On the EDge: 1st Amendment protects us all, even those with poor judgment

Stock image, St. George News

OPINION — Everybody hates everybody so let’s fire them all, right?

Except the folks at Fox News, of course, where they seem to be doing a fine job of it themselves.

Dump Bill Maher for an insensitive use of a racial slur in a clearly satirical manner and usage?

Censure Kathy Griffin for a stab at artistic expression that was utterly tasteless?

OK, I’ll go for that if you also think we should put Ted Nugent’s guitars and amps in permanent storage for the egregious – and repeated – vile and violent venom he has spewed; lock Carl Paladino, the former New York co-chairman for the Trump campaign, in a cell for his horrendous and threatening statements about the Obamas; and, of course, fire the guy who wants to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement because, well, coal – it is criminal and a sin against humanity to not realize we have but one planet and that we are doing a shoddy job of caretaking.

Griffin is an edgy artist. As such, she often crosses a fine line that, according to personal standards and intellect, is different for each of us. To my taste, the photo of her holding up a bloodied Donald Trump mask was certainly outside the bounds of good taste. I understood the point, it was the way it was expressed that made me queasy.

But, like it or not, she has the same right to her expression of free speech as Nugent, who, during his ringing endorsement of Mitt Romney when he ran against President Barack Obama, told an NRA crowd: “We need to ride into that battlefield and chop their heads off in November.”

Now, we know that Nugent was exercising redneck hyperbole when he made the statement, we know that Nugent, who has bragged about the way he dodged the draft during the Vietnam era, is more likely to drop the hammer on wild animals than humans, and we also know Nugent was in front of a receptive crowd of NRA boosters whose only complaint would be that he didn’t suggest riding in with an AK-47 and blasting them to smithereens instead.

I’ll not defend Maher’s use of the racial slur, either. It was insensitive and uttered for a laugh. Racial slurs, and anybody who tosses them around, are not funny, are not acceptable, are a part of a nation’s scarred history.

At the same time, let’s not be too quick to label him as a mouthpiece for the left. Maher’s politics place him much more in the Libertarian camp than Democratic Party and, quite frankly, his act has been a succession of highly controversial language and opinions over the years, some of which I find agreeable, some of which I don’t. His beef with the current administration isn’t from some progressive or liberal left vantage point, it is simply from a cynic who takes great issue with what is happening in Washington, D.C., right now.

Griffin and Maher have both apologized. Griffin has lost work as a result of her political statement and the jury is still out on Maher.

Nugent? He’s still on the road, playing small clubs and second-rate casinos – about the norm for a guy with less than a handful of hits. He picks up the occasional speaking gig, glad-handing like-minded political folks and that’s his right, too.

Paladino? He’s still on the stump for the current administration, even though, officially, it has tried to put distance between itself and Paladino.

The point here is that there is a lot of flak coming at Griffin and Maher, which is understandable, of course. But, there is also a dangerous move to not only censure but silence them, and that just won’t do.

And, the voices railing at them?

Tell you what, if you cringed, if you were outraged, if you were angered by the social media attacks on the Obamas and Hillary Clinton – from images of lynchings and other vile behavior – if you stood in protest when it was suggested by the candidate that somebody should rough up protesters at a campaign rally and if you were sickened by the racial attacks on the former first lady, then you have every right to be outraged by the words and actions of Maher and Griffin.

If not, please politely take a seat and shut up because you are a hypocrite.

The First Amendment is our most precious gift; it is also not negotiable. The minute you start reserving it only for those with similar opinions, the minute you restrict it from those with an opposing voice, the minute you use it to censor is the minute we cash in all our freedoms.

I don’t like Nugent’s politics, so I don’t buy his music or tickets to his shows. That is my right.

But, should he be silenced? Should he never have the opportunity to step on a stage or enter a recording studio?


Don’t like what Griffin or Maher did?

Don’t attend their performances or watch them on television.

But, cancel their shows?

Deny them a livelihood?

Silence them because of their art?

No, that’s not how it is supposed to work.

Your personal standards may find Hustler magazine to be a revolting publication.


Don’t read it.

You may not like “The New York Times.”

Fine, don’t read it.

You may not like Fox News, MSNBC, CNN or any of the other cable networks.

It is your right not to watch them.

But, don’t try to boot them from the air, don’t try to shut them down because the minute you do that, you are opening the door for the next political wave to come in to gag and blindfold you.

We are a diverse nation with many, many, many opposing points of view. It’s what used to make us healthy, until anger took over our souls.

Shutting down the opposition is the first step to tyranny, to an oppressive state where there is no truth, no discourse, no freedom.

And, anybody who wants to alter those rights, that freedom, is diving headfirst into traitorous waters.

Anthony Kennedy, a consistently conservative voice on the U.S. Supreme Court, said:

First Amendment freedoms are most in danger when the government seeks to control thought or to justify its laws for that impermissible end. The right to think is the beginning of freedom, and speech must be protected from the government because speech is the beginning of thought.

It is healthy that we do not all think alike, act alike, vote the same, or even come close to political, religious or cultural consensus.

And, while those differences may, at times, make us uncomfortable, that’s OK.

That’s how it is supposed to be.

Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

No bad days!

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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  • McMurphy June 6, 2017 at 9:32 am

    I agree with the column, but a quibble — The 1st Amendment protects free speech from wrongful actions by the Federal Govt. Speech by private individuals is not subject to the 1st Amendment. Nugent, Fox News, Maher and Griffin should all be viewed equally in the context of the Constitution.

  • comments June 6, 2017 at 4:19 pm

    I can’t even keep up with these little goings on in the news and social media. Thank goodness we’ve got you, Ed 😉

  • dodgers June 6, 2017 at 8:59 pm

    Canceling a show doesn’t deny a livelihood. If you lose your job, you find another job. Welcome to the real world.

    Free speech also means we are able to communicate and express our outrage. Or boycott a product or service. Or try to force a cancellation, or a firing.

    How many on the left, including political leaders (like Hillary), push their followers to proactively disrupt Trump and his agenda? And some want him impeached, but are unable to provide any objective evidence to substantiate their desire. But that’s part of free speech.

    Free speech means all speech. And yes, it means some people will get upset by what is said. They can turn off the source, complain or start movements to drive change, including cancelling a show or getting someone fired.

    And that’s OK.

    The Anthony Kennedy quote is right on target.

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