You can’t pick up the paper or tune in however you do without being beset by reports of provokers aiming to rouse, inflame or inspire.
The new media age can treat the virtues of careful reasoned debate as anachronistic hypocrisy. The principle of freedom of speech is less an inspiration.
It can be seen as an obstacle — a tool of the powerful, not a lever for the oppressed. Even the American Civil Liberties Union, long centered on defending the First Amendment, has been wracked by debate if it should or has tilted away. Does adherence to the First Amendment get in the way of other things that are more important?
We admit to purposefully backing in to this editorial about the Confederate battle flag on a float in the Redmond Fourth of July parade. It is both a simple matter and a difficult one.
No one should feel uncomfortable when they attend a Redmond Fourth of July parade sanctioned by the Redmond Chamber of Commerce. And seeing a Confederate battle flag flying — even if its stated purpose was to be a kind of history lesson — made people uncomfortable. People saw it as a symbol of hate and racism.
The Redmond Chamber said it had not reviewed floats in the past and had not done so this year. Eric Sande, executive director of the chamber, told at least one media organization it would not have allowed the flag to fly if it had known. He told The Bulletin, in part: “The float in question was a depiction of the U.S. Civil War with both Union and Confederate soldiers and the U.S. and Confederate flags. I have talked with the float entry, who is a U.S. Civil War historian and he confirmed that the float was not making a political statement with the flag. We respect the sensitivity of this issue and will continue to work to our goal of providing a safe and enjoyable parade for everyone.”
We would rather that the flag not be flown. It has a toxic history. Would it be the right thing to outright ban it from future parades?
Some retailers refuse to sell the flag. NASCAR banned it. The Department of Defense banned it. Oregon banned it along with some other symbols from public schools. It is also a part of history.
The chamber could ban the flag from its parade and be unashamed. The parade would be no less richer.
But what if a group wanted to then hold their own separate parade in Redmond and fly that flag. Should Redmond residents try to stop it?
Would it be a kind of poisonous evenhandedness to allow it? Or should it be allowed to guarantee a right of our civil society to have the freedom to express alternative, even uncomfortable, views? Shut down speech that makes people uncomfortable and then where is the right place to stop?