarettes. In August, five tobacco companies sued the government saying that the rule violated their right to free speech because it was forcing them to advertise against themselves. Yesterday, the judge in question ruled for the tobacco companies saying that the law did violate their free speech, that the graphic warnings were more shocking than text warnings, and that they weren’t based in fact:

Although an interest in informing or educating the public about the dangers of smoking might be compelling, an interest in simply advocating that the public not purchase a legal product is not.

One of the proposed new warning labels


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Censorship And Free Speech

“No no… the censorship is to protect you from yourselves!”

From Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

Big Tobacco Is Suing The FDA

After years of being sued by pretty much everyone under the sun, Big Tobacco is doing the suing now. About two months ago, the FDA announced it was upgrading its warning labels on cigarettes from the textual Surgeon General’s warning to graphical ones that show all kinds of nasty pictures designed to induce so much vomiting that people will not be able to even look at a pack of cigarettes. Surprisingly, the tobacco companies don’t like this idea. What’s more, they’re saying this is the straw that broke the camel’s back, and that they never agreed to even the Surgeon General’s warning, they just didn’t fight it when it came into being 45 years ago. The new rules, they argue, seriously cross the line because it amounts to the government forcing the makers of a legal product to advertise against itself, which should be a violation of their right to free speech because it forces them to say something they don’t want to say.

One of the new warning labels


Philip-Morris, the largest cigarette company (they make Marlboros, Parliaments, Basics, Virginia Slims and a bunch of others), is surprisingly not part of the suit. But five other companies are, including R.J. Reynolds, who is the second-largest one (they make Camels, Winstons, American Spirits, and others). Their lawyer had this to say about the law suit:

Rather than inform and educate, the graphic warnings include nonfactual cartoon images and controversial photographs that have been technologically manipulated to maximize an emotional response from viewers, essentially turning our cigarette packs into mini-billboards for the government’s anti-smoking message.

Update, 1 March 2012: Big Tobacco won their lawsuit.

Via The LA Times