Democracy and dissent

As our country battles terrorism, it's important to keep reminding ourselves of what we are trying to defend.

At the core of our efforts is the need to protect our freedoms everyone's freedoms.

The United States is waging war to protect just that, and during this struggle, we must be careful not to sacrifice the freedoms and rights of anyone else.

Any efforts made in the name of homeland defense or waging the war on terrorism must, first and foremost, secure our rights as free individuals. And those who fail that test should be removed, or voted down.

The most important word after "democracy" is "dissent."

Each concept is intrinsic in the other, and without one the other cannot exist.

Different opinions, views, and ideals must be allowed, if we are to call ourselves free because being free cannot be limited to a preconceived notion of what free is. Someone else may have a different idea of freedom, and in a free society, they should be allowed to hold that idea.

If we begin to define what is allowable under freedom, we have corrupted the very ideal that we are willing to fight and die for.

To destroy the very ideal in the struggle to defend that ideal would be one of the greatest of tragedies, only slightly less damnable than rendering hollow the sacrifice made by those who died in the name of freedom.

There are those who have disparaged Marin County, where John Walker Lindh spent his teens, for having "produced" this accused betrayer. The area is renowned for its liberal attitudes, and the example of Walker is seen as one of an area being "too liberal."

Our founding documents, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, clearly spell out our right to think and say anything we wish, without fear of persecution. We have the right to fall anywhere on the liberal/conservative spectrum, so the issue of "too this" or "too that" is moot. That issue does not exist in a free society. It is only with certain acts, or attempted acts, that a line is crossed and punishment should be brought to bear.

The act of choosing to fight with a foreign army should be punished, but there should be no restrictions on a young man following a religious doctrine of his choosing, even traveling to foreign countries to further involve himself with that religion. That young man is free to say and think whatever he chooses, and call any set of beliefs his own, be it Islam, Scientology, or Wicca. And the environment in which he was allowed to select that theology should not be labeled or blamed, or used as an example of something that should be changed.

In a free society, all types of thought is allowed, even thought that is diametrically opposed to another type of thought. It's supposed to be that way.

You can disagree with me that's your right.

The same right that allows someone to disagree with an area's politics or standards is the exact same right that allows that system to exist because that's the way some people wish to live and express themselves. If you don't agree with it, you are free to vote against it, or set up a different system that like-minded people join, or move somewhere else. Our soldiers fight and die to protect the freedoms of everyone, including the people who say "I don't think our soldiers should be fighting and dieing in blank, for X reason."

It's when someone acts, or plans to act, in a harmful way, that the authorities, be they federal, state or local, need to step in.

Should anti-abortion groups be allowed to speak their beliefs? Absolutely. Should they be allowed to verbally assault and physically block someone of a different value system attempting to go into a clinic, or publish a "hit list" of doctors who perform abortions? Absolutely not.

The first is the expression of opinion, the second acts to stop someone else from their choice, in one case taking the extreme step of killing them.

Freedom has its responsibilities, and being in a truly free society means allowing people to express any and all ideas, even if they push you close to a psychotic rage. The Klu Klux Klan is and oft-cited example, and a controversial one, but one that perfectly illustrates the difficult angle of freedom.

The Klan members have a right to think, say, and congregate with like-minded people but the slightest act, or plan, based on those principles needs to face swift and sharp punishment. The Nation of Islam has had representatives express extremely anti-Semitic opinions as is their right.

These groups have a right to say what they want, but that doesn't make what they say right. I personally believe both examples are shining examples of stupidity, but the expression has to be allowed.

Should these groups and individuals say these hateful, often ridiculous things? No. Should they be allowed to say these things? The answer is, and has to be, yes.

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