Thursday, April 12, 2007

Not in my house, thank you...

Thirty some odd years ago I picked up a little extra spending money by tending bar of an evening at a neighborhood tavern. Last call was whenever the crowd thinned out, and the owner would tell the patrons, “That’s it folks. I don’t care where you go, but you can’t stay here.”

Recent events, and the reactions to them, brought that statement to memory. Radio personality Don Imus made some crass racial comments on his program a while back. The firestorm that followed had some people calling for an apology or resignation, or both. Others, though to a lesser degree and not as boisterously, argued that Imus was protected by the First Amendment, and should not be censored.

At about the same time, some participants of an internet forum operated by a local newspaper, where readers can express their views on various topics, took offense to the moderator’s efforts to curtail some of their more colorful and meandering comments, and claimed that their free speech rights were being violated. Many of the offended participants then moved on to another forum, where postings often became even more colorful, and sometimes a little more meandering.

There seems to be some confusion about who can place restrictions on our speech, and where those restrictions can be enforced. When Fred cleared the customers out of the bar, he wasn’t telling them that they couldn’t have anymore to drink. He was simply telling them they weren’t getting another Miller High Life in his bar.

Likewise, if MSNBC and CBS decide to fire Don Imus, they won’t be telling him that he can’t make racially insensitive remarks. They will simply be telling him that he can’t make those comments on their network He’s still free to make insensitive comments somewhere else. And if a newspaper forum and it’s moderator decide to require that posters on that forum should keep their comments civil and on topic, that doesn’t mean they have to remain civil and on topic anywhere else.

The First Amendment protections were put in place to prevent the government from stifling your right to holler, cuss and carry on about anything about anything that upsets you. But it does not and can not give you the right to do that in my home, or the Palladium-Item forums, or in the CBS studios. In those places, you are a guest of the property owners, and subject to their rules.

Just as the displaced bar crowd could find a place for another beer, I’m sure Don Imus will find another outlet for his particular brand of journalism, and people that use less inhibited vocabularies will discover less inhibited forums.

We all have the right to say things we shouldn’t say. We also have the duty to respect other people’s property, and the duty to fight like #!*& if the government decides to get involved with our hollerin’, cussin’, and carryin’ on.

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