Subject: ACLU and Free Speech
To begin the second hour of your "international"
radio show on Thursday,
June 7, you described the plight of Andrea Lawyer, a 15-year-old high school
freshman in the state of Washington. Her choice of a T-shirt was challenged
by a vice principal after he received a complaint from a teacher.
Her T-shirt (which she wore when she was in the
eighth grade, and has worn
throughout her freshman year) shows the messages "Abortion is homicide" on
the front and "You will not silence my message. You will not mock my God.
You will stop killing my generation. Rock for life" on the back.
The school administration's objection to the T-shirt
was the vehemence -- the
implied threat -- of its message. Nevertheless, the school has allowed her
to continue to wear the T-shirt. But Ms. Lawyer is indignant that anyone in
authority would dare to challenge her -- after all, her God is on her side.
Ms. Lawyer approves of rules banning other types
of clothing, and other
messages on clothing, but she believes that the messages on HER T-shirt
should be exempt from any rules. She argues that because her T-shirt does
not violate the current dress code, her high school should not be allowed to
change the dress code for next year, to prohibit politically controversial shirts.
The school has not yet taken any such action, but Ms. Lawyer isn't waiting;
she's trying to nip in the bud -- abort, if you will -- any impulse to restrict her free speech.
You claim that the ACLU is obligated to defend
the free speech rights of
each and every high school student who agrees with you. You further claimed
that the ACLU had failed to come to Ms. Lawyer's defense -- "to the best of
my knowledge;" we can only imagine how good your knowledge of the matter
might be. (You believe, of course, that the ACLU has no business defending
the right of students to express views with which you do not agree.)
The problem is, the ACLU -- whose name you follow
with spitting sounds --
doesn't have financial resources to devote to soothing the hurt feelings of every
student whose vice principal looks at her cross-eyed. It takes money to defend
civil liberties, and lawyers (whom you also scorn) must step forward to support
the cause, which you hold in contempt when it serves your opponents.
Ms. Lawyer has not been denied the right to wear
her T-shirt, but she appears
to object to hearing criticism of the opinions it proclaims, opinions which she
(and you) mistake for "The Truth." The ACLU can do nothing to compel universal
agreement with Ms. Lawyer's opinions. Without the financial support of you and
your audience, the ACLU cannot even defend the rights of every schoolgirl who
argues, however crudely, for the denial of Fourth Amendment protection to women.
Perhaps Ms. Lawyer would be better served by studying
the history of abortion;
she might investigate whether abortion has ever been prosecuted as homicide in this
country. "Abortion is homicide" might be effective in inspiring bullies to attack a
women's clinic, but it's certainly not a statement of fact. To say that Ms. Lawyer's
message is a lie is not to silence her. To suggest that the expression of Ms. Lawyer's
message might be inappropriate as an incitement to violence in a high school is not to
(Imagine the reaction to a T-shirt that proclaimed:
"Jesus is Lard -- Eat Fried Chicken.")
After some study of religion, Ms. Lawyer might recognize that "her God" is not worshipped
by all, and that some people dare to believe that support for abortion rights does not mock
"their God." Assault and murder of abortion providers in the name of God is regarded by
such individuals as a mockery of religion.
You supplied Ms. Lawyer's e-mail address: email@example.com.
Of course, Ms. Lawyer would like "agreement only" with her understanding of "Truth,"
but perhaps in time she can be persuaded to tolerate the expression of other views.