Monday, June 25, 2007

What would Jesus smoke?

A student not standing on school property isn't allowed to jokingly speculate about that, according to Monday's free-speech eroding decision. The Supremes ruled 6-3 that a principal was not violating a student's First Amendment guaranteed Freedom of Speech when she suspended him for 10 days because he stood across the street from his school holding up a "Bong Hits for Jesus" banner while television crews filmed the Olympic torch relay.

Was the banner ridiculous/sophomoric/obvious/immature? DUH! But none of those are legally justifiable reasons to curtail free speech. In fact, it's because this exercise of speech is ridiculous and ethically questionable that we MUST defend it. It is not for us to render judgment on the appropriateness of the Bong Hits banner. It's for us to defend his and future students' rights to let people make bad jokes that are really just publicity grabs. It's easy to protect the idea that people should be allowed to say "America is great" and "love one another." But defend flag burning. Defend speech that says the President is wrong. Defend speech that says America is one of the leading human rights abusers in the world because of our President's leadership. Defend "Your God sucks." Defend "atheists should burn in hell." Defend "Bong hits for Jesus."

The First Amendment exists to protect people's rights to be controversial, to argue for things at the top of their lungs that you would spend a lifetime denouncing at the top of yours (to paraphrase The American President). That's why the KKK is permitted to march. Why Holocaust deniers are not categorically thrown in jail in our country. Why Larry Flynt is a multi-millionaire.

It places a heavy burden on everyone to be smarter so that they can develop persuasive, creative arguments for why they're point of view is correct. It means that we must make sure we never forget the Holocaust. We must continue to study it and be horrified. Free speech means that I'll continue to defend someone's right to believe in Creationism despite ALL EVIDENCE TO THE CONTRARY. The right to believe is my personal gauntlet to be more persuasive, to understand others more deeply, to listen more closely. The First Amendment forces us to make sure people always understand the value of diversity and learn to value intelligence and logic. How is that a bad thing?

Faced with the choice between what is right and what is easy, the Supreme Court blew it. It is the responsibility of a free and democratic society to champion the ideal of dissent.

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