- The Washington Times - Friday, March 10, 2000

The First Amendment's freedom-of-speech clause has come to sanction such arty stuff as feces on canvas, but not public disagreement with various inflamed groups for instance, with militant homosexuals. How very odd. Artists such as Chris Ofili are defended unto death for putting elephant manure on an otherwise pedestrian painting of the Virgin Mary. Viacom's Paramount Television Group is being importuned by militant homosexuals to drop Dr. Laura Schlessinger's television program from its fall offerings. Neither conservative writers nor liberals are heard to complain. The American Civil Liberties Union is degage. No one complains on behalf of the First Amendment.

Dr. Schlessinger's nationally syndicated radio program has 20 million people (40 million ears) freely listening every week. Paramount reports that it has sold her television program to more than 160 markets, covering 90 percent of the country, for broadcast this fall. All these listeners presumably find Dr. Schlessinger interesting she is no far-out extremist. On her radio show and in four best-selling books purchased by more than 3 million readers, she dispenses her views on traditional morality. Among those is the idea that homosexuals are "as entitled to love and respect as all human beings," but their sex lives are out of synch with Scripture. She opposes state marriage licenses for "homosexual marriage." She thinks homosexual sex is as immoral as adultery and the playboy lifestyle.

Some militant homosexual groups find those sentiments alarming. They would exempt Dr. Laura, and presumably Paramount, from the protections of the First Amendment. By associating her views with hate, they rationalize excluding her from television. Of course, the hateful and overwrought things that they say about her in public protests and on their Web sites do not strike them as expressions of hate. Hate apparently is a defect found in others, for instance people who disagree with them. One of the Web sites opposing Dr. Schlessinger calls itself a "Coalition Against Hate." Actually it is a Coalition Against Disagreement. Once again we see the politically motivated engaged in an Orwellian twist of plain language.

"We're asking Paramount not to let her show see the light of day," Alain Klein, a public relations agent for this Web site, told the New York Times. Doubtless Mr. Klein sees himself standing in that long line of humanitarians who throughout the 20th century advanced tolerance and human values. He is at one with Gandhi and Martin Luther King. He would bravely have opposed the book burners and Sen. Joe McCarthy. Yet his solution for dealing with those who disagree with him is censorship. The artists with feces on their palettes are lucky they have not aroused his wrath.

Obviously, respect for free speech is in a state of confusion nowadays. That calls for silencing opposition come more frequently from the left than from the right is particularly alarming. After all, the left has historically been the defender of free speech, at least in this century. Now, the left silences dissent on campus. It organizes against the likes of Dr. Schlessinger, and resorts to the Owellian expedient of using such perfumed terms as "diversity" to eliminate disagreement. Examples abound. In Florida, the National Organization for Women is trying to ban vanity plates on cars that carry the slogan "Choose Life." Why they do not reply with the liberty-loving response of buying their own vanity plates proclaiming "Freedom of Choice" is a mystery.

Perhaps these advocates of censorship simply enjoy a great rush of adrenaline at the thought of clubbing down free expression. They seem to be intellectually skittish. The anti-Schlessinger homosexuals inflate her views on morality into idiotic caricatures. A thoughtful response from them seems unlikely. A thoughtful response to them seems hopeless. But fundamentally they are bullies. They want to silence people, and they hunt out people to silence.

The real question is why so many writers and editors remain silent. Worse, according to the Los Angeles Times, members of the entertainment community want to silence Dr. Schlessinger. These are people who are dependent on our heritage of free expression. Well, in every society there are bullies, there are the intellectually complacent and there are the cowards. To the writers who have ignored her struggle and to the members of the entertainment community, Dr. Schlessinger might well ask, "Which are you?"

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is editor-in-chief of the American Spectator.

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