- - Friday, October 17, 2014

According to a recent petition filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a “Redskins” virus has infected the broadcast industry allegedly more pernicious than its Ebola sister.

The petitioners imply that use of the word “Redskins” over the airwaves when reporting on the professional football team causes a harrowing array of harms. Infuriated viewers or listeners leap to fisticuffs worthy of the Ali-Foreman “Rumble in the Jungle.” Impressionable young Indian and non-Indian children are psychologically traumatized. A spirit of “inhumanity, subjugation and genocide” is fueled which could culminate in violence against Native Americans.

The petition insinuates that if the “Redskins” virus were expelled from the broadcast industry, then goodness would blossom like flowers that bloom in the spring. Unemployment rates on Indian reservations as high as 93 percent for the Chippewa would tumble as Indians escaped from mental bondage. Alarming rates of alcohol and drug abuse, rape, and other crimes of violence would plunge because Native American self-esteem would climb.

An additional inference is that world leaders might be so electrified by the FCC’s humanity-driven purge of the word “Redskins” from the lexicon of broadcasters that Iran might renounce nuclear ambitions, Russia might de-annex Crimea, and swords might be beaten into ploughshares.

Whatever happened to the nursery rhyme wisdom that “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me?”

Experience demonstrates beyond a reasonable doubt that the word “Redskins” has been given a bum rap. The term has not and cannot conceivably be suppressed outside the broadcast arena because of limits set by the First Amendment and regulatory statutes. Listeners, viewers, and readers for decades have been and will be regularly exposed to the moniker over cable, satellite, the Internet, phones, newspapers, and in-person communications. Yet the word has not occasioned rioting like Watts or strife like Ferguson. No person has ever been charged with provoking violence by uttering “Redskins.”

Conditions on Indian reservations were bleak well before radio and television were even inaugurated.

Aside from its fictitious evils, the anti-Redskins petition turns the First Amendment on its head. It complains that the word offends or annoys listeners or viewers. But that is a primary objective of free speech. Arch-liberal Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas sermonized in Terminiello v. Chicago, “a function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea.”

Freedom of speech is needed to protect speech that may be hated. It is superfluous to speech that is universally loved. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes lectured in U.S. v. Schwimmer that, “if there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought — not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.”

The anti-Redskins coterie should learn from the Civil Rights Movement. Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. targeted racially discriminatory actions. They did not squander time and energy quibbling over words. The NAACP retained its stature and prestige despite its reference to “colored people” even after “Black Power” had become de rigueur.

For more information on Bruce Fein, visit brucefeinlaw.

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