Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Freedom of Speech Cannot Be Compromised

During a recent television benefit for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, celebrities such as Harry Connick, Jr. and Wynton Marsalis played songs in remembrance of the tragedy that has affected and displaced so many innocent people.

Kanye West, who is never one to bite his tongue about anything, said on live television that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” Automatically, critics scolded West for using a very public arena to shove his political views down the throats of unassuming Americans. Admirers said that West was not only expressing his opinion and should not feel as though he did anything wrong. The raging debate on what can and cannot be said in public has made many speak out on the issue of West’s comments.

In the eyes of many, the poor are continually overlooked and treated with no regard for their own individual lives. West felt as though he needed to say what he did because no one is looking out for poor people, and specifically poor African-Americans, who endured the brunt of Hurricane Katrina in places like New Orleans and southern Mississippi.

On her Internet blog, conservative columnist Michelle Malkin expressed dismay at West’s comments. She writes: “West may be Time’s `smartest man in pop music’ but he also happens to be a tinfoil-hat conspiratist who raps about how the government invented the AIDS virus and a petulant sore loser who delivered a tirade at the American Music Awards when he didn’t get a trophy.”

Ouch. An important thing we have to remember is that because of the First Amendment, West’s comments are protected under freedom of speech. You may or may not agree with what West said or where he said it, but he did not use profanity nor did he make any type of threatening comment to anyone.

West’s comments, however, while blunt and direct, struck a chord with many people. I remember last year’s presidential race in which any celebrity who dared criticize President Bush was labeled a “liberal elitist” and linked with the “Democratic Party’s allegiance to Manhattan and Beverly Hills.” If P.Diddy and Madonna can yap it up about politics, they should be able to do so without them being “linked” to the platform of the political party.

That’s ridiculous. Speaking out is not unpatriotic, but some people would have you believe that. When those spineless “patriots” at the Republican National Convention put on paper purple hearts to mock Senator John Kerry’s Vietnam service, no one censored them, and they had the right to do that. When some people suggested that Kerry shot himself to get medals in Vietnam, no one censored that, and when people said that Bush was a war criminal, no one censored that either. I thought all of these comments were crass, but this still is America, right? Some people would rather emulate the Cuban government than allow free speech for everyone.

The First Amendment is under assault by people who want you to shut up when they don’t agree with you but will gladly stand up when they feel they need to say something important. Pat Robertson has perfected this art pretty well, serving death threats to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. His show, “The 700 Club,” did not censor his language, and it was shown on broadcast television for millions to see. While many shunned his comments, Robertson himself tried to play them down, and the Federal Communications Commission was mostly silent about it. This shows the government’s pick and choose approach to censorship – only censor the things you loathe and everything else will be fine.

That’s just not good enough. Kanye West even drew the ire of First Lady Laura Bush, who called the comments “disgusting.” Freedom of speech will always be a contentious issue because of what is said, but the right cannot be compromised. Many believe that it is unpatriotic to stand up and challenge the government, especially when a war is going on. Dissent at all levels should be expected, however. After all, who wants to live in a place where dissent can land you in prison?

John Dorman is a senior in the College.

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