Paul Greenberg

But at least he said the right words in this occasion. Which is more than one can say for a law professor at the University of Arkansas -- one Steve Sheppard. The professor contends that this shady little video that has been inflated into a cause célèbre from Tunis to Bangladesh should have been censored by our government.

"We shouldn't allow speech that's designed to do nothing but hurt," the professor said the other day. So why not just call it thoughtcrime and squelch it? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad couldn't have put the case against freedom of speech any better, or worse.

Do you think the professor has reviewed the First Amendment lately? It is quite explicit. It says Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. It doesn't say Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech except when that speech hurts other people's feelings, or offends public opinion abroad, or is used as an excuse to attack our embassies and kill our diplomats. It just says no law. You'd think that would be clear enough even for a member of our professoriate. Apparently it isn't.

Ah, well, there is some consolation: At least the professor is teaching law, not logic or reading.

In another bulletin from the frontiers of civilization, in this case New York City, a good ol' boy from Arkansas -- Greg Nelson of Fayetteville, Ark., -- made the news, and garnered plaudits from a New York tabloid, by pushing around an Iranian envoy on the sidewalks of New York.

That is not how Americans should treat foreign diplomats, or any guest of our country. It is the kind of behavior that can safely be left to foreign mobs. But it seems Americans, too, aren't free from mob passions, as anybody who made it through the bad old Faubusian days in the South can testify.

Let this much be said in defense, well, in mitigation of Greg Nelson's behavior: Even he now regrets it. "I wish I hadn't done that," he says. "I'm not a violent man. I got caught up in all the excitement." Kind of like the rabble in Benghazi or Cairo.

The ultimate defense of American freedoms, like freedom of speech, lies not in laws and constitutions, but in something within a free people: self-control. Without it, all the grand speeches in the world won't much matter. Learned Hand said it: "Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it."

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.