Suzanne Fields

Everybody's in favor of freedom of speech as long as it's his own. Often the most educated are the most easily offended "sensitive" men and women who want to kick in the First Amendment when they don't like the speech it protects.

That's what happened at the University of Alabama, when a student put the Confederate battle flag on his dormitory door. The administration didn't like it, so it drafted a ban to forbid any public display "inconsistent with accepted standards or University policies."

The administrative powers figured that such a wide-ranging ban would give them the authority to say what was free and what was forbidden. But a group of Alabama students who thought the First Amendment actually means what it says, with the help of several like-minded professors and civil libertarians, called 'Bama's bluff. They displayed a veritable forest of flags and international symbols, waving them at a vigil for free speech, challenging the university to look for offenses.

After four months of protests, the university authorities decided to honor the Constitution. Free-speech advocates, naturally, are pleased.

"There is no need for any codes that ban speech - even speech that offends - on public university campuses," said Thor Halvorssen, CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an organization that revels in the acronym FIRE because it tries to turn up the heat on anyone who tries to melt down the guarantees of free speech.

Attacks on free speech in the name of political correctness have proliferated on and off the college campuses for more than two decades. The attempt to ban public displays at the University of Alabama was so blatant and so crude that it was relatively easy to galvanize opposition to it. A more censoring atmosphere lurks in the larger society, inhibiting debate and inflicting great harm because it operates under the radar of public consciousness. This is true particularly true of public and private opinions about blacks and women.

When Rush Limbaugh suggested that Donovan McNabb, the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, was "over-praised" because the league and its handmaidens in the media are eager for a black quarterback to succeed, Rush was labeled a racist.

His opinion of Donovan McNabb's abilities may or may not be correct, and the quarterback's performance the following week against the Washington Redskins suggests that it wasn't. But so what? What's wrong with expressing an opinion? Football fans argue about everything else, so why not about race?

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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