Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Express Yourself: Rush Limbaugh and the Dixie Chicks are upset. They claim their freedom of speech has been violated. That makes me question whether they know what freedom of speech is. Let's put it this way: If they didn't have freedom of speech, you never would have heard them complaining.

Rush originally got in trouble for his Donovan McNabb spiel, which got him kicked off of ESPN. And the Dixie Chicks insulted President Bush and American foreign policy, which resulted in their record sales plummeting.

Now I am a strong, strong, strong supporter of freedom of speech. But I also wholeheartedly disagree with Rush and the Dixies on these matters. They need to remember: In this country you have freedom of speech, but anything you say can and will be used against you.

The First Amendment clearly explains that "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech or of the press." The 14th Amendment's privileges and immunities clause and subsequent Supreme Court substantive due process rulings have extended that to mean state government can't forbid speech either.

Freedom of speech and press mean that you can say just about anything you want verbally and using written words (slander and libel aside). It also allows for some symbolic expression as long as it doesn't interfere with somebody else's rights. Burning the American Flag in protest is legal. Burning the White House in protest is not.

But the Constitution only limits how the government can react. Private businesses and the public at large can tune in or tune out as they see fit. Call it freedom from speech.

Businesses and companies have legal rights to suppress speech. Americans generally don't like it, but it is not against the law. For example, I am a journalist, and my newspaper says I'm not allowed to publicly spout my opinions. Hence, this blog is anonymous. If I wanted to sign my name to these rants, I could simply quit my job. Although my newspaper forbids me from saying what I think, my government cannot.

Wal-Mart can refuse to carry music with profane lyrics. We can choose to not shop at Wal-Mart because of its censorship -- also because most of us have better taste.

But just because you say something and people disagree with you does not mean that your freedom of speech is being violated.

Rush Limbaugh said what he thought about McNabb. He didn't get thrown in prison as a dissident. He got booed off the stage. ESPN had a right, as an independent company, to fire him. Rush resigned before it came to that. So was he silenced as an outcast? No, he went back to his radio show and blurted out his beliefs some more (until he started his 30-day Oxycontin break).

The Dixie Chicks said what they believed about the war in Iraq. They have a big microphone that carries their message far and wide. Many people were upset by the Chicks' remarks. But regular folks don't have a big microphone. So they collectively decided to boycott the Dixie Chicks' music. They refused to buy the records, and they asked radio stations to stop playing their music over the air.

This was not suppression of speech. This was a rebuttal. The First Amendment promotes public discourse, an exchange of ideas. As rudimentary as this debate was, that's all it was, a debate.

Now even though some censorship is legal, that doesn't mean it's right. Some of the most egregious suppressors of speech are, oddly enough, protesters. I can't tell you how many times I've tried to listen to a speaker talk on a college campus only to have that person's voice drowned out by chants from opposing views.

That's not public discourse, that's mob rule. And mobs generally aren't too kind to civil liberties.

Even Tim Robbins, an actor who has campaigned against war in Iraq, claims to support free speech while physically threatening Washington Post reporters if they exercise theirs.

Luckily it's our government's job to defend our rights. That's why, like it or not, Rush Limbaugh and the Dixie Chicks will be crooning again soon.


Post a Comment

Copyright © Staunch Moderate
Using Caribou Theme | Bloggerized by Themescook