Monday, February 1, 1999
Constitutional Rights and Ethical Choices
The Nuremberg Files
by Karin Spaink with Preface by Clinton Fein
Just this month, a federal jury in Oregon found that a web site dubbed the Nuremberg Files, violated racketeering statutes and a 1994 federal law protecting access to abortion clinics and ordered the defendants to pay a 107 million dollar fine. Planned Parenthood, the Portland Feminist Women's Health Center, and four doctors sued the anti-abortion activists claiming that the content on the site as well as the context encouraged violence, despite no explicit threats.
Displaying a detailed list of physicians who perform abortion and accusing them of crimes against humanity by baby killing, physicians and abortion providers who were killed in anti-abortion violence had a line struck through their names, while those who had been wounded were listed in gray. The defendants, claiming First Amendment protection, defended their actions and asserted that they could not be held responsible for the violent behavior of others.
The following annoy.com guest editorial is authored by Internet activist Karin Spaink, who is President of Contrast.org, an organization that hosts banned political websites. She is also a Defendant in Scientology vs Spaink and XS4all (the first defendants to win a Scientology Internet copyright case). She decided to put up a mirror of the Nuremberg Files. "I am not under US jurisdiction and I believe that it is fully legal to have this page in my country, The Netherlands," she states in her controversial essay and decision.
As much as I personally loathe the views expressed on the Nuremberg Files, I too, have a difficult time with the prohibition of speech, no matter how distasteful. I appreciate and understand Karin Spaink's motivations, and believe that what she is doing is a remarkably clear demonstration of the extent to which a global medium cannot be regulated by one country's standards (or at least one of the courts of one country).
I am personally disturbed by the list and am uncomfortable even looking at it. Part of me wants to create a list of anti-choice activists to simply provide balance. Yet, by default, it almost is the same thing, and by its very nature could be thus construed as advocating violence. Another part of me is so repulsed by the rabid and twisted ranting of Bob Enyart - one of the defendant's - that I feel ill at ease with this piece, or even linking to his writings.
The beauty of free expression and the principles behind which this site stands are very clear. The right to express ourselves does not mean that we cannot weigh our choices with our own ethical standards or moral compass.
My decision to publish Karin's piece is very simple, although was not as easy to reach. I think it will provoke a valuable and lively discussion about a very important issue, which is my sole motivation here, as I believe it is hers. And we obviously pass no judgement of Karin or attack her choices or her reasoning. Yet I have made a conscious choice. In spite of our legal and constitutional right to do so, I have chosen not to link directly to the page that contains the list of physicians. I accept the constitutional arguments of the defendants and recognize the advocacy posited by Karin. My decision to refrain from linking to the physicians is not because of any unconstitutional impediment, but DESPITE the constitutional right to do it. And that, ironically, is what freedom of choice is really all about.
The Nuremberg FilesMotivation and Introduction
by Karin Spaink
The Nuremberg Files was an anti-abortion website that paints abortion in its darkest colours. It claimed that abortion doctors should be brought to trial as Nazis were after World War II.
While I strongly hold that every woman should have an abortion if she needs one, I do not think that other opinions about the subject should be outlawed or fined, no matter how harshly they are put. Yet this is precisely what happened in the case of the Nuremberg Files. Yes, the site was as outspoken as one can be, and yes, it painted a nasty -- and in my view a distorted, atrocious and one-sided -- picture of abortion and of its protagonists and defenders. Nevertheless, everybody has the right to advocate the opinion that abortion is murder. Just as much as I have the right to voice my own opinions, which, by the way, diametrically oppose those expressed in the Nuremberg Files in almost all aspects. As a matter of fact, only a few weeks ago I attacked the Nuremberg People and their ilk in two articles for the Dutch newspaper Het Parool. See "American ayatollahs" and "Speak or I'll shoot!" (in Dutch only).
Moreover, I like to see who my opponents are and what they do. If they have a homepage, I can even use it to point out to others how lopsided they present their arguments, and how cruel they treat their opponents. Their presence is to my advantage.
I believe in free speech and debate. I was therefore shocked to find out that the people who maintain the Nuremberg Files site, were not only brought before court just for maintaining the homepage, but were subsequently ordered by the court to pay a 100 million dollar fine. The argumentation was that the Nuremberg Files promoted violence against abortion doctors and advocated murdering them and their associates. Chances are that the people behind the Nuremberg page did indeed rejoice when abortion doctors were murdered -- but they neither openly applauded when an abortion doctor was killed, nor did they actually incite people to violence. They listed their perceived opponents. They listed casualties in a perceived war. They used words, not violence. But nothing on the site specifically advocated violence against abortion doctors.
As a result of the ruling against the Nuremberg Files, the Internet provider hosting the site closed it, claiming a terms of service violation. The site has by now disappeared from US servers.
Advocates of free speech have attacked this ruling. "The verdict acutely illustrates the way society blurs the distinction between morality and legality. Not everything which we find shockingly immoral is, or should be, illegal," writes Jonathan Wallace of SLAC. "In the case of a decision assigning liability for pure speech -- for that is all a web page is -- more consideration should have been given to the goals of the first amendment, and the precedents already established in free speech law. Decades of Supreme Court decisions, long preceding the Internet, have established that even the explicit advocacy of violence is protected except in the small subset of cases in which the speech is capable of inspiring immediate action against a victim. A book, pamphlet or web page calling for the murder of a group of people, repulsive as it is, is not illegal under this rule. Standing on the proposed victim's doorstep, addressing an angry armed mob, would be."
I whole-heartedly agree with Wallace. Speech and debate about sensitive issues should be promoted, not repressed; and what is utterly reprehensible is not necessarily illegal. There is a distinct difference between words and deeds, and that distinction should be respected, not blurred. Especially judges and courts should be aware of this fact.
I look at the Nuremberg Files as I would at an arms manufacturer. They provide tools. The Nuremberg File lists home addresses and other private information of people who work as abortion doctors or who have publicly upheld the right to abortion. Such information can be used to send the people listed postcards and bouquets to thank them for their laudable efforts. Such information can also be used for sick and illegal ends - for instance, by killers. But that does not make the maintainer of the site a murderer, not even by proxy.
I decided to put up a mirror of the Nuremberg Files. I am not under US jurisdiction and I believe that it is fully legal to have this page in my country, The Netherlands. As a matter of fact, I think this page will soon be legal in the US too, and that the Portland Court decision will be overruled on appeal. The strength of the First Amendment has always been its protection of unpopular, unaverage political views. The US has a tradition in protecting freedom of speech, although it seems less prone to uphold this admirable principle where it concerns the net, rather than printed material. The trend nowadays -- and not only in the US, but also in The Netherlands - seems to be to limit people's right to express themselves freely, instead of arguing the contents of their beliefs.
Putting up this page serves several goals. Apart from actively promoting freedom of speech on the net and showing that attempts to restrict that freedom are futile when applied to a global network, I firmly believe that I, as a pro-abortionist, have a use for horrid pages such as these. The Nuremberg Files serve to show that anti-abortionists do not lose a night's sleep when people whose profession they dislike are killed, while they vehemently maintain that abortion is murder and must therefore be stopped. It shows that these people are hypocrites. It proves that these people believe that the end justifies the means. The Nuremberg File people have never said that they disapprove of the killing of doctors, even when pressed to do so. They seem to endorse it.
For the people who intend to use this page for foul means, I have this to say. First of all, I have captioned the Nuremberg Files with links to my motivation and a legal analysis; you cannot link to this page without seeing it in the context that I provide you with. Secondly, you can never be sure that I haven't amended the page. Do not trust the names and addresses you find there, and do not use violence against the people listed. You may end up shooting your own affiliates.
Finally, I also intend to embarrass the people whose page I am mirroring. I am, after all, a left-wing, atheist, cursing, slightly perverted, sex-loving, smoking, drugs-promoting, pro-abortion, bisexual, free speech advocate. The kind of person that the maintainers of The Nuremberg Files and their affiliates would like to silence, judging by the policy advocated in The Hundred Days scenario at Christian Government - Day One and Two and at Bob Enyart's site. "Enter the exciting world of the 100 Day Plan where Christians rule!" they cheer, but under their rule I would be convicted to the death penality tomorrow -- no appeal possible.
Strange bedfellows, eh? I hope that my mirroring this page teaches them a lesson in tolerance, too. For similar reasons, the Nuremberg people might want to reassess one of the judges who is on their list. Leonie Brinkema, who they would very much like to see go down, has gained a reputation for upholding free speech on the net. In her Virginia court, the right to abortion has been upheld, and in her court, a verdict like the Oregon Court's would never have been given.
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