Dan Walters

Opinion: Bill to ban a word is just censorship

The very first article in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights states it plainly:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Nevertheless, the nation’s history is replete with violations of those rights, whether they be violent police attacks on civil rights marchers in the segregationist South, cities’ censorship of books and motion pictures deemed salacious, or Joe McCarthy’s careless persecution of supposed communists in the early Cold War era.

Historically, as those examples indicate, conservatives have been most likely to abridge the First Amendment in their resistance to social or cultural change. In recent years, however, the ideological worm has turned and those on the political left have sought official power to enforce their own cultural shibboleths.

The term “political correctness” arose to describe the notion that censorship is acceptable if directed at what the left deems to be incorrect, barring certain words or even those who utter certain words or hold contrary political leanings.

It’s most obvious on college campuses in the form of speech codes that prohibit utterances that might conceivably cause distress to anyone, or in efforts to bar anyone deemed politically incorrect from making a commencement speech or other campus appearance.

It’s ironic – and tragic – that the “free speech” movements on campuses during the 1960s have given way to their officially sanctioned anti-free-speech movements today.

But the willingness to violate the First Amendment and censor politically incorrect speech is not confined to academe. And proof of that is found in Assembly Bill 30, which would bar California high schools from using “Redskins” as sports team names.

For more than a decade, California Indian tribes have sought legislation barring schools from using Indian-themed names and mascots, deeming them to be offensive; then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed one such measure in 2004.

Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, is a fierce champion of liberal causes and has revived the issue in AB 30, saying dropping “Redskins” is “long overdue.”

That may be. One can understand why Indians would see the term as disrespectful and seek its demise. And, in fact, a number of schools have already dropped Indian-themed mascots.

But persuasion is one thing, while censorship is another. Not all conflicts can, or should, be resolved by legislative decree.

Were the Legislature to prohibit use of this word, why stop there?

There are many, many words that some would consider offensive; why not ban them as well?

That’s what the First Amendment is all about.

Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, sacbee.com/dan-walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.