We just celebrated the Fourth of July. Independence Day. Number 235 since the Declaration was signed, sealed, and delivered to King George III. It’s a day stereotypically marked by hot dogs, fireworks, and a lot of partying, but you have to believe most folks take at least a few moments to remember the one core value of the 1776 American Revolution:
And what freedoms have we enjoyed since then? For starters the freedom to govern ourselves rather than let kings or dictators have the say-so. The freedom to worship in whatever way we choose (or the freedom to not worship at all). And perhaps most precious of all…the freedom to speak our minds. The freedom of speech.
Indeed freedom of speech is still on the books—not likely to see a constitutional amendment in that regard anytime soon. But it seems certain individuals (and more troubling, organizations) are making no bones about what Fox News commentator Juan Williams astutely calls “muzzling” speech (his upcoming book is entitled "Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate").
"Here you have a situation with Media Matters where, if you at all vary from some liberal orthodoxy, you are in their cross-hairs,” Williams told Fox News. “They attack in a way that is intended to ruin your personal life, ruin your business. It has nothing to do with an honest debate.”
And it doesn’t begin and end with Media Matters.
- A woman was kicked off a U.S. Airways flight after being deemed a “security risk,” purportedly because she took a photograph of the name tag of an airline employee she felt was being rude. (Did the employee or the airline really expect this “muzzling” incident to go away quietly?)
- Drivers in Tennessee must now be extra cautious about the content of their bumper stickers. According to WKRN in Nashville, “Drivers caught with obscene or patently offensive bumper stickers, window signs or other markings on their vehicle visible to other drivers face an automatic $50 fine.” And exactly who will be the judge regarding what stupid couplet is “patently offensive”? (And what do the offended do? Tail the tasteless offenders so closely—just so all the words/images are properly catalogued or photographed—that an accident ensues?)
- One can't be completely sure what political camp was more pleased by MSNBC's decision to indefinitely suspend Time editor Mark Halperin for calling President Obama a nasty name during a broadcast of "Morning Joe"----left-wingers upset at the insult...or right-wingers upset by the word choice itself. Wherever you stand on that continuum, the incident should stoke free-speech debate and get at the heart of whether or not the cable network is muzzling one of its own, rightly or wrongly.
- Off our shores a Christian pastor’s death sentence was recently overturned (yippee!) by Iran’s Supreme Court and reduced to a directive that he merely “repent” of his belief in Christ. Such news is no surprise—and offers little consolation: Iran and its ilk are still in the business of muzzling their citizens.
The question for Americans: How hot does the kettle of water have to get before the frog knows it’s being muzzled? Are we accepting even non-state-sponsored muzzling to a greater degree every day? Do we, in fact, muzzle ourselves more and more, afraid of what mob of thought police will attack us for our opinions? For our beliefs? Are we starting to doze at the switch? Are we asleep already?
Even if some of us are in that camp, others of us clearly are not. Case in point: Last week The Blaze reported on the alleged attack on free speech by Arleen Ocascio, the Houston-based director of the local Veteran’s Administration cemetery accused of censoring “God” and “Jesus.” Since that initial report, calls for Ms. Ocascio’s dismissal or resignation have increased in volume and number. On Monday, hundreds gathered at that same Houston cemetery to honor America’s war dead, while protesting the actions of the cemetery’s director. By all accounts a collective refusal to be muzzled by the powers that be.
And even if you're giggling like crazy at the New Black Panther leader who accused Glenn Beck of being a fear-mongering white supremacist/false prophet recently, you have to give the guy props for wanting to debate Glenn. At least he wants to have a little chat and doesn't appear out to shut anybody up.
And finally—and appropriately—are the men and women of our armed forces, who (thanks to the wizardry of quick-cut video technology) joined their voices in a rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” to help celebrate July 4. They don’t quite hit it out of the park like Whitney Houston at the Super Bowl during the Gulf War, but their collective voice should inspire our own vocal chords to keep on celebrating July 4…and not let our voices become muzzled.
Not now. Not ever.