- - Thursday, April 21, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Donald Trump’s most important contribution to the presidential campaign is his brisk and bold challenge to the political correctness that is strangling the body politic, and he made the full-throated challenge when no other politician, Democrat or Republican, dared do it. A vibrant democracy depends on every citizen’s respect for the right of everyone to express an opinion, particularly if the opinion is unpopular.

Some people who should know better don’t understand this. When the Worcester County Board of Education agreed to enable Stephen Decatur High School in Berlin, Md., to invite Donald Trump to make a speech there, it was more than Betty Weller, the president of the Maryland State Education, could stomach. She doesn’t like the things Mr. Trump says, which is her constitutional right, and demands that he not be allowed to speak, which is not anyone’s right.

Ms. Weller declared that “Donald Trump and his divisive, fear-mongering rhetoric have no place in the halls of Maryland’s public schools,” and said she was speaking “on behalf of more than 71,000 teachers and education support professionals in Maryland, and the students we teach.” Here was the perfect teaching moment, to illustrate what the First Amendment is about, and why it is of first importance. Ms. Weller blew it.

Perhaps she polled the 71,000 teachers, “education support professionals” and the students before she presumed to speak on their behalf. Perhaps not. The county board nevertheless made the right decision, and it was an easy decision to make. Not many of the many thousands of high schools across America get the opportunity to entertain a candidate who may well be the president of the United States. This was an occasion that every civics teacher dreams of.

U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican, is not a Trump man but he has read the Constitution. He understands the First Amendment and the crucial importance to extend it to those with whom he disagrees. “The very people who are supposed to be teaching our youth about our constitutionally protected First Amendment right to free speech are obstructing it.”

To its credit, the county board of education didn’t buckle, and that teaches another good lesson in an era when so many “leaders” find a bed to hide under when Grandma Grundy first says “boo!” Mr. Trump showed up as promised and spoke to thousands of Marylanders. Some liked what he had to say and some didn’t, but by their presence recognized his right to say it.

That’s how democracy is meant to work. Some of the civics teachers among those 71,000 teachers for whom Ms. Weller says she speaks should invite her to sit in on their classes on the day they teach the lesson of free speech. She might learn something. And Stephen Decatur High School should invite Mr. Trump’s Republican rivals, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to talk the students. They all have something the kids should hear.


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