In this country, we enjoy fairly broad freedom of speech, unlike some places around the globe in which someone expressing dissenting political or religious views might be locked up or made to disappear. We like to believe that in America, we can say pretty much anything we want, as long as we’re not yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater, dealing in child pornography or doing something similarly abusive or threatening to public safety.
In reality, though, there are plenty of people who are trying to censor what you can say and see, and, yes, a lot of times those folks are with the government.
The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression recently released its annual list of Jefferson Muzzles “winners,” and it was quick to point out that those “honored” came from all over the political spectrum.
For instance, at last year’s Democratic National Convention, there was a debate over whether delegates should restore language about God and recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. According to convention rules, a two-thirds majority was required to take those actions, but when delegates, in a series of votes, were evenly divided, the language was restored anyway. Let the non-majority rule, so to speak.
Not to be outdone, delegates to the Republican National Convention, at the urging of nominee-in-waiting Mitt Romney, adopted rules that the Jefferson Center said would “tilt future conventions to establishment nominees.”
The organization also chided the mayors of Boston, Chicago and San Francisco for trying to block Chick-fil-A from setting up shop in their cities solely because the president of the company had expressed his opposition to gay marriage. While we are in favor of marriage equality, we certainly don’t condone the government, at any level, punishing those who express opposing views.
The Jefferson Center also named Missouri state Rep. Mike Leara, who wanted to make it a felony for any state lawmaker to even suggest further gun-control measures. Leara said he viewed his bill as “a statement in defense of the Second Amendment rights of all Missourians.” To heck with their First Amendment rights, apparently.
It gets even more ridiculous.
• In Oklahoma, a student was forced to turn his T-shirt inside out because it supported a university that was not in Oklahoma.
• Liquor regulators in Idaho banned the sale of Five Wives Vodka rather than risk offending the sensibilities of Mormons, who are dead set against booze but have been known, on the fringes, to have more than one spouse.
• And closer to home, the Annville-Cleona Board of Education in southeastern Pennsylvania bowed to pressure from the parents of a single student who complained that a book called “The Dirty Cowboy” sent the message that “looking at nudity is OK and not wrong.” The book, which the board pulled from the elementary school library, is about a cowboy who takes his annual bath in a river. There is no nudity to be seen, because flocks of birds and other illustrations are used to cover the cowboy’s “naughty bits.”
Some of these violations of freedom of expression seem, on the surface, to be more serious than others, but if we start looking the other way when speech is abridged, those who would deny us these rights are emboldened to take another step, then another, then another. It matters not whether the offenders are liberals or conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians or tea partiers. When free speech is threatened, no matter how vehemently we might disagree with the words or depictions, we are all losers.