[COMMENTARY] The Right to Disagree
- As Americans, we have the inherent right to disagree
Al Martinez / LA Times
I was listening to a superpatriot the other day saying what a great
country we have and how criticism of its motives weakens the solid
front we should be offering the world in these difficult times.
He was a Bush apologist who was using patriotism to cover up the
fact that we have gotten ourselves into one fine mess in Iraq, but
that's neither here nor there. What struck me was the solid-front
business he was promulgating.
I tolerated his rant as politely as I could, but when I couldn't
take it any longer I said, "You know what's truly great about this
country? You don't have to be part of a solid front if you don't
I ended my discussion with the guy on that note, and as I thought
about it later, I realized how much grandeur there was in negativity
when one considers freedom. Inherent in its rights, you see, is the
right not to.
The concept is particularly significant on this Independence Day
weekend, when we celebrate the precepts that have made us different
from much of the world.
We have the right not to participate in that solid front if it
violates our conscience. We can stand aside, ignore it or protest in
a way of our choosing. If our choice involves mass demonstrations,
that's a right too, the right not to assemble peaceably but to take
part in displays of civil disobedience to make a point.
We have a choice to disobey police orders and not to yield to the
truncheons and tear gas of the blue army, and not to beg for
lenience if protest puts us behind bars.
We have the right not to remain silent when giving voice to the
innocence and the passion of our causes, even when speaking out
brands us as something less than patriotic.
These fundamental freedoms to choose, to make up our own minds,
overlap with one of America's most fundamental rights: the right to
vote, to elect our own leaders, to define our own future. That also
includes the right not to vote if we don't want to, and most of us
don't. We can take our chances with choices made by that small
portion of the population that does go to the polls. And even then,
it's our right not to like what we get and to moan about our fate,
even though we did nothing to prevent it.
It's our right not to believe what we hear or what we read, because
doubt is an integral part of freedom. It is similarly our right not
to idolize leadership but to recognize that human weaknesses exist
even among those who make stupendous decisions. It is our right not
to follow those whose leadership we question.
It is our right not to believe in God and to mock those who do,
without fear of incarceration, torture or death. We can be atheists
if we desire, and we can scorn those who use religion to debase
humanity, who trumpet the Lord to justify their excesses.
It is our right to defy the jingoism that accompanies a drive to
war, and our right to believe that those who die in war are more
victim than hero. It is our right to shake our heads when we hear
the parents of a dead soldier say they were proud that he died that
way, instead of saying that he didn't have to die that way at all,
torn by shrapnel, facedown in a ditch, bleeding into the sand.
We have the right in this land of rights not to accept the status
quo but to challenge the stars in the name of destiny, to dare and
sometimes to lose. We have the right to establish by losing that a
truly free country allows for its failures and the learning that
accompanies the grief when stars fall from the sky.
It is our right, Americans, to turn our backs on the freedoms that
allow us to turn our backs. We can sit as the flag passes and, by
our gesture, defy those around us who stand, hands over their
hearts, solid citizens as tall and straight as boards, honoring the
colors that fill the sky. And we can remain silent when the national
anthem is sung, without tears in our eyes or a lump in our throats.
We can understand, as I always try to understand, the strengths
encompassed by protest, by individuality, by the willingness to risk
all for an idea whose time has come. I can't think of a better way
to honor our country than by honoring the concept of choice and the
liberty that options imply.
This is the power of my belief in America, and the soul of my
commitment to it. And if there are tears in my heart and a shiver up
my spine as I sit alone and sing of my country in a different way,
it is only because I know I can. It's my right.
Al Martinez can be reached at al.martinez@...
Americans have right to disagree
JASON S. MCCARTER
To the editor:
I just want to lend my support to the Friday, June 30th editorial on
the potential flag-burning amendment. This is the most ridiculous
use of the Constitution that I have ever heard of. First of all, a
flag is a piece of cloth that belongs to someone. As such, that
person can do whatever they want with that cloth as long as it does
not harm someone else or infringe on their rights. If I wanted to
burn my shirt, then I could. Of course, the flag has come to be a
general symbol of the U.S.; but all may not take it this way and
should not be forced to. I would understand if someone believed that
the flag was just a contrived symbol to promote nationalism and,
therefore, refused to endorse it. Or if their religion prevented
them from recognizing such a secular symbol as having value. And
where do we draw the line? Can we not have the American flag on
clothing? Bandanas? What about walls? Cars? Are these forms of
desecration? Who decides? Maybe, we should not allow any combination
of the colors red, white, and blue to go together on anything that
might get dirty. Any attempt to prevent these things, as well as the
burning of a flag, is an infringement of a person's physical rights.
All this, however, is just the surface argument.
More importantly, even if the burning of a flag is taken as the
ultimate desecration of America, we, as Americans, have the right to
make this protest against or to condemn America or its government.
This principle is exactly what is great about our country. Even if I
hated this country, which I certainly DO NOT, I still have the right
to live here and complain about it all I want. This is crucial, not
so we can keep a good supply of bitterness in the country, but
because dissent is too often in the eye of the authorities. What is
dissent to those in power might be Patriotism to others. The early
American rebels quite likely spit on, tore up, soiled, and (dare I
say it?) burned the Union Jack, the flag of the established
government; but how many of us wish they had given the British
government in power all the "respect" that it demanded. America,
itself, has attempted to limit this right of dissent or right of
free speech. Many were arrested under the Alien-Sedition Acts of the
Adams' administration for speaking out against the government.
Adams, of course, was not elected to a second term, at least partly,
because the people refused to have their dissent circumscribed.
And the government is not the only force that our free speech must
be protected from. Sometimes, the majority in our democracy might be
the menace. Just as with the flag-burning amendment, as terrifying
as it may be, the majority of U.S. voters probably favor it; but I
must always have my right to oppose it and say so. And to protect a
symbol of America from "desecration" is to try to protect the
official or the majority opinion from criticism. The line between
banning flag-burning and stopping the kind of criticism of American
institutions that we do every day as opinionated voters is not as
great as we might like to believe. What about a book that criticizes
the U.S. or "denigrates" it in the eyes of some, even the majority?
Should we burn it?
I am certainly NOT asking for rebellion or crazy militia activity,
because I think that America IS a great country, and I am very proud
to be an American. Personally, I do see the flag as a symbol of our
country and would be very sad to see anyone injure it; but like
Voltaire, I would do everything in my power to defend their right to
do it. Or in another way, the flag does stand for America, but
America stands for the right of its citizens to burn the flag.
The only thing that could ever make me burn an American flag would
be a flag-burning amendment.
Jason S. McCarter is a senior majoring in history at the University
4th is a time to celebrate our right to disagree
BY RICHARD ROEPER SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST Advertisement
We celebrate our holidays with some pretty bizarre traditions. The
birth of Jesus? Give me presents, preferably shiny ones! A day to
honor our military veterans? Barbecue time!
Resurrection of Christ? Big hats, lavish brunches, baskets of candy
and hand-painted hard-boiled eggs, of course.
Thanksgiving? Watch football, then eat until you explode.
Anniversary of the birth of our country? Crack open the beers, and
set off the illegal fireworks from your driveway!
Of course, most holidays also have their more reverent rituals, held
in cemeteries and churches, and near monuments and statues. On
Friday, millions will observe Independence Day by attending parades
and applauding soldiers, singing patriotic standards and flying the
flag with great pride.
And then they'll crack open the beers and set off M-80s and bottle
rockets from their driveways.
When I was 227, it was a very strange year
Though not as tumultuous as 1861 or 1917 or 1929 or 1941 or 1968,
this has already been one of the more, shall we say, eventful years
in America's life.
A year in which we waged a war that divided the nation and ignited
some of the most ferocious debates since Vietnam--a war that
continues to spit out lives on both sides some two months after it
was won by the good guys.
A year in which many Americans forgot that freedom means freedom for
everyone--even those who look suspicious, those who loathe the
president's policies and those who speak out against the government
during times of war.
Remember what the spring of 2003 was like? All of a
sudden, "protesters" were being called "traitors" by people who
actually believed that if you had so much as a negative thought
about the war, if you dared to question whether the administration
was being honest about its intentions, if you wondered what our long-
term plans were for the people of Iraq, that you were being disloyal
to your country and you should be ashamed of yourself.
With the Taste of Chicago and tonight's Grant Park fireworks traffic
jams clogging Lake Shore Drive these days, it's hard to believe it
has been only four months since anti-war protesters were the ones
shutting down the Drive. Similar protests were erupting in cities
around the nation and around the world, as millions registered their
outrage at what they felt was an unnecessary act of aggression by an
administration bent on making us forget that we never did find Osama
But, hey, I'm sure those weapons of mass destruction will turn up
any day now, aren't you?
While embedded reporters in Iraq breathlessly delivered instant
updates from the front lines and everyone repeated the mantra
about "supporting the troops" no matter how they felt about the war
itself, the battle of words raged endlessly. Comic actress Janeane
Garofalo apparently cloned herself so she could appear on talk shows
in the cable news universe and argue against the war. Michael Moore
nearly started a black-tie riot with his Bush-bashing at the Academy
Awards. And the Dixie Chicks were nearly voted off the planet by the
embarrassing and ridiculous overreaction to one anti-Bush comment by
one Dixie Chick at one concert.
As chicken-bleep radio programmers banned the Chicks under the guise
of patriotism, there were equally ludicrous stories about pro-war
nuttiness, from the guy at a rodeo who allegedly attacked a teenager
who had refused to stand for Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA"
(which is NOT the national anthem), to the restaurant managers who
changed their menus to read "freedom fries" instead of french fries,
to the Baseball Hall of Fame disinviting Tim Robbins and Susan
Sarandon to a celebration of "Bull Durham," even though Robbins and
Sarandon had no intention of turning the event into a political
Somewhere, Joe McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover and Richard Nixon were
Declarations of Independence
The national debate is in more of a decaf mode lately. Nobody is
calling for George Clooney's head anymore, or forwarding petitions
urging everyone to boycott the Sheen family. The Dixie Chicks have
been playing one sold-out venue after another, with the protesters
numbering in the single digits.
Who knows, maybe some of the rabid pro-war forces feel just the
slightest bit sheepish about their hatred and intolerance for anti-
war protesters. Maybe.
Most Americans tend to call tomorrow's holiday the Fourth of July.
But this year let's please remember that it's really Independence
Day. We'll celebrate the birth of the greatest and freest
civilization of the last thousand years, but we should also be
celebrating the rights of all citizens to be free to express their
political views without fear of being censored or brutalized or
called a "traitor" by the ignorant bullies of the world.
Enjoy the day. Crack open that beer, shoot off those fireworks.
And maybe give those Dixie Chicks a spin on the CD player.
Published by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. CLICK FOR NEWSPAPER
DELIVERY Sunday, October 7, 2001
The right to disagree is American
Don't count me as a fan of Bill Maher, the host of "Politically
Incorrect," the talk show that tries to be as outrageous as possible
on political topics. It's not its politics that turns me off; it's
the hour of its broadcast. By the time it airs in the early morning
hours, I've long since begun sawing into that second log.
But Maher, on a Sept. 17 show, was more "politically incorrect"
than even he bargained for. In an exchange with a guest who took
issue with President Bush's characterization of the terrorists as
cowards, Maher said, "We have been cowards, lobbing cruise missiles
from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when
it hits the building - say what you want about it - is not
The proverbial whipped cream hit the fan. The show was deluged
with irate e-mail messages. Sponsors dropped their support. Maher
has since posted a clarification on the show's web site saying his
comments were directed at the politicians behind the military
decisions, not the military itself. But those angry callers aren't
dissuaded and want Maher's head on a platter, or in the alternative,
That hasn't been the only instance in which the airing of an
opinion by an American that is viewed as critical of the United
States or its leadership since Sept. 11 has drawn sharp reaction.
The city editor of the Texas City Sun was fired after he wrote a
column critical of Bush and the publisher wrote a front-page
apology. A University of Texas professor in an op-ed column in the
Houston Chronicle wrote that, while he deplored the attacks, he also
was angry with "those who have held the power in the United States
and have engineered attacks on civilians every bit as tragic." UT
president Larry Faulkner received angry e-mails and messages from
all over the country, including from alumni who threatened to
withhold contributions if the professor wasn't fired. Faulkner
called the professor "a fountain of undiluted foolishness."
Peter Jennings, the ABC anchorman, has drawn his share of sharp
arrows for comments he made during the long hours he was on the air
reporting the terrorist attacks. A letter writer to the Caller-
Times, Patrick Carter of Sandia, interpreted Jennings' description
of Bush as "the former governor of Texas" as demeaning and called
for Jennings' deportation to Canada, his home country.
All of these writers and commentators have been labeled
unpatriotic, accused of not uniting against the terrorists and even
of being traitors. The Chronicle of Higher Education says that the
intolerance toward controversial views on college campuses in the
wake of Sept. 11 is a "test of academic freedom" that "emerges in
what some have called a culture formed around the notion that no one
should have to listen to ideas or even facts that upset them."
Some of what was written or said should never have seen the light
of day. The newspaper does this kind of work every day; it's called
editing. We cull bad reporting, bad writing, fuzzy thinking and just
plain bad taste. But some of what was critical had every right to
appear. The writers and commentators who have raised questions about
the country's leadership have every right to do so, just as much as
the demonstrators who marched last weekend. And we have every right
to speak in opposition.
Marketplace of ideas
The terrorist attack has made it imperative that we define just
exactly what we are about. And debate, free speech, and a vibrant
marketplace of ideas is absolutely what we are about. These
editorial pages that give a forum for a variety of views, some that
I don't agree with, are what democracy is about. It's about
accountability. It's about collective wisdom. And it's about being
true to our own heritage of not being afraid to debate and consider
Asking tough questions, airing controversial views and reporting
unfavorable facts, aren't signs of being un-American. In fact, they
are part of the essence of being an American and part of what the
terrorists want to destroy. You can bet there are no dissenting
views with the Taliban or Osama bin Laden.
Nick Jimenez can be reached by phone at 886-3787 or by e-mail at