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2003-04-15 - 9:40 a.m.

Freedom of Speech or Inciting a Riot?

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. ~ First Amendment to the Constitution

The above amendment to the Constitution is what has made America the great Republic that it is. Freedom of Speech and the right to peaceably assemble have been the cornerstone of our great country. However, with the rise of the Neocons in the White House, these basic rights have come under some horrible and oftimes harmful lines of fire. The current Pro-War movement has produced some of the worst attacks on First Amendment rights unseen since the Vietnam conflict.

One just has to enter any chat room online that hosts pro-war chatters to see some of this disgraceful behavior. Anti-war activists get bombarded with remarks telling them they are anti-american, anti-supportive of the troops, and someone is almost surely to tell them to go live in another country if they don't like things here. The Pro-War activists will not even consider the reasons someone doesn't support war or understand how someone cannot support war and still support the troops. However, it isn't only chat rooms where this behavior can be found. Peace rallies get attacked nearly every weekend by pro-war protestors, online diaries get attacked by neocon-sheeple, and even those in the White House Adminstration have warned politicians and former presidents not to question or attack the policies of the current President.

To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. ~Teddy Roosevelt

Teddy Roosevelt's statement is even more important today. It is not only our right to protest, it is our duty as citizens of the United States to question the policies of our President, our Congress members, and anyone else with authoritive power in this country.

It is true that everyone deserves to voice his or her opinion in a free society. However, when voicing one's opinion turns from merely saying what he or she believes to violent acts of aggression and inflamatory language, should those persons be protected under the First Amendment? For example, yelling "FIRE!" in an enclosed building which could cause a riot is not protected under Freedom of Speech. Violent acts are definitely not protected under the First Amendment. So, what about violent language? Things like, telling someone that you hope that person dies because of their stance against a war, or that the person should be deported or leave the country? Should these be protected? Are they merely opinion? Or, are they like screaming "FIRE!" in an enclosed building? Let me give you a few examples from the comments section of my own online diary. These are remarks left by Pro-War activists concerning a poem I posted from an American child to the children of Iraq:

TrueThinker wrote: if natasha even exists (most likely its Lori in hiding), natasha is an IDIOT who obviously gleaned every "idea" from a parent or relative. She should be deported and punished. She does not deserve the freedoms of this country and shouldn't have the right to even associate herself to Americans. I hope she gets spanked and sent to the corner.

Sympathizer wrote: I hope natasha dies.

MRSjenner (in response to another commentor) wrote: Windy, please go suck your thumb I have never come across someone this dumb you are an idiot, this i know you are a stupid, smelly "ho" your boobs are small, your butt is big, your hair is gross, you need a wig i wonder if, you lost your brain or did it get run over by a train?? you should move far away to Guam and then get married to your beloved Saddam

Sympathizer wrote: I hope Windy dies too. I hope she gets robbed. I hate her to death. She is a piece of trash. Icky-yucky-mama-ooey-pooey-gooey-aye-chiahuahua-creepy-cruddy-ucky-ga-ga dont touch her

And again Sympathizer: i hope natasha is hurt, and then refused medical treatment, and then deported forever and evermore.

One could make a couple of assumptions about the above commentors: 1. they are obviously immature; 2. they know nothing about deportation and what it means (one can only be deported if they are not a citizen born in the US or a nationalized citizen of the US); 3. they are just exercising their Freedom of Speech. But look at the language Sympathizer used. Several times this person wishes death on the writer of the poem and on one of the commentors.

Another example of violent speech and actions is what a Yale student endured recently when she placed an American flag upside-down (a sign of distress) from her dorm window:

At midnight on Thurs., Mar. 27, Katherine Lo, CC '05, was huddled in her bedroom in terror. Moments earlier, she had heard noises outside her door. At first it sounded like just another group of students coming home from a night of drinking. But soon she heard a male voice within her suite: "This is the room."

Immediately, Lo knew that the voices were coming for her—and the U.S. flag hanging upside-down out of her window. Lo had hoped the flag would serve as "symbolic distress signal" in response to the war in Iraq. But she could tell that the students were not coming for a discussion. "I really don't think I've ever been so frightened in my life," Lo recalled this week. "I was thinking about how quickly people turn to violence and intimidation to make their points."

Lo locked her door and stayed in her room as the intruders attempted to jimmy the lock. Eventually the intruders—one of whom wielded a two-by-four—gave up. But they left a menacing note on Lo's door: "I love kicking the Muslims ass bitches ass! They should all die with Mohammad. We as Americans should destroy them and launch so many missiles their mothers don't produce healthy offspring. Fuck Iraqi Saddam following fucks. I hate you, GO AMERICA."

Lo is right, people will turn to violence and intimidation quickly especially when there is a President in office telling people, "You are either with us or with the terrorists." This doesn't leave room for any grey areas in a discussion. It is cut and dry, black and white. And many of the Pro-War activists believe in this wholeheartedly. So much so, that they will use whatever means possible to get their point across: inflamatory language and even violence. One has to ask, is this exercising one's right to freedom of speech, or is it inciting a riot?

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