Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Free Speech Issues

Watch your words: they become your thoughts.
Watch your thoughts: they become your actions.
Watch your actions: they become your habits.
Watch your habits: they become your character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

- Frank Outlaw
This was on a poster I saw on a wall at Rocky Mountain Elementary School yesterday morning.
I was there for a health and safety fair. It seemed an appropriate way to start off some thoughts I've been having regarding recent events related to the concept of Freedom of Speech.

We've had quite the demonstration of Free Speech rights splashed across the popular media ad nauseam so far this week. Rev. Jeremiah Wright's display at the National Press Club has been talked about quite a bit, but as can be expected has been distilled into (sound) bite-size pieces.

I read most of the transcript of his remarks, and those which were prepared and that he made prior to the now famous Q&A were rather impressive. In his prepared speech, Rev. Wright comes across as an educated and articulate theological scholar, firmly committed to his mission, and highly cognizant of what he has been called to do. Witness these comments about the concept of reconciliation:

"Reconciliation does not mean that blacks become whites or whites become blacks and Hispanics become Asian or that Asians become Europeans.

Reconciliation means we embrace our individual rich histories, all of them. We retain who we are as persons of different cultures, while acknowledging that those of other cultures are not superior or inferior to us. They are just different from us.

We root out any teaching of superiority, inferiority, hatred, or prejudice.

And we recognize for the first time in modern history in the West that the other who stands before us with a different color of skin, a different texture of hair, different music, different preaching styles, and different dance moves, that other is one of God’s children just as we are, no better, no worse, prone to error and in need of forgiveness, just as we are.

Only then will liberation, transformation, and reconciliation become realities and cease being ever elusive ideals."

The good Reverend then came across as haughty, almost prideful, in his defense of his previous remarks when answering questions from reporters in attendance. The way he seemed to literally strut when the moderator was asking questions, so seemingly eager to pounce on the questions like a wounded animal, amplified the divisive nature of his responses. The body language people on the O'Reilly Factor were probably having a field day with it. Perhaps I should have just stuck to reading the written transcript, and watched the video afterward. There's a disconnect at work here that Rev. Wright will have difficulty reconciling.

I'm scratching my head as to how on Earth Rev. Wright feels that his remarks will help to achieve the reconciliation that he seems to feel so called to work toward and support. Perhaps he should heed the words of Dr. King when it comes to uniting what, despite our laws and protections, still remains a very polarized and divisive society, too often so along racial and cultural lines:
"True integration will be achieved by true neighbors who are willingly obedient to unenforceable obligations."
George F. Will concluded his column yesterday with this unfortunate yet accurate statement about Rev. Wright:
"He is a demagogue with whom Obama has had a voluntary 20-year relationship. It has involved, if not moral approval, certainly no serious disapproval. Wright also is an ongoing fountain of anti-American and, properly understood, anti-black rubbish. His speech yesterday demonstrated that he wants to be a central figure in this presidential campaign. He should be."

There is a familiar passage in the Book of Proverbs that Rev. Wright may see fit to re-familiarize himself with. If he sticks to the truth he has in his heart, he'll be OK. Otherwise this is going to kick in but good:

Proverbs 16:17-19 (New International Version)

17 The highway of the upright avoids evil;
he who guards his way guards his life.

18 Pride goes before destruction,
a haughty spirit before a fall.

19 Better to be lowly in spirit and among the oppressed
than to share plunder with the proud.


George Will's column on Sunday presented a different Free Speech issue that hits a little closer to home, that being the use of campaign fundraising regulations on a group of Metro Denver subdivision residents who were attempting to resist annexation. In short, here's a couple of things that Will wrote that are spot on:

"The First Amendment guarantees freedom of association, 'the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.' The exercise of this right often annoys governments, and the Parker Six did not know that Colorado's government, perhaps to discourage annoyances, stipulates that when two or more people associate to advocate a political position, and spend more than $200 in doing so, they become an 'issue committee'."

"The two real rationales for laws regulating political activity are incumbent protection and the convenience of government -- discouraging the governed from activism. The proclaimed rationale is, however, the prevention of corruption or the appearance thereof. But corruption is understood in terms of quid pro quo transactions -- candidates corrupted by contributions. So, there cannot be corruption in ballot issue elections because there are no candidates to corrupt."

Will is absolutely right on this one. I wonder if the ACLU will push this issue, as it is a potential case pitting the framers of the Constitution against a more modern government seemingly bent upon preventing otherwise easily organized grass roots activism. Nothing on the state chapter's website about this, either.

Political speech is now becoming a commodity, as evidenced by the mainstream media focus on how much money each candidate is raising to support the continued battle. I wonder how long it will be before an anticipated Presidential address draws a price on the futures market.

The federal law that allows the states to resort to this kind of thing is the McCain-Feingold Act.
While the legality of most of this federal statute has already been affirmed by the Supreme Court, there is an opportunity to doing something with the wheels of a bureaucratic cart where the driver has clearly lost control of the reins.

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