- - Friday, May 9, 2014

Donald Sterling, billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, made some bigoted, despicable and racist comments to his girlfriend-mistress during a private conversation in his home (“The liberty to speak badly about race,” Web, April 30). So what?

Mr. Sterling had every right to make those comments, reprehensible as they are, and did not break any laws by making them. He has been eviscerated publicly for making the comments, and the NBA has seen fit to impose extraordinary punishment on him, including a $2.5 million fine, a lifetime prohibition of any contact or involvement with the Clippers or the NBA, and the forced sale of the team.

All for doing something that was perfectly within the law and that was an exercise of his rights to free speech and freedom of expression. These are constitutionally guaranteed rights that every American has had since the United States was founded. And it is these rights that are at the heart of the Sterling case.

Can a person be punished for doing something that he has every legal and constitutional right to do? Can a person be punished for exercising his right of free speech and freedom of expression, even though by exercising these rights he broke no law and committed no criminal act? If Sterling’s punishment stands, the answer to both questions is a profound yes. That would mean the death of free speech and freedom of expression in the United States.

Yes, Mr. Sterling’s views and comments are racist, vile, offensive, disgusting and so on. Under the Constitution of the United States and the law of the land, however, he has every right to hold and to express them. Take away those rights, and you take away everything America stands for and has always stood for, and you fundamentally change the nature, character and essence of the country.

Further, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. I am certain there isn’t a single person who has castigated Mr. Sterling who hasn’t made comments in the privacy of their own home that someone else could construe as racist or bigoted. In fact, the record will show that many of those who have castigated Mr. Sterling are at least as intolerant as he is, if not more so.

JERRY PHILIPSON

Comox, British Columbia