Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Free Speech And Civility

      Several stories of abridgement of free speech rights have been in the news lately.
      Yesterday arch-conservative Carl Rove was shouted down during the course of a book-signing event in Beverly Hills, California. About 100 persons had paid $40 to hear Rove discuss his book, "Courage and Consequences: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight." One protestor called Rove a “war criminal,’” while another waved a pair of handcuffs with which she ostensibly planned to make a citizen’s arrest. Rove was forced to leave the stage without signing any books.
      While I seldom agree with anything Rove has to say, I firmly believe shouting down a person trying to present his case, unpopular though his case may be, is about as un-American as one can get.
      Rove was there to discuss his viewpoint. Anyone who disagreed with that viewpoint had an equal right to stand and discuss the differences in a reasonable manner.
      This morning’s newspaper tells of a man who sued a church for disrupting his son’s funeral. The son, Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, had been killed in an accident in Iraq in March 2006. Although Snyder was not gay, the members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, picketed his funeral and cheered his death because, “God is allowing men and women to die in Iraq because of this country's tolerance of homosexuality.”
      As with any side of any argument, the church has a right to say what they think – after all, the members were not inciting to riot. But creating a scene such as this at a funeral – I think I am going to be sick! And this church has supposedly done the same thing at some 300 military funerals.
      Yesterday Snyder’s father, who sued the church, was ordered to pay all the church’s court costs. The court found that the church members had the right to do what they did under the first amendment. I agree, but what has become of decency and common sense?
      In 2009, the Protect Marriage Washington organization got an anti-gay rights measure on the ballot. Since then the signers of the ballot have been receiving extremely vicious hate mail, to the extent that the organization has petitioned the courts to allow the signers’ names to be kept secret.
      The Supreme Court is considering the case. It will be interesting to see which way the Roberts court goes.
      I have always agreed with Voltaire, who said, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." (But please don’t put me to the test.) And I have also thought that a free discussion of bad ideas would eventually displace them.
      The key words are “free discussion,” not “shouting match.” I don’t suppose a law requiring civility would pass constitutional muster.
      The newborn fawn does not fight other fawns for the attention of a doe as does the mature stag, nor does the salmon fingerling swim up the river to its birth place like the adult salmon. And the larva does not flit from flower to flower like the adult butterfly.
      In a like manner, changes occur in the outward trappings of societies. New York City, for example, is completely different from the New York City that George Washington and Benjamin Franklin knew. And the New York City of the founding fathers in no way resembled ancient Rome or the tent villages of our Native Americans. Each society remakes the physical world to its own specifications, which change continually. . . In the following pages we shall explore these transitions and determine what relationships, if any, might exist between them.
      Foreword – The Spirit Runs Through It

To read more excerpts from the book, click here.

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