We must guard against losing our free speech

Dan Lucas_July 2012_BW

by Dan Lucas

Several decades ago I served in the part of the Army that works with the NSA. From West Berlin, we eavesdropped on Soviet-bloc military and political communications. I remember hearing about an actor in East Berlin who had been drinking after a performance and drew a political cartoon on a cocktail napkin. One of the people he was with turned him in and he was arrested because the cartoon had been critical of the communist East German government. After the collapse of European communism in the early 1990s, a review of the East German secret police (Stasi) files revealed that one in three East Germans had been government informants.

Having grown up in the United States, that kind of repression was difficult for me to understand. During our training, we even heard about how an attempt to exploit Watergate had backfired on the Soviets. In an ongoing effort to put the U.S. in a bad light, the Soviets had started talking about how Watergate was an example of Western corruption. They reported on how the Watergate hearings were criticizing President Nixon and revealing the lies coming out of the White House. The response from the Soviet people was “How come they get to say that about their president?”

Freedom of speech is key to maintaining a healthy and responsible government. It is enshrined in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution: “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.”

Unfortunately, I am seeing more and more encroachment on our freedom of speech, and it is troubling.

I first became alarmed when the White House introduced [email protected] back in 2009 –“to allow supporters to report on ‘misinformation’ on health care reform.” Having seen what I had seen in East Germany, I was very concerned — whoever put that in place was dangerously ignorant of the power they wielded.

Since then the gradual erosion of our freedom of speech, under the guise of concepts like political correctness, has accelerated. We are now to the point where people can lose their livelihood for how they think, for how they believe. Freedom of speech is being assaulted in the culture, in commerce, and by all branches of the government.

Just in the past six months we’ve seen a network suspend a member of TV’s Duck Dynasty for expressing his faith and the CEO of Mozilla being forced out because of a political donation made six years ago in support of California’s Proposition 8. We’ve seen U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass) introduce a bill to have a new government agency monitor everything, looking for anything it considers “hate speech” — an idea the Boston Herald called “a frankly chilling proposition.” We’ve also seen a number of victories by opponents of free speech on college campuses and another TV network punish the Benham brothers for their faith-based beliefs. The same pressure applied to the TV network was even applied to their bank, which caved at first and then backtracked under counter-pressure.

Locally, we’ve seen abuses by BOLI, calls for The Oregonian to not publish opinions by “climate change-deniers” and a new merchant in the Portland neighborhood of Sellwood being punished because of faith-based views she expressed on her personal Facebook account — punished by self-appointed guardians of the “very open-minded neighborhood.” Open-minded meaning you agree with them and don’t hold differing beliefs.

And too many of us are standing by and saying and doing nothing.

It is imperative for all of us to resist the urge to just be the zebra nervously grazing while lions eat a fallen comrade. We must all be vocal and active in resisting any attempts to control free speech — even when someone is advocating something we disagree with. We must stand up for their right to think it, to believe it and to say it.

To read more from Dan, visit www.dan-lucas.com