In olden times blasphemers and others were placed in the pillory or stocks and subjected to public abuse. People could throw anything they wished and the victim could not move. Besides rotten fruit and fish, people threw rocks and faeces. If the victim was kept for days, this abuse could be fatal.

With the advent of social media we have invented a new kind of public piling on used to punish people for things such as racism the public finds offensive. It is a growing practice that raises fundamental ethical questions. It could be used against atheists as well as racists.

I have no sympathy for Donald Sterling, the racist owner of the Clippers basketball team—he seems like an ugly personality completely unworthy of sympathy—but the remarks attributed to him were made in private.

I am uncomfortable with the notion that private thoughts and statements are a sufficient reason for public sanctions. When someone makes racist comments in public, they may be a detriment to the business or public office they represent, and they may be punished by removal from their position, but private thoughts and comments are a different matter to my mind.

What happens after something like this is made public, is that everyone piles on and there is no going back to the previous state of affairs. People add insults as a way of patting themselves on the back for not being racist and showing that their own hands are clean. That seems craven.

I'm interested in what people here think about this question. Should we punish people for saying things in private that the public considers offensive? Should people be punished for what they think?

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Yes, it is worrisome if one is not sure of their thinking and acting. Freedom for one and not for all is no freedom at all. I support the idea of "Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently."

So far, the blacks and atheists have been the outsider trying to be heard and laws created that protect us. Now the religious, racists, homophobics are complaining that we disagree with them. Yes!!! I disagree with them and I will have my speech. 

Spud, you and I have been raised according to northern European values. We see things from that point of view. Others are wanting to be heard and you and I can hear them. They have a right to be heard, we have a right to hear them, and we are not the victims here. We may be alone, in some ways, we may be going against the current. However, do you really believe in freedom from religion, elimination of racism, inclusion of GLBT in their rights as full citizens?

Then, there is no worry. 

If it is now illegal for a private citizen to hold racist attitudes

In what way is it illegal?  What are the legal limits on what the NBA can do?  It's a private organization, isn't it? 

Banning him for life seems harsh, especially since he is disavowing the comments.

The correct word would have been illegitimate.

fined him $2.5 million for a conversation in private with his girlfriend.

The fine is totally unjust. And likely unenforceable anyway.  Why should he pay?  he's banned anyway.

Oh yes! By all means! He has the money to buy lawyers to protect his speech. He has the right to say what he says. Would I want to know about the person before I bought a ticket to one of his events? Yes! Would I want to do business with such a person? NO?

What about the person who has been harmed in one way or another by another because of racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, whatever, and who does not have enough money to defend oneself, what is their remedy? Get rich? Yes, that is a likely solution! Not!

I am not talking about free speech. Each one of us has the right to speak, based on our thoughts. If I am a racist, I want to be known as a racist. If I am a christian, I want to be known as a christian. There is no conflict there. 

It is holding a belief and not being willing to claim it publicly that I object to. 

I stated several years ago that I am an atheist. I got so many hate calls to my home and from the internet, I wish I had kept count. My garden was even covered with toilet paper and my home was spray painted with black words, "atheist" and "baby killer". I wasn't trying to hide my thoughts. I claimed them as my own, am proud of them, and so far, have found no reason to repent. Give me a reason and I will get on my rooftop and yell it, if that will make anyone happy. 

Freedom of speech does not include withholding information about how one thinks. Freedom of thought guarantees the right to speak without retribution. I have no problem with that. If you say white and I say red, we each have the right to think and say what it is to each of us. If you complain about my statement, you have the right to complain. I have the right to refute it. Perhaps the rods and cones in our eyes cause us to see different colors. Who is right? Who is wrong? 

I am not saying a racist cant thing or speak, I am saying, I have a right to know the thinking and acting of an individual and I also have a right to disagree. 

You do not believe that an individual has the right to keep his opinions to himself for whatever reason he deems appropriate? There are times and places to be open about what you think, but not all times and places are right and in any case the individual should be able to keep his opinions to himself.

When I held administrative positions I was always aware that in speaking I was responsible to the institution I represented as well as to my own opinion. Sometimes that made for difficulties of the sort you encountered. I often spoke for evolution and even testified at a legislative hearing against a balanced treatment law. (The law would have required that all school library books present a balanced treatment and I pointed out that this would remove the Bible.)

However, I did not speak out on abortion or political issues that were outside my area of science because it would have been damaging to the university.

I don't feel obliged to either offer or to explain my views to everyone who comes along. In most cases it is better to remain silent when no good can be accomplished.

Sterling has a long history of making comments like what he did that TMZ and Deadspin got ahold of, as well as many lawsuits against him for housing discrimination.  Here's a couple of pieces from Dave Zirin of The Nation. To me, he's the best sportswriter you haven't heard of - but should.

This first piece is from a book he wrote called "Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining The Games We Love". It's a bit dated (the book came out in 2010), but very relevant in the context of today's decision:

The second piece came out not long after today's press conference:

Bent, what is your position on the right to use the tapes and make them public? 

Indeed, but he was not banned for that long history, but for a single conversation conducted in private.

Who made Stirling's email public?

Hardly the NSA.

Definitely NOT the NSA. A tape of what Sterling said somehow fell into the hands of the gossip site TMZ (owned by TimeWarner, as it's part of AOL, IIRC). It was also obtained by a sports gossip site called Deadspin, part of the Gawker Media family. It blew up from there, and no doubt the NBA knew it had a PR problem on their hands.

The NBA's TV rights holders - ESPN/ABC and TNT (part of TimeWarner's Turner Sports) were a bit slow to get on the story, according to the sports media blog Awful Announcing:  Why they were may be kind of a double-edged sword; they had to verify what was going on (something TMZ doesn't have to do) but not offend the NBA.



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