Sony can’t catch a break. Criticized by Muslim group for LBP song removal.

After being sued by the Church of England over the appearance of Manchester Cathedral in the hit FPS Resistance: Fall of Man it’s understandable that Sony would go out of its way to avoid offending religious sensibilities. So when a post showed up in the official European Playstation forums pointing out that a song in the soundtrack for LittleBigPlanet contained verses from the Qur’an and thusly could be considered offensive to Muslims, they opted to err on the side of caution and delay the launch of the game so it could be removed. Now they’re being criticized by a different Muslim group over that decision:

M. Zuhdi Jasser, M.D., president of the non-profit American Islamic Forum for Democracy told Edge on Monday, “Muslims cannot benefit from freedom of expression and religion and then turn around and ask that anytime their sensibilities are offended that the freedom of others be restricted.

“The free market allows for expression of disfavor by simply not purchasing a game that may be offensive.”

Jasser, who has also appeared on CNN, in the Washington Times and National Review, said that not only does the First Amendment support freedom of expression, but Mohammed also “defended the rights of his enemies to critique him in any way even if it was offensive to his own Islamic sensibilities or respect for Koranic scripture.”

[…] Jasser said that the demand to censor, as well as Sony’s willingness to bend at the request, is counterproductive to freedom of speech.

“…To demand that [the game] be withdrawn is predicated on a society which gives theocrats who wish to control speech far more value than the central principle of freedom of expression upon which the very practice and freedom of religion is based.”

Jasser added, “The fact that the music writer is a devout Muslim should highlight that at the core of this issue is not about offending ‘all Muslims,’ but only about freedom of expression and the free market.”

He still said that he does not endorse the use of Koranic verses in non-educational videogames, calling the literature “the words of God.”

But he took a clear stance in upholding First Amendment rights.

“AIFD stands against any form of censorship in the marketplace of ideas whether imposed by government or by corporations intimidated by the response of militants or those with an inappropriately sensitive level of political correctness,” Jasser said.

Needless to say, I agree with him. I can totally understand why Sony opted to play it safe, but I still think they should have kept the song. I also think we need more Muslims standing up and saying things like Mr. Jasser here.

By the way it’s Banned Books Week.

I almost forgot to mention that it’s one again Banned Books Week:

Banned Books Week is the only national celebration of the freedom to read. It was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than a thousand books have been challenged since 1982. The challenges have occurred in every state and in hundreds of communities. People challenge books that they say are too sexual or too violent. They object to profanity and slang, and protest against offensive portrayals of racial or religious groups—or positive portrayals of homosexuals. Their targets range from books that explore the latest problems to classic and beloved works of American literature.

According to the American Library Association, more than 400 books were challenged in 2007. The 10 most challenged titles were:

1. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
2. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
3. Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes
4. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
6. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
7. TTYL by Lauren Myracle
8. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
9. It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
(Click here to see why these books were challenged.)

During the last week of September every year, hundreds of libraries and bookstores around the country draw attention to the problem of censorship by mounting displays of challenged books and hosting a variety of events. The 2008 celebration of Banned Books Week will be held from September 27 through October 4.

Take a moment to celebrate your freedom to read whatever the hell you want this week by sitting down with a banned book for a few hours. The American Library Association maintains a list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged books from 1990 to 2000 that has lots of potential reading material. Several books by Mark Twain are on the list as well as the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, but those are just two of my personal favorites. There’s something on the list for everyone.

Supreme Court to hear case on religious candy canes.

It’s amazing how much trouble you can get into just for handing out a candy cane to your fellow students. Way back in 2003 I wrote an entry about some Boston teenagers who were suspended from school for handing out candy canes. The candy canes themselves had a small note attached that explained the religious significance of the candy cane—they supposedly symbolize aspects of the birth, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ—and the school freaked out, suspended the students, and then said it wasn’t because of the religious message on the candy, but because it was non-school related literature.  The kids sued in Federal Court, but I never heard what the outcome was.

Closer to home here in Saginaw Michigan that same year an elementary student by the name of Joel Curry made some candy cane ornaments with the same religious message on them as part of a class project and was told by school officials to remove the message from the ornaments. It wasn’t long before a lawsuit was filed and today, some five years later, it’s about to be taken up by the Supreme Court:

The U.S. Supreme Court was asked on Monday to consider whether a fifth-grade student’s religious expression on a classroom project can be considered “offensive” and subject to censorship by school officials.

[…] Curry, who copied the message from an ornament at a Christian bookstore, is now a rising sophomore at Heritage High School in Saginaw, Mich.

“It’s unfortunate it has to be pushed this far,” said his father, Paul Curry. “When children step out in the world, they have to deal with different faiths and religions. It’s a good way for teachers to educate students as long as no one is proselytizing or pushing it down someone’s throat.”

[…] The new suit seeks reimbursement of legal fees and clarification of the district’s policy on religious speech.

“Penalizing Christian students for expressing their beliefs in the classroom is unacceptable under the Constitution,” said Jeff Shafer, the senior legal counsel with the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, which petitioned the high court to hear the case.

“The First Amendment exists to protect private speakers, not to enable religious discrimination by government officials. The court of appeals’ unprecedented classification of student religious speech as an ‘offense’ worthy of censorship should be reversed.”

Much like the previous case in Boston, I’m going to have to side with the plaintiffs on this one. While school officials and teachers aren’t allowed to promote religious ideas in the classroom there’s nothing really preventing a student from making it part of his class project if he wishes to do so. The worst this kid could be accused of is plagiarism, copyright infringement (assuming whoever wrote the original story cares), and possibly being too stupid to realize the story he put on his ornaments was completely false. Beyond that I don’t see where there’s a problem with the project from a Constitutional viewpoint.

It seems like there really needs to be a national educational effort to teach school administrators and teachers what is and isn’t allowable in the classroom by staff and students. The news is filled with stories of either school officials proselytizing up a storm themselves or squelching any hint of religious discussion by everyone including the students out of fear of lawsuits. It really shouldn’t take a case like this going all the way to the Supreme Court to get folks educated on the do and don’ts on this issue.

The amazing power of unnecessary censorship.

Like a lot of my peers I grew up watching Sesame Street as a kid and one of my favorite characters was The Count. I don’t know why, but I always thought he was a hoot, both him and the Cookie Monster.

Anyway, the following video clip of The Count singing The Count’s Song demonstrates how the well-known BLEEP often used to censor naughty words on TV can make things worse by leaving it to your imagination. It’s The Count singing his song but with a specific word bleeped out and, if you’re an evil bastard like I am, the results are very funny and very adult.

Somehow this makes me like The Count that much more.