Burriss: Threats against speech

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I wonder what would happen if we tried to discuss freedom of speech and assembly and not use any names! I wonder if it makes a difference whose free speech we're talking about, or is the new rule free speech for some and not for others.

This past week we've seen a disturbing trend in American politics: a candidate for office has had to cancel rallies because of threats of violence. In one case the rally was cancelled; in another case the candidate had to actually be escorted from the scene because of personal threats.

Now it's true the First Amendment only prohibits the government from preventing speech, but the idea is that debate on public policy issues is essential to a democracy, and everyone should have their say in free and open discussion.

Threats and intimidation that prevent speech are simply not the way things are supposed to be done. Protesting a speaker? Absolutely! Threats, intimidation and shouting down a speaker so they can't be heard? Absolutely not!

Of course, everyone says their own positions, philosophies and programs are the right ones, the ones that should be adopted; the ones that are the best for everyone. But obviously that can't be and just as obviously some ideas are better than others and some ideas are just plain wrong!

But in this age of entitlement, some people apparently think they are entitled to have only their particular speech heard or protected. They think their views are the only ones that should be heard. They figure they are right and everyone else is wrong. And those who are wrong apparently have no rights.

But that's not how democracy works. Even if speech proposes we shut down freedom for others that speech has to be protected. Why? Because it is part of the debate and because even wrong or hateful ideas need to be protected so their debate can show just how wrong they are.

The antidote for bad and wrong speech is not less speech, but more speech. Threats, intimidation and suppression are not speech. They are crimes, and should be treated like the crimes they are.

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Larry Burriss
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