Freedom of speech is a two-way street

Paul Cano and Paul Cano

In her book “Slander,” Ann Coulter writes about how the liberal media has worked to shut down all points of view that are conservative in nature. She describes the nightmare conservatives in America face while having to listen to Dan Rather “falsely accusing Republicans of all manner of malfeasance,” or when forced to watch movies depicting “kind-hearted abortionists, Nazi priests, rich preppie Republican bigots and the dark night of fascism under Joe McCarthy.”

In a recent column, Bob Moser wrote, “The true meaning behind freedom of speech has been damaged during this war with Iraq.” Both Coulter and Moser demonstrate an ignorance of the idea behind freedom of speech, and fail to see how similar their positions actually are.

The First Amendment to the Constitution reads, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech … or the right peaceably to assemble.” Ninety years of First Amendment jurisprudence have shown that we do not have an absolute right to freedom of speech. See Schenck v. United States (also Debs v. United States and Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire). While the protection of political speech has since been broadened, the concept of stare decisis means that in times of war, Congress may curb freedom of speech (Brandenburg v. Ohio was decided in peacetime). However, this argument is currently moot, because no such government action has been taken.

Mr. Moser brings up the Dixie Chicks to show how we are losing our right to speak freely. The problem with this example, as Ms. Ina pointed out, is that consumers of country music have as much right to boycott Dixie Chick albums as the band has to say that they are ashamed that President Bush is from Texas (a sentiment that I happen to share, by the way). Does this suck? Yes, but freedom of speech is a two- way street. Mr. Moser cites the role of Clear Channel in this whole fiasco. While it is disturbing that Clear Channel is using the position of the Dixie Chicks to gain favor with Republican members of Congress who will soon start discussing bills that may help the corporate giant expand its share of the entertainment industry, liberal interest groups do the same (the support of that race-baiting, anti-Semitic demagogue, Al Sharpton, comes to mind).

Mr. Moser also points to the tragedy of Peter Arnett, who did nothing more than report on “families in Iraq whose parents had been killed in faulty bombings by the American military,” and was thus “more than just chastised or persecuted,” but fired. What Mr. Moser forgot to mention was that the reason Arnett got in trouble is because he appeared on Iraqi state television, which he knew was a propaganda tool for Hussein’s regime. The fact that our government did not formally charge Arnett with treason (his action put our troops in clear and present danger of a substantive evil because it was used as a way of raising the morale of Iraqi fighters) is actually a sign that freedom of speech is alive and well in America. While he was free to appear on enemy television and denounce our government, NBC was free to terminate his contract because they felt he was a liability that could cost them viewers. While I am no fan of the oil cartel currently in power, I believe that freedom of speech is the last thing we need to worry about. Wake up, Mr. Moser; you are rearranging chairs on the Titanic while the White House is trying to shove an additional handout to the rich down our throats.

On a final note, Mr. Moser, I completely agree with you that labeling dissenting points of view as unpatriotic is a reprehensible practice that unfairly frames the debate. Having said that, I would suggest that you take a look in the mirror and realize that you used the same tactic when you stated, “Miss Ina is just one of many on this campus and in this country who allow themselves to live in a vacuum of blind patriotism.” Perhaps, if you loosened up on the righteousness and toned down your condescending tone towards those you pretend to enlighten, people would be more willing to listen.