George Will
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WASHINGTON -- Marriage is the foundation of the natural family and sustains family values. That sentence is inflammatory, perhaps even a hate crime.

At least it is in Oakland, Calif. That city's government says those words italicized here constitute something akin to hate speech, and can be proscribed from the government's open e-mail system and employee bulletin board.

When the McCain-Feingold law empowered government to regulate the quantity, content and timing of political campaign speech about government, it was predictable that the right of free speech would increasingly be sacrificed to various social objectives that free speech supposedly impedes. And it was predictable that speech suppression would become an instrument of cultural combat, used to settle ideological scores and advance political agendas by silencing adversaries.

That has happened in Oakland. And, predictably, the ineffable 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ratified this abridgement of First Amendment protections. Fortunately, overturning the 9th Circuit is steady work for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Some African-American Christian women working for Oakland's government organized the Good News Employee Association (GNEA), which they announced with a flier describing their group as ``a forum for people of Faith to express their views on the contemporary issues of the day. With respect for the Natural Family, Marriage and Family Values.''

The flier was distributed after other employees' groups, including those advocating gay rights, had advertised their political views and activities on the city's e-mail system and bulletin board. When the GNEA asked for equal opportunity to communicate by that system and that board, they were denied. Furthermore, the flier they posted was taken down and destroyed by city officials, who declared it ``homophobic'' and disruptive.

The city government said the flier was ``determined to promote harassment based on sexual orientation.'' The city warned that the flier and communications like it could result in disciplinary action ``up to and including termination.''

Effectively, the city has proscribed any speech that even one person might say questioned the gay rights agenda and therefore created what that person felt was a ``hostile environment.'' This, even though gay rights advocates used the city's communication system to advertise ``Happy Coming Out Day.'' Yet the terms ``natural family,'' ``marriage'' and ``family values'' are considered intolerably inflammatory.

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George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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