Copyright © 2005 Henrietta W. Hay
Free Speech Means Free Speech
February 11, 2005
Of all the amendments to the Constitution, I think the First is by far the most important, the most powerful and in the days of P. C., very nearly the most controversial. Somebody is always saying something
that somebody else thinks he had no right to say. But this amendment protects everybody, the stupid as well as the brilliant. It allows anybody to make a fool out him(her) self. It includes doctors and lawyers, truckers and housewives, professors and idiots, the left and the right. It is the one freedom which separates us from most of the rest of the world. It is the one which has made us strong and "free".
The immediate case in point is the C. U. Professor, Ward Churchill, lately Chairman of the Ethnic Studies Department. He is the man who wrote an essay the day after 9/11 which went unnoticed until Hamilton College in New York invited him to speak. Then somebody in New York read it and the situation exploded (the more accurate term is not covered by the first amendment in a family newspaper).
It is hard to believe that any presumably intelligent person, a college professor no less, could be so stupid and so insensitive as to make a statement like his on the day after 9/11 when we were reeling from the tragedy and over 3000 people were mourning their dead. He compared many of those who died on that day to "little Eichmanns." In a statement he said, "I
am simply pointing out that if U. S foreign policy results in massive death and destruction abroad we cannot feign innocence when some of that destruction is returned."
So -- does he have a right under the constitution to call the "technocrats of empire" working in the World Trade Center the equivalent of Nazis? Yes, legally he does. BUT -- my friend the attorney said it best. She says that there is no free speech per se,
even as there is no free lunch. There is a qualification. Freedom of speech always has consequences. If your speech pleases your listeners, the consequences are good. If your speech offends, the
consequences may be very serious, but you had a right to say it..
Certainly Mr. Churchill had a right to write whatever he chose. But he must accept the consequences. I have no idea what they will be, but we will know when the Commission appointed to decide makes its decision in 30 days.
There have been many examples of offensive freedom of speech through the years. One that offended me the most was made the week after 9/11 by Pat Robertson. He said, "I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'"
And for years Rush Limbaugh has been calling me a Femi-nazi.
But it is still the First Amendment that makes us free.
John F. Kennedy wrote this in 1962. "We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is afraid of its people."
Nobody has said it better.