Posted: Jul 30, 2005 12:00 AM

By the time you read this, the author may be out of a job.

You see, I’m writing this while wearing an Atlanta Braves cap. And not just any cap. One with the smiling Indian logo.

Now, you may say, this cap might be in poor taste, but surely that’s not illegal in the United States. If it were, we’d need to shut down Ocean City, and probably just about the entire Atlantic coastline, every summer. But there are folks out there threatening broadcasters over what some consider an offensive nickname: the Washington Redskins.

John Banzhaf, a law professor at George Washington University, sent registered letters “styled as a legal notice” to four D.C. area television stations warning them to limit their use of the term Redskins “or risk a legal challenge to their broadcasting licenses.”

Banzhaf’s action followed an appellate court ruling that will allow Native American groups to challenge the Washington football team’s trademark on “Redskins.” The federal Trademark Trial and Appeal Board has already ruled that the word Redskins is racially derogatory and offensive.

Of course, what’s offensive is in the eye of the beholder. What bothers Banzhaf and some Native Americans doesn’t bother other people. If he doesn’t like the name “Redskins,” he doesn’t have to buy their “offensive” merchandise. He doesn’t have to attend their games or watch them on TV. And he’s always free to root for the Cowboys.

But that’s what’s frightening. This potential legal action isn’t aimed at the people Banzhaf claims are offending him. Rather, he’s challenging others, warning them that if they even dare to speak a word he finds offensive, he’ll attempt to put them out of business. And he’s not subtle about his threat. “Broadcast stations whose licenses are challenged often face a major and very expensive legal battle,” he notes in a news release.

It’s all part of the new political correctness. In the U.S. today, intolerance is the new tolerance. When someone speaks of the importance of tolerance he doesn’t mean, “I respect your right to say or do something, even if I disagree.” What he means is “If I’m offended by what you say or do, I’ll take legal action to stop you.” And, in the Redskins case, anyone who even speaks your name.

Another critical point here is who gets to decide what’s offensive.

Banzhaf claims it should be easy for broadcasters to avoid saying “Redskins.” Instead, he suggests they say “Washington is hoping for a win over the Bears.” But someday a group of zookeepers might decide “Bears” is offensive. Would they be allowed to ban that word from our airwaves? Eventually somebody’s going to sue over the Cleveland Indians, the Atlanta Braves, the Florida State Seminoles.

Maybe we should simply go ahead and change all those teams to something inoffensive, as politically correct universities have already done. Maybe you’ve heard of the Stanford Cardinal and the Dartmouth “Big Green.” Go, Big Green!

Ironically, Dartmouth’s sports teams were once known as the Indians. That was fitting, as the college was founded to educate the “youth of the Indian Tribes,” among others. Now, they’re nothing more than a color. But, one supposes, a tolerant one.

Smoking provides another good example of the new intolerance.

In New Jersey, Assemblyman John McKeon has introduced a bill that would ban smoking in cars. He claims the bill is an attempt to eliminate an activity that distracts drivers. But if that were his goal, he’d ban radios, and even children, in cars. They’re both far more of a distraction than a cigarette. The bill is clearly the latest shot in the battle to eliminate smoking.

The government is only too eager to attempt to regulate people’s private personal decisions.  A few years ago, Montgomery County, Md. considered a law that would have made it illegal to smoke in your own home if neighbors complained. And several states, including New York and California, have outlawed smoking in bars and restaurants.

It makes sense for people to worry about smoking. It’s a disgusting habit and leads to deadly diseases. But it’s not illegal. If states are so concerned about protecting us from smoke, they ought to outlaw tobacco and be done with it. Instead, they keep passing silly laws aimed at limiting an activity they refuse to simply ban. Their message is that they won’t tolerate smoking, unless they’re profiting from it by slapping ever-higher taxes on every pack of cigarettes sold.

It’s time for some old fashioned tolerance. Native Americans should approach the Redskins and attempt to convince the team to change its un-P.C. ways. March in full regalia, send smoke signals, whatever it takes.

But they should stop threatening to punish others for daring to speak a football team’s name. The day a T.V. sportscaster is banned from giving the Redskins’ score is the day that we’ve all seen our right to say what we want to go up in smoke.

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