This post originally ran two years ago. Then current events inspired the post; events haven’t changed much since then.
Scene: Night Court, Manhattan; a date in the near future.
Players: Prosecutor, Judge, and Gandler, the defendant.
Judge: Mr Prosecutor.
Prosecutor: Your honor, case 12A. The defendant, Mr Helmut Gandler, was caught giving possible offense earlier this evening, a clear violation of the Totenberg Act.
Judge: Details? And since it’s almost that time, perhaps we can cut these short. Unless we’re expecting difficulties?
Prosecutor: None that I foresee, your honor. Mr Gandler was coming out of Macy’s with an armload of parcels, and a gentleman—do we have his name? No?—at any rate, this unnamed gentleman opened the door for Mr Gandler. After exiting the store, at this point Mr Gandler very clearly used—in public—a phrase forbidden by the Totenberg Act. I can produce one Officer Lanscomb Sculpio who was witness to the events and who will tell the court that Ransom directed this phrase at the unknown gentleman.
Judge: Very well. I see, Mr Gandler, that you have chosen to represent yourself. This is never a wise course. I am perfectly willing to suspend this case until tomorrow if you choose to accept a public defender. One will be provided to you at no expense.
Gandler: What happens to me in the meantime?
Judge: You will be held in the cells until court re-convenes tomorrow.
Gandler: In that case, I choose to defend myself. I did nothing wrong.
Judge: That is not for you to decide, Mr Gandler. You have heard the charges against you. What have you to say in your defense?
Gandler: I don’t know why I’m here!
Judge: No need to raise your voice. The charge is that you, in public, used a phrase that was illegal. Do you deny this?
Gandler: All I remember is saying “Merry Christmas” to the gentleman who helped—
Judge (pounding his gavel): Order! I will have order! Mr Gandler, I must caution you strongly that by your actions, you may be confounding your original offense. This is your last warning and your last chance to enter a proper defense.
Gandler (exasperated): But what did I do!?
Prosecutor: If I may, you honor?
Prosecutor: Although I am anxious that the law be upheld, in fairness I believe this case might have extenuating circumstances. According the records, Mr Gandler is a recent immigrant to the country. From Austria, I believe.
Judge: Thank you, Mr Prosecutor. That is just the sort of disinterestedness I have come to expect from you. Now then, Mr Gandler. You see you are very lucky to have such a generous opponent. But let me impart to you that ignorance of a law is no excuse for breaking it. How long have you been in this country?
Gandler: I arrived almost a year ago this very day. On Christmas day, in fact.
Judge (pounding his gavel): Order! This is my last warning! If I do not have silence, I will clear the public gallery. I expect no more outbursts. Mr Gandler! Please—we must put an end to this immediately! Do you not know that what you are saying is illegal?
Gandler: But all I said was M—
Judge: Hold it! You must have known that that phrase is illegal?
Gandler: But I didn’t! I thought this was the land of free speech!
Judge: Of course it is. Anybody is free to use that kind of language in the privacy of his or her own home— providing, naturally, that he or she is in no danger of being overheard by any neighbor, and if there are no children under sixteen residing in that household. You have complete freedom to say anything you like! But in private.
Gandler: I don’t understand.
Judge: Mr Gander, this is a nation of immigrants. Like yourself. If you are to remain in this country, you will come to understand that we all must have respect for each others’ opinions. That is why we cannot use that phrase. Why, just think! The gentleman who opened the door for you could have been an atheist!
Gandler: This doesn’t sound right…
Judge: And, if so, he could have been offended! We must not offend, Mr Gandler, particularly certain groups. Or what if that gentleman had been a government official! Then you would have been guilty of two crimes, one especially serious.
Judge: Separation of Church and State. Uttering forbidden phrases could be construed as you seeking to influence the government in matters of religion. That cannot be stood for. Now, Mr Gandler. I can appreciate that your knowledge of these matters is sketchy. That is no excuse, as I have said. But I cannot see that punishing you—this time—will be productive. So I will let you off with a warning. Please be more considerate in the future. Then we can avoid these little difficulties, eh?
Gandler (bewildered): Thank you, sir.
Judge: Mr Prosecutor, I am looking at the clock.
Prosecutor: I see that your honor.
Judge: Almost time for today’s broadcast…so unless we have pressing business, we had best recess until tomorrow night.
Prosecutor: Very good, your honor.
Gandler (while exiting): And I thought yodeling was bad…