An Opportunity for Reconciliation
Brad Johnson, Politics Contributor
OPINION -- It is no secret to anyone who has paid even the slightest attention to college campuses, that higher education has become infested with those who would do away with the First Amendment, should they hold such power? Within their spheres of influence, these Trotskyites fume against any speech with which they disagree, and succeed regularly in silencing it. In 2014, Condoleezza Rice, the first black female to serve as Secretary of State, was set to give the commencement speech at Rutgers University. Yet campus Leftists threw such an enormous collective tantrum, that she rescinded her offer to speak. This kind of wholly un-American movement should not be welcome among conservatives or liberals alike.
Likely to the amazement of many, this obsession with that which some find offensive, has extended beyond the boundaries of those supposed bastions of ideas and thought. For a few years now, perpetually offended busybodies have been mounting attack after attack against any sports franchise, which displays any American Indian logo or nickname. The Cleveland Indians have been branded racists because of their beloved “Chief Wahoo” mascot. It became especially highlighted during their World Series Runner-Up showing in the 2016 Major League Baseball playoffs.
Other franchises that experience an inordinate amount of hate mail are the Atlanta Braves, the Chicago Blackhawks, and the Florida State Seminoles. Interestingly enough, the Seminole Tribe in Florida supports the use of their namesake, and even voted to allow such branding. Perhaps the most famous of these controversies lies in the National Football League, namely the team located within our nation’s capital, the Washington Redskins. Dan Snyder, owner of the team, has come under fire for keeping what some deem a “racist” mascot. Snyder insists that American Indians do not find it offensive, and even points to a poll to back that claim up. However, there has been no legal route used to undermine Snyder’s efforts to preserve his beloved nickname. Or has there?
Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States released its decision on the recently deliberated case of Matal v. Tam. The case focused on the Lanham Act and the Federal Government’s ability to deny a trademark, should it be deemed “disparaging.” Simon Tam is the front man for his rock band, “The Slants.” The patent office deemed this a racial slur against Asians (which is a merit-worthy claim) and denied the group’s trademark request. Tam and company claim they co-opted the name in an effort to reclaim and reverse the word’s negative connotations. The Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling in favor of Tam and his band. While it may seem like a run-of-the-mill SCOTUS case focusing on trademark law, in actuality it transcends dull legal jargon into great significance. Not only does this decision greatly affect disputes such as the Redskins debacle, the opposite decision would be a dangerous encroachment upon the Fist Amendment and our Freedom of Speech.
The justices of the Supreme Court decided unanimously by a vote of 8-0 (Neil Gorsuch recused himself since he had not been present during the deliberations) in favor of Tam and ruled the “disparagement” clause of the Lanham Act unconstitutional. This decision was a resounding endorsement, from both liberals and conservatives alike, of the First Amendment’s liberality (in a classical sense) and remains an issue with great bipartisan support. Justice Samuel Alito, in his majority opinion wrote, “It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend.” In short, the court found offensiveness is not illegal under our Constitution.
In the intensely hostile political climate we face today, America could desperately use something to around which to unite. The extreme Left preaches “tolerance,” yet when confronted with ideas they dislike, tend to morph into the very thing they foam at the mouths in opposition to (Fascists). The Right has not been immune to this tendency either. In an imprudent reaction to the Left’s antics, what is known as the Alt-Right has surfaced as a band of irreverent authoritarians who partake in the same antics as the Social Justice Warriors they so vehemently despise. It has gotten so bad that massive brawls have taken place between the two groups.
Let us take lessons from the actions of those who walk the halls of our highest court. Free speech should not be a partisan issue and, among reasonable people, can serve as a uniting one. College campuses do not exhibit a bright road map for the future of our country. An America without the First Amendment, or even with a severely neutered one, is America in name only. It was, and remain, a central tenet upon which our country was founded. Whether one is a repulsive Alt-Right provocateur, a vile flag-burner, or a Marxist who praises murderous dictators, America is a place where one can say what they believe, regardless of how stupid or offensive it may be, and avoid governmental retaliation. Let us keep it that way.
Follow this author on Twitter: @bradjCincy
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