In the aftermath of the unspeakable incidents Sept. 11, 2001, in New York City and elsewhere, many people said the terrorists did what they did because they hate America’s freedoms.
In the aftermath of the horrific incident Saturday in Tucson, Ariz., it’s a bit disheartening to see the extent to which Americans hate America’s freedoms.
Rather than place the blame for the deaths of six people and the wounding of 12 others where it belongs — in the hands of a deranged individual — politicians and pundits have blamed instead the increasingly nasty tone of political discourse in this country, or the availability of guns.
In response to a madman’s actions, laws have been proposed that would further restrict free speech or gun sales. One bill would criminalize comments that could be conceived as threats against congressmen — one wonders what to do with the president’s remark “If they bring a knife to a fight, bring a gun.” Another lawmaker would re-establish the so-called “Fairness Doctrine” that neutered political speech on the radio and television airwaves for decades.
The problem, it seems, was not that Jared Loughner was left alone to grow sicker until he became homicidal. The problem was that people were saying too many bad things about left-wing politicians.
Once upon a time, a famous statement attributed to the French philosopher Voltaire summed up what I believe was the great American creed: I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
This was the nation where the Supreme Court ruled that anti-Semites have a right to march through a Jewish community, and we applauded the Constitution that protected even the nastiest and most offensive political speech.
Now, we have a college professor who changes the words of the American literary classic Huckleberry Finn, because a word then commonly used to describe African Americans is spread liberally through its text. Never mind that Mark Twain’s novel is a landmark triumph in the battle against racism. The professor disapproves of what Twain said and will raise not a finger to defend his right to say it.
Now, there are those who, faced with statements they disapprove, advocate that the speaker be silenced.
And of course, now, the opponents of the Second Amendment have polished off their favorite bills designed to confiscate weapons not just from the deranged, but from all citizens.
Two centuries, a score and 15 years ago, a new nation was formed, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the notion that we are created equal with certain, inherent rights, including the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
In the Bill of Rights, these rights were spelled out in more specific detail, with the government of our “more perfect union” prohibited from regulating freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assemble, the right to bear arms, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and many more rights and freedoms — inherent rights we hold from the moment of our birth, not because a benevolent monarch or other political entity bestowed them upon us.
Some of the statements heard in the public arena today are hateful and offensive — “Save Mother Earth, kill Bush,” for example, or derogatory remarks based on President Obama’s skin color.
But even more hateful and offensive is the notion that the right to speak freely should be taken away.
Even more hateful and offensive is the notion that because a lunatic abused the right to bear arms, everyone’s right to bear arms must be infringed.
Even more hateful and offensive is that because people have committed crimes against humanity, then all of humanity must be subject to unreasonable searches and seizures, at risk of being held without charge or speedy trial, and otherwise treated in violation of the founding laws of this once proud nation.
Those who would tread on those founding laws aim to silence those who believe those laws still have relevance 235 years later, and they will use any means necessary to achieve that aim — even if it requires using the actions of a lone madman as an excuse to intimidate and even enslave millions. But we who still believe in freedom will not be silent, not while those who hate our freedoms are shouting so loudly.
The essential difference is this: I could not disagree more thoroughly with those who shout such hateful and offensive ideas, but I will defend to the death their right to shout them. Sadly, 235 years after America declared its independence, many would deny their political adversaries even the right to whisper.
UPDATE AT 3:14 P.M. 1-12-2011: OK, that's enough of being disheartened. I now switch away from worrying about how some people hate our freedom and back to loving our freedom. I now switch away from being afraid our freedoms are in jeopardy and back to refusing to be afraid. I apologize for my lapse.