EXTREME FREE SPEECH CAN LEAD TO TREASON
THE EXTREME OF FREE SPEECH CAN BE TREASON
Perhaps our greatest freedom, guaranteed in our Bill of Rights, and envied by much of the world, is that of free speech. But, as has frequently been pointed out, it is not absolute - you can’t holler fire in a crowded theater when there is no fire. You can get in trouble for libel or slander.
By extension, free speech can include protest. But one’s right to protest should stop short of curtailing others’ rights. For example, blocking traffic to protest, resulting in preventing the free movement of other people is, in my opinion, clearly wrong. This used to happen on crowded street corners and in public parks. Then, the extreme of this happened when protestors stopped traffic on a major Los Angeles freeway. I think those perpetrators deserve to spend some time in jail. If protestors want to gather large groups to make a point, let them use a stadium or empty field - anyplace where they don’t usurp others’ rights.
Now we have the case of the Muslim students at University of California, Irvine, who disrupted a speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren. Eleven of them systematically, consecutively shouted remarks at him such as accusing him of condoning murder. Not only was this extremely rude and inconsiderate to the 500 or more people who had come to hear this man, but it was, to him, even more so. He was, after all, an invited guest of the university. If these Muslim students wanted to protest his appearance, they could have picketed outside the building.
They could have made their feelings known in campus newsletters, written letters to the dean, visited fraternities and sororities. There were many avenues to pursue to make their opposition known that would not have interfered with the rights of others.
The university’s response has been to put the Muslim Student Union on suspension for one year. However, this group did not endorse the actions of the eleven protestors, even though their president was one of them. So, this seems a little unfair. On the other hand, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas intends to charge them with misdemeanors that could land them in jail for up to six months. That seems a bit harsh. Somewhere between these two extremes seems appropriate.
Speaking of extremes, the right to protest, taken to the extreme, can become treason. One of the dictionary definitions of treason is “giving them aid and comfort”, referring to the country’s enemies. The classic example was Jane Fonda, who went to North Vietnam and posed with enemy soldiers and their guns. She then called our soldiers “baby killers”. Clearly, this was aiding the enemy in time of war. Had “Hanoi Jane” used her celebrity to protest an unpopular war by going on television, by writing her congressman, or writing a book, she would have been exercising her right of free speech. Instead, her actions made her a traitor. In many countries that would have resulted in her imprisonment or even execution. Rather than being welcomed back to the entertainment industry, she should have been given a lengthy prison sentence.
Another example was Bill Ayers, an Obama supporter, who was part of the infamous Weather Underground that protested the Vietnam War by bombing the New York Police Department Headquarters, the Capital, and the Pentagon. He never served jail time for his actions. Whether the war was justified or not, is another argument, but how it was protested was an abuse of our right of free speech. Let’s not let it happen again.
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