Kathleen Parker

Easterbrook, Limbaugh and Boykin clearly are not equivalent cases, but a common thread runs through all three: If you say something that offends a group (except for white males, of course), you're at risk of losing your livelihood.

Grown-ups might beg to differ with the substance of each man's remarks. Limbaugh may have been mistaken, though others share his opinion. Easterbrook may have lapsed into historically harmful stereotyping, for which he correctly apologized. And Boykin may be as wrong as Limburger cheese, but he surely has a right to speak in a church setting about his personal religious beliefs.

That these men's remarks have evoked such emotional responses suggests a censorious sensitivity that does not bode well for free speech. It takes a much bigger man and a more seasoned mind to tackle ideas on their merits - or to let stupidity die by its own dim lights - than it does to sic corporate thugs on those whose speech offends.

Freedom is sometimes messy and speech is imperfect. Sometimes we say stupid things, cross lines, step on toes. But the nice thing about America - and, yes, one of the reasons "they" hate us - is that we get to. We make a mistake, we correct it; we say something hurtful, we apologize; we say something stupid, we try harder and smarter.

And, unlike in some countries, we get to keep all our limbs.

Fareed Zakaria, writing for Newsweek, urged that Boykin be fired to prove to the Muslim world that the United States is not waging a religious war. As though aspiring terrorists will see the headline, slap their foreheads and exclaim: "Dang, Mohammad, didja see this? They fired Boykin! Those Americans are not so bad after all."

I'd rather that Boykin not be fired in order to prove to our enemies that we're not so thin-skinned after all, that by our governing laws we tolerate ideas not necessarily our own. That we are vigilant in protecting the thing that drives them wild - our freedom.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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