One of the things I love about this country is the protection of speech. In other countries men and women are currently sitting in jails facing sentences as dire as death for merely speaking out, for having opinions, for saying things that spark debate. But in America, within reason, we can stand up and speak and are heard by our fellow citizens. The marketplace of ideas that stands a cornerstone of our democracy is well-stocked and allowed to flourish.
Or so I thought.
You see, some of the things a marketplace of ideas contains are disgusting. They offend the heart and spirit. But in doing so, they reaffirm our own beliefs. When the Ku Klux Klan has a rally, I am reminded of why I stand for tolerance and diversity. When I hear war hawks talk of bombing, I know why it is I support diplomacy and peace. And when I hear well off men and women talk disparagingly about the poor, I know why it is that I am a Democrat.
But perhaps the marketplace is not as well stocked or protected as I believed. In Wisconsin last week, a teacher was arrested for a posting on a blog. In that posting, the teacher and former teachers union president praised the Columbine shooters. He, according to the news report, "wrote that teacher salaries made him sick because they are lazy and work only five hours a day. He praised the teen gunmen who killed 12 students and a teacher before committing suicide in the April 1999 attack at Columbine High School."
He then continued to write, "They knew how to deal with the overpaid teacher union thugs. One shot at a time!"
Even if this was an attempt at satire or sarcasm, even if it was a parody of his perception of those who oppose increasing teacher pay, the words are vile. They are at the least ill-chosen and at the worst insensitive and offensive. But what they are not is criminal.
However disturbing or disgusting I may find these statements, you can count me among those who support his right to say them. Why? Because when the prevailing winds of opinion or politics change and my words are found offensive, I don't want to be sitting in some jail hoping that cooler heads prevail. And you should feel the same way.
Whether you are a right-wing nut job or a left-wing pinko commie, you have the right to speak. And you should not be jailed for your words, you should not be arrested for having an opinion. It is not the role of the state to regulate this type of speech, that right falls to a free society. As consumers in the marketplace of ideas, you have a right buy or not to buy. You even have the right to boycott, but the government should not and cannot arrest a man for writing such words, even if they are offensive to the heart.
The American armed forces have bombed and killed innocents on the orders of our government. I find it offensive. I don't believe the war was justified and the constant drum beat of war propoganda coming from the mouth pieces at the White House is painful for me to hear. But it is not criminal, it is essencial to the public debate about the future of this country.
So I beg you, read the words of this teacher and be offended, but recognize the law that should protect him from prosecution is the same law that protects you and me. It is the same law that allows me to publicly disagree with the President on the war. It is the same law that allows the morons in my town to blame every problem "on those damn illegal Mexicans." And it the same law that keeps us free and our democracy alive.