Legal View: Free GG, the Geto Boys and speech

By David Ziemer
The Daily Record Newswire

You would think that litigation over free speech would go away. Is it really so much to ask of people that they refrain from outlawing others from saying what they want?

But they never do.

When I was young, the hot-button free speech issue involved a rap band called 2 Live Crew and an album entitled, "As Nasty As They Wanna Be." Some Comstock judge down in Florida held the album was obscene and outlawed its sale.

I was living in Washington, D.C., at the time, and some newspaper printed the album lyrics. I'm not sure what the purpose was: to inform; to shock; or maybe just to show how much more open-minded folks in D.C. were than the knuckle-draggers down in Florida.

Whatever the object was, the reaction among the D.C. intelligentsia was wholly predictable: "Oh dear, it's so horrible, but they have the right to say it."

Needless to say, my reaction on reading the lyrics was rather different: "Are you kidding me? This is really tame; can you imagine what the judge would do if he ever heard a song by the Geto Boys?"

Let me tell you how I was first introduced to the Geto Boys. Back in those days, any idiot with a screwdriver could steal any GM product in less than 30 seconds. Theft of GM cars was so rampant that my friends and I used to wager on where our cars would be recovered whenever one was stolen.

The cars weren't stolen in order to ship them to Russia or anything like that; the thieves just drove them around until they ran out of gas, and then they'd steal a different one.

Anyway, one day after a friend's stolen Buick was recovered, a cassette tape had been left inside it -- the self-titled album by the Geto Boys. Curious what sort of music car thieves listened to, we decided to give it a try.

As you can imagine, we found the lyrics so hysterically funny that our ribs bruised our lungs. The 2 Live Crew lyrics I read later in the newspaper were totally lame by comparison.

I can't reprint any of the Geto Boys' lyrics here, though. Some people would surely find them offensive.

One day a couple years later, I was in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, when the bailiff announced, "State of Wisconsin v. Kevin Allin."

"Kevin Allin?" I thought. "That's GG." GG Allin was a punk rocker who was prosecuted for defecating on stage during a concert and throwing his feces at the audience. His attorney unsuccessfully asserted the First Amendment as a defense.

Alas, the court hearing was short. The case was promptly dismissed, because GG had overdosed on heroin while the appeal was pending. His attorney did entertain me, though, with a nice anecdote about wearing a very expensive sweater to a live performance by GG.

Today, these First Amendment battles seem like ancient history. But the battle rages on.

Nowadays, though, the enemies of free speech don't run around trying to outlaw the sale of rap albums. Instead, they run to the Wisconsin legislature to pass abominations like the grossly misnamed Impartial Justice Act.

It was bad enough when the Comstocks only wanted to keep me from listening to rap music. Now, they want to steal my money and give it to politicians running for judicial office, even if I oppose the candidacy.

To make matters worse, the law provides that if I don't like being abused in this fashion, and have the chutzpah to oppose the candidate who's taking my money, the state will abuse me again by giving an even larger subsidy to the candidate I oppose.

The only upside to this is that I now know what it feels like to be a union member in a state that's so oppressive it doesn't even have a right-to-work law. But the small empathy for my fellow man that I have learned to feel as a result of this experiment in shared oppression is small consolation for this outrageous violation of my rights.

Hopefully, the courts will recognize that it violates the First Amendment for the State to force me to subsidize speech with which I disagree, and strike the law down. If not, I'll do what oppressed people have been doing to redirect their rage for decades -- I'll go home and listen to my favorite rap CD.

Published: Thu, Jan 6, 2011

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