Free speech

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I like the Constitution. No, make that love. It gives me warm fuzzies to know that our rights are guaranteed. I’m especially enamored of the amendment that guarantees all Americans the right to freedom of expression.

I get a little touchy when anyone’s rights-whether they’re yours, mine or George W. Bush’s-get threatened. That’s why the story in the “FMF Weekly News,” an email from the Feminist Majority Foundation, upset me so much. I knew, when I read the teaser headline, ‘Colorado Senate Approves Bill Limiting Residential Picketing’ that I wasn’t going to like the story, but I felt compelled to read it. I clicked on the link and what I read made me feel sick to my stomach.

The story was about legislation that would prevent protesters from camping out in front of private homes, and also limit the size of the signs they carry. The reason for the legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Suzanne Williams, is that anti-choice activists have been camping out in front of the homes of construction executives and contractors who are involved in the construction of a Planned Parenthood Clinic.

I believe strongly that restrictions on anyone’s right to free speech threatens all of us. What’s next? Outlawing protests in, or in front of, the offices of elected officials and government agencies?

Williams was quoted as saying, “This bill is about peace and privacy for Colorado families. The parameters created in this bill support and guide law enforcement in their efforts to keep our communities safe.”

It’s unfortunate that anti-choice activists choose to exercise their right to free speech this way. It made me angry years ago when members of the American Nazi Party marched in Skokie, Ill., which at the time was home to a considerable number of Holocaust survivors. I feel the same way about the anti-gay members of the Westboro Baptist Church who heckle mourners at funerals. But I believe strongly that restrictions on anyone’s right to free speech threatens all of us. What’s next? Outlawing protests in, or in front of, the offices of elected officials and government agencies?

Freedom of speech is not always a pretty thing; sometimes the things people say are hate-filled and abhorrent. But we can’t have a truly free society if we restrict an individual’s-or a group’s-right to express what they believe in. I felt that way when extremists paraded in front of the home of a friend of mine, the director of an abortion clinic, carrying signs bearing pictures of fetuses. I was in the distinct minority when I said so at a party attended mainly by liberal political activists.

Some of the people at that party have criticized how local government and the Republican National Committee is handling the process of granting permits to protest outside the Republican Convention. That seems like a dangerous double standard to me.

I have a feeling I’d have a better time hanging out with the folks outside the Republican convention than the ones outside the contactors’ houses. But supporting liberty isn’t a popularity contest-you don’t get to pick and choose whose voices get heard.

Evelyn Beatrice Hall once said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” I can’t improve on that line-or the sentiment behind it.