Try burning an American flag in front of me, or otherwise abusing it. I will snatch that banner away from you, turn my hose on it (and probably you) and otherwise go full Rick Monday on you, to the best of my ability.
But I would be wrong. Assuming that idiot didn’t steal it, it’s his or her property to do with it as he or she might. So I might be arrested for my fevered intervention. And that would be right.
(Getting convicted by a jury would be another story, entirely, though …).
My point here is that certain acts or ideas may be repulsive, evil or just plain cuckoo, but as long as they are expressions of opinion, they are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Opinions that make your blood boil nevertheless have the shield of the work of the Founding Fathers (and Mothers) that make this truly the land of the free.
My attention was brought to this by recent proclamations from the right and the left. As you may have read or heard, Twitter is now taking steps to label what it considers to be false or misleading content, and some of those labels have been applied to tweets from the White House.
The President’s response: “We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen.”
If you are a supporter of Mr. Trump, this may seem like a good idea. But think a second. Not only is this clearly unlawful, but it gives the Other Guy a weapon to use against you when he’s in power.
Can you imagine the fun that Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren would have with that kind of authority? Do we want any president to have that kind of muscle?
There’s no way that’s going to end well.
Now, flip the page to some social media comments I saw today that insisted that “hate speech is not protected.” That idea is just as wrong as if you added 2 plus 4 and your answer was “Topeka, Kansas.”
It is one of the glories of our great republic that speech is more free here than any place on Earth. It allows good and bad ideas to compete in the public marketplace and – usually – the good ideas win.
I understand the power of mean words and hateful speech. I’ve been on the receiving end of some of that. But there is a world of difference between words and actions. If we threw the weight of the government – liberal or conservative – against anyone we feel has offended us, we’d have Chris Rock, Rush Limbaugh, Dave Chappelle and Sean Hannity all in federal prison.
Hate speech can get you fired or sued, and that’s OK. You don’t have the same rights in a private setting as you do in the public realm. Nothing wrong with kicking out the door an employee who calls someone a [insert racial, sexual, or gender-based epithet here].
But after you gave So-and-So a pink slip, you can’t also phone the police and have him or her arrested. The cops don’t want to be “thought police,” and neither did Washington, Adams, Jefferson or Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama.
The flag represents not just a nation-state, but the ideals that made it the exceptional place that it is.
For seven years I wore that flag on a patch on my shoulder, after having taken an oath to defend the Constitution. Nothing has ever made me as proud as that commitment, except my marriage to my beloved Marilyn.
The modern motto of the Army is: “This We’ll Defend.” Freedom to think, speak and write as you care, to, that’s what thoughtful Americans should want to defend. Any freedom you deny to someone else will sooner or later be taken from you.
Jim Tortolano’s Retorts is posted on Wednesdays. And no, he does not like Colin K. or believe that the Constitution has a clause about “freedom of surfing.”