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Misunderstanding free speech
By Charles Bloomer
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." -- The First Amendment to the US Constitution.
Among the misunderstandings that have come to light during the recent debate regarding the war in Iraq is the lack of understanding of free speech. Anti-war celebrities, politicians and pundits have complained that their First Amendment right to free speech is being curtailed, chilled, or trampled because of reactions and repercussions they have felt as a result of speaking out.
Former Vice President Al Gore complained that the Dixie Chicks had been unfairly treated. "They were made to feel un-American and risked economic retaliation because of what was said. Our democracy has taken a hit," Gore said. The economic retaliation came in the form of a 28 per cent drop in sales of the group's new CD the week after lead singer Natalie Maines told a London audience that they were "embarrassed" that George W. Bush is a fellow Texan.
Dee Dee Meyers, formerly Press Secretary to President Clinton, opined and whined on Fox News' O'Reilly Factor that the First Amendment rights of anti-war celebrities and protesters were being violated because of the backlash that followed anti-war statements.
Other examples abound, and they all share the same lack of understanding of the Constitutional guarantee of free speech.
The First Amendment only protects a citizen's right to speak freely without government reprisal. Nothing in the First Amendment, in fact, nothing in the entire Constitution protects citizens from the consequences of their behavior. Nothing in the Constitution protects speakers from criticism.
The right to free speech claimed by people such as the Dixie chicks, Barbra Streisand, Susan Sarandon, and Martin Sheen has not been abridged, chilled, violated, or trampled. There has been no action taken by the government or law enforcement authorities against these people. None of them have been arrested. None are in jail. Even the arrogant, obnoxious anti-war protesters that have been arrested lately have been taken in for criminal activity and not for speaking their opinions.
The complainers apparently have forgotten that the rest of the public has rights, too. The buying public has exercised its right to avoid buying products associated with those personalities that have annoyed the public. Boycotts have been organized against movies and television programs.
Despite what Al Gore thinks, our democracy has not "taken a hit" because of these reprisals. In true democratic fashion, Americans have exercised their rights to criticize, boycott, ridicule and ignore celebrities, politicians, and journalists with whom they disagree. Americans have used their freedom to exact economic retaliation against entertainers who show disrespect for the president and his policies.
Are these people as ignorant about free speech as they seem? Or is there some other agenda being promoted here, either overtly or covertly?
What these people really want is to be free of the consequences that result from their actions. They do not want to be held responsible for what they do or say. They want to be able to criticize others without being criticized in return. This attitude, although juvenile, is consistent with the way the liberals view everything they do. Clinton avoided the consequences of his aberrant behavior during his presidency. Janet Reno got away with Waco. To liberals, that's the way it should be. The rest of America isn't buying that attitude.
So to those who insist on complaining that they have suffered for voicing their opinions I say: Too bad. The best way to avoid criticism is to keep your mouth shut.
Charles Bloomer is a Senior Writer for Enter Stage Right. He can be
contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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