Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Free Speech

By Gregg Easterbrook:

In this time of semi-war, is free speech threatened when those who denounce U.S. foreign policy or sympathize with America's adversaries are themselves denounced? Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D., Ga.) complained last week that she was being "attacked for speaking" because she made an overture to a Saudi prince with anti-Israeli politics. Several college instructors around the country have been assailed by editorialists and students for condemning the U.S., reactions Ruth Flowers, an official of the American Association of University Professors, told the Washington Post "harken back to McCarthyism."

Set aside the hypersensitivity of equating mere criticism with the darkness of McCarthyism. What's at work here is fundamental misunderstanding of the First Amendment. It guarantees a right to free speech, but hardly guarantees speech will be without cost.


And so, though Robert Jensen has the right to say what he does, his university's president has an equal right to call him a fool. When talk show host Bill Maher says the September terrorists were brave and American pilots are cowardly, his comments fully merit First Amendment protection. But the advertisers who yanked support from his show were also within their rights: That A may speak hardly means B must fund A's speech...

But the fact that Mr. Berthold has a First Amendment right to say that he wishes the Pentagon destroyed does not mean such speech comes without cost. Students, administrators and local leaders have a First Amendment right to find his views repulsive. Taxpayers have a First Amendment right to call for his dismissal. (No one has a right to send Mr. Berthold threats, and he has received some; "true threats" are crimes that should be prosecuted.) Writers have a First Amendment right to use Mr. Berthold as an example of the ingrates who benefit from American freedom while disparaging its guardians.

Speech must be free, but cannot be without cost.