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The high cost of free speech

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By John Pawlak

I’m one of the few people I know (presuming of course that I know myself) who has actually read the U.S. Flag Code, Title 4 of the United States Code. The Flag Code is a federal law, which specifies treatment, display, respect, and permitted usage of the United States flag.
 The U.S. Flag Code is quite severe in its restrictions and interpretations of those three colors. In Section 8-J, it deems the flag as a living object - “The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing.”
 Of course, we’re just talking about a piece of cloth (with high lead content if manufactured in China). But emotions can run very high over that cloth. Rip up a $990 designer Reed Krakoff T-shirt (like Ann Romney wore during one of her speeches on how her family was in touch with average Americans) and people will laugh at you. Rather, they should laugh at anyone stupid enough to spend that much money on a T-shirt.
 However, tear an American flag in half and it’s no laughing matter. Wars have been waged over lesser emotional responses.
Honoring and respecting the American flag is a federal law, but free speech prevents prosecution against anyone who breaks that law. This may seem a stretch of freedom, but corporations and gun lovers have used similar freedoms to trample the rights of others. Why should talking be any different?
 It is that same free speech that granted permission (1978) for swastika adorned Nazis to march through the streets of Skokie, Illinois, which was home to many Holocaust survivors. Ultimately, the goose-steppers opted not to march there and instead marched through downtown Chicago, where no one really even noticed them.
 Also armed with free speech, pointy-headed KKK imbeciles were given permission (1999) to rally in Cleveland, Ohio, to protest black residents down the block. Counter-protesters hurled insults at them, but since the insults used multisyllabic words, none of the KKK members understood their meaning.
 And today, we have lunatics from the Westboro Baptist not-really-a-church “speaking freely” and waving vile and hateful signs at funerals celebrating the death of soldiers.
 So what better time of the year to consider the ramifications of free speech than Memorial Day?
The simple fact is, free speech isn’t free.
Visit Arlington Cemetery and you’ll see the endless geometric evidence of the horrific cost of that freedom. I’ll openly admit to anyone silly enough to listen to my ranting that I’m not a patriot, but I’ll be the first in line to thank a veteran for giving me that right to rant.
Our freedom to speak our minds is perhaps the most important freedom of all. Even more than owning firearms. Yeah, really. Everyone shoots their mouth off now and then.
So what limits should be imposed on that freedom? You can’t run into a movie theater and yell “Fire!” just to scare people. You can’t joke about having a gun in an airport. And you can’t threaten the President of the United States.
Free speech. You really have to love it. Where else can someone host a radio show and get paid to announce to the world that he’s a galactic-class moron?
There’s a wonderful quote from the movie “The American President.” In the scene, the President says, “America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ‘cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say — You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.”
Are we truly advanced enough to accept the charge of free speech in America?
Well, that’s hard to say. It’s frustrating to hear mental defectives like Santilli polluting the airwaves.
But at least we have the freedom to discuss it.