Free Speech: It Isn't for the Faint of Heart
As we all know from our study of right-wing doctrine, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is there to protect people we agree with from -criticism.
Just ask radio talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who responded to criticism of a segment in which she repeatedly used "the n-word" by bravely announcing her resignation, claiming it was so she could "regain her First Amendment rights."
Or, as former Gov. Sarah Palin put it in her Twitter feed (her favored means of communication with her supporters), Dr. Laura "Steps aside bc her 1st Amend.rights ceased 2exist thx 2activists trying 2silence isn't American,not fair." (It's a worrisome sign that I spend too much time on the Internet that I actually understood that.)
So we have to wonder: When Palin responded to Florida pastor Terry Jones' plan to burn copies of the Quran by saying that "book burning is -antithetical to American ideals," and that the planned Quran-burning was "insensitive and an unnecessary -provocation - much like building a mosque at ground zero," isn't she trying to repress poor Rev. Jones' rights?
When Glenn Beck, no stranger to fantasies of repression and persecution himself, said, "Burning the Quran is like burning the flag or the Bible. ... None of those who are thinking about killing us will be affected, but our good Muslim friends and neighbors will be saddened. It makes the battle that they face inside their own communities even harder," wasn't he trying to rob Rev. Jones and his Dove World Outreach Center (ironic name, that) of its right to protest?
Of course not. And in the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, we welcome Brother Glenn and Sister Sarah into the light, even if they may have, as we shall see, only gotten halfway there.
Pastor Jones and his little flock of dingbats have every right under the First Amendment to set fire to as many copies of the Quran as they can lay their grubby little hands on. Just as hatemonger Fred Phelps and his loony followers at the Westboro Baptist Church have every right to picket the funerals of Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, claiming that their deaths are a result of God's judgment on America for being too tolerant of gay people. Just as other protesters have a right to burn the American flag, and militant atheists have a right to set fire to a stack of Bibles. The First Amendment also protects speech that makes me uncomfortable or just plain ticks me off.
However, the text of the amendment most certainly does not read, "You can say any dang fool thing you want, and everyone has to be nice to you." Which is why we also have a right to look at all of these people: Jones, Phelps, flag-burners and all, and say, in so many words, "You are a pack of bloody idiots."
We all have the right to point out that this Jones character is a publicity-grubbing media leech who's fastened onto the pulsing vein of anti-Muslim hatred running through this country right now and is sucking on it for all he's worth, milking it for every last drop of sweet, sweet attention he can slurp down. And he's being aided by a compliant corporate media world that tut-tuts in feigned outrage while beating a path to the door of this cut-rate charlatan hoping for just one more inflammatory quote.
I also have the right to point out that comparing the destruction of what Muslims regard as a sacred text to building a community center and mosque on a busy commercial block in Manhattan to be a particularly dimwitted comparison, even from someone who wears her ignorance like a tiara. Unless you're saying that the building is almost certain to cause a violent backlash. (And of course we all know right-wingers abhor violence, right?)
Or unless you're planning to sanctify the entire five-block radius around ground zero in some way, in which case you're going to need to get rid of the two strip clubs, the tattoo parlor, the nail salon and the off-track betting parlor in the immediate vicinity. Could get expensive, buying up all that New York real estate.
The First Amendment: We may not always like what it leads to, but then, freedom is not for sissies.
Dusty Rhoades lives, writes, and practices law in Carthage. Contact him at email@example.com.
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