Intolerable Speech

2 03 2009

You just cannot make this stuff up. Or if you did people would simply say this would not happen in 2009. But it did. A Utah state senator, who once called a bill he opposed an ugly black baby, called gay activists the biggest threat to the U.S after comparing them to radical terrorists. He remarks led to the Republican leadership there stripping him of his Judiciary Committee Chairmanship.

Here is how Utah State Senator Chris Buttars defended his comments

I was disappointed to learn of the Utah State Senate’s censure on Feb. 20, 2009. However, this action will not discourage me from defending marriage from an increasingly vocal and radical segment of the homosexual community.

In recent years, registering opposition to the homosexual agenda has become almost impossible. Political correctness has replaced open and energetic debate. Those who dare to disagree with the homosexual agenda are labeled “haters,” and “bigots,” and are censured by their peers.

The Utah state affiliate of the ACLU released a rather disappointing and cliched response to the controversy.

While we disagree vehemently with Senator Buttars’ views, we strongly support the Constitution’s free speech protections. Free speech rights are indivisible. Restricting the speech of one group or individual jeopardizes everyone’s rights because the same laws or regulations used to silence unpopular and controversial speech can be used to silence valid discourse.

Free speech in America has been, and always will be critical in the protection and expansion of the rights of civil rights workers, anti-war protesters, lesbian and gay activists and others fighting for justice. The ACLU protects freedom of speech, even that with which many of its supporters disagree.

I am not convinced that Senator Buttars free speech rights are being restricted because he was stripped of his chairmanship. Few people made that argument when then-U.S. Senator Trent Lott was demoted from his position as Senate Majority Leader in 2002 after he lavished praise on Strom Thurmond’s 1948 pro-segregationist campaign and claimed “if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years either.” Those problems of course being integration and much of the civil rights gains that followed the 1950s.

The comments were rightfully criticized as racist.

So when President Bush and and Lott’s fellow Republican lawmakers moved to replace the Mississippi Senator, they sought to distance themselves from comments that a good many Americans found intolerable.  At the same time, however, its not as if Senator Lott was legally restricted from voicing those same opinions again. The same applies here to Utah state Senator Buttars.

Elected officials, like private citizens, can exercise their Constitutionally-protected rights, but its not as if there should not be consequences to what they say whether its through public disapproval or being politically isolated.




One response

2 03 2009

It’s a difficult question when it’s within government itself, I suppose, I think you’re right. A demotion or loss of chairmanship wouldn’t rise to suppression of free speech if the speaker is allowed to keep elected office.

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