NEW TIMES SLO
September 28, 2017 Opinion » Rhetoric & Reason
First Amendment under fire
By Al Fonzi
Kathy Reidmann’s last column surprised me: I never thought to see the day when a liberal demanded censorship of ideas (“I stand by my opinion,” Sept. 21). Reidmann continues in error wanting to prohibit obnoxious people with hateful messages from publicly assembling and promulgating their venom in public forums. I recall one of the most recent examples of such pond scum: The Westboro Baptist Church.
Westboro Baptist is a small group of about 40 or so members, wrapping themselves in the mantle of Christianity to spew anti-homosexual messages while attending military funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. They proclaimed (in vulgar terms) the death of American soldiers was God’s judgement on America. Their language was deliberately provocative as was their demeanor toward grief-stricken families laying a loved one to rest.
Westboro was neither Christian (there is special condemnation in the Bible for those who espouse bigotry or hatred in the name of God) nor peaceful; they were deliberately provocative, hoping to incite violence against their members. Several members of Westboro are attorneys and they were quick to file lawsuits against anyone impeding their hateful rants or assaulting them. Westboro was resolutely defended by civil libertarians as having an absolute right to hurl insults to disrupt military funerals even if it was likely to provoke a violent response. Those soldiers died defending your rights, however much Westboro abused them.
Back in the 1980s, radical artists had a field day at nationally renowned art museums by depicting Christian religious images in the most disrespectful manner possible, such as placing a crucifix in urine, feces on “sacred images,” and provocative displays of patriotic images, such as the American Flag used as a floor mat in front of a toilet. There will always be speech that is objectionable to someone, even the muted speech of “mainstream conservatives” who forego profanity, personal insults, and otherwise blasphemous references. Lately, it seems that to the modern progressive-liberal, disagreement of any kind with their point of view is proof that you must be a racist Nazi or just plain stupid. Regardless, your point of view is dismissed out-of-hand, and progressives demand the public forum be closed to your opinions. As evidence one need only look to the University of California at Berkeley and the recent speech of mainstream conservative (and Jewish) Ben Shapiro two weeks ago.
The hard left, bolstered by black-clad and masked Antifa, used every effort to prevent Shapiro from speaking with the full collusion of the university administration. Shapiro’s audience was able to hear him but not all who bought tickets; the university arbitrarily shut down half the venue and denied half his ticketed audience admittance to the auditorium.
Outside, Antifa shouted “No Trump, No Wall, No USA at All!” Antifa, composed mostly of anarchists, Marxists, and criminal thugs, according to journalists covering this vigilante group from within, also state that “liberals get a bullet, too.” Even Democrat minority leader Nancy Pelosi has seen fit to condemn Antifa as criminals. By the way, there is a video out there of Antifa (whom Riedmann obliquely referred to in her Sept. 28 editorial as “just common, decent human beings”) taunting a disabled veteran in a wheelchair, taking his water bottle, and dumping it on him. They also seized an American flag from a middle-aged woman, knocked her down, and attacked journalists covering the event made up of peaceful, ordinary citizens conducting a patriotic rally. It was their actions at this event that drew Congresswoman Pelosi’s condemnation.
After Shapiro’s speech, a Berkeley medical anthropologist wrote an editorial saying the First Amendment protection for free speech and assembly is outdated and harmful, and she demanded that the Constitution be amended to prohibit views that she disapproved of.
The assault against First Amendment protection for the free exercise of religion, speech, the press, and the right to peacefully assemble continues to accelerate. The “left” demands not just tolerance but celebration of their agenda and message. You will be made to publicly care and agree or you will lose your career, your freedom, even your life. Openly conservative celebrities routinely receive credible death threats from the left; ask recording artists Joy Villa or Kaya Jones what happened to them after openly supporting Trump. History is replete with examples of tyranny from the right and left, but both hold in common the silencing of opponents as their first order of business.
Meanwhile, censorship is accelerating within the entertainment industry and the internet. Google and Facebook go beyond deletion of illegal postings of child pornography or direct threats of violence; they now routinely delete postings from mainstream conservative thought and shut down revenue streams of mainstream conservative websites. So who elected Silicon Valley to be the gatekeepers of American political discourse? Freedom is fragile and rare throughout history. Once you lose it, do not assume that it will be easily regained. Δ
Al Fonzi is an Army lieutenant colonel of military intelligence who had a 35-year military career, serving in both the Vietnam and Iraq wars. Send comments through the editor firstname.lastname@example.org.