Angry Cat
Photo by Robert Acevedo on Flickr

The 1st Amendment in particular, and the essence of our culture in general, provide ample protection for anyone to express themselves about anything anywhere.  This is one of the few agreements to be had across the political spectrum.  But lately a few significant examples have arisen begging the question not of the right, but rather the propriety of such expression.  Just because it’s legal to do a thing, is it still in our collective best interest for you to do so?

First up is the controversy over the Islamic Community Center in Manhattan (aka the Ground-Zero Mosque), and it’s counterpoint, Pastor Terry Jones’ “Burn a Quran Day” festival.  Both situations involve religions and whether or not there is some sort of obligation for mutual respect.

Next up, we have today’s “Restoring Honor” rally being held by Glenn Beck and Fox News on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  While claiming it wasn’t intentional, the rally is being held on the anniversary of, and in the location of, the famous Martin Luther King Jr. “I Have a Dream” speech.  Beck has rationalized that his rally will re-energize the civil rights movement in America.  Yet many African-Americans are having trouble seeing that the plight of white conservatives in 2010 has a lot in common with the issues the black community faced in the 1960s.  Especially since it was largely white conservatives who were the issue facing blacks 50 years ago.  It’s not hard to see that Beck’s rally might be perceived as disrespectful of Dr. King’s legacy.

Finally, Dr. Laura Schlessinger was compelled to announce her retirement after a radio tirade where she said the “N-word” eleven times.  She is claiming to be the victim here, although it’s worth noting that despite her assertions, this is not a 1st Amendment issue because the government did not censor her.  Her employer did based on sponsor reaction to her show.  This is actually the way it’s supposed to work.  You get to say what you want, but people get to vote with their ears, feet, and wallets as to whether or not you deserve further attention.   The right to expression does not extend to a guarantee to have an audience.

Make no mistake, America’s history is rife with examples of boisterous expressions trampling an individual’s or a group’s feelings.  After all, there is no assurance in this country you won’t get your nose bent out of shape by someone else expressing their freedoms.  But what’s also clear is that you can’t have it both ways.  You can’t make “in your face” expressions on the one hand, and then turn around and act like a wounded puppy the next time you get a verbal bloody nose.  This is something Mosque opponent and Beck rally guest speaker Sarah Palin might keep in mind as she was quick to support Dr. Laura and rail against her being pushed out of her job.  Yet Palin was equally quick to call for Rahm Emanuel’s head back in February when he referred to a group of liberal activists as “retarded”.

Freedom is a messy business.  You can’t have yours and expect to be insulated from everyone else’s.

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