Skokie, Illinois is a suburb of Chicago that for someone my age and perhaps a bit older, is best known for being the backdrop to all your favorite John Hughes films. But prior to Claire Standish, John Bender and the rest of the Breakfast Club trashing the school library with a dance party, Skokie Illinois was a battle ground for free speech. In 1978, the Nationalist Socialist Party of America (NSPA, otherwise known as Nazis) were set on making their political presence known by holding a rally in a near-by Chicago park. When Chicago outlawed rallies in that particular park, the NSPA set their sights on Skokie, which also happens to have a large Jewish population.When Skokie refused to let them march, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stepped in on behalf of the NSPA. When Chicago lifted the ban on demonstrations at their first intended rally site later, the NSPA returned to their original plan.
The most surprising part of this whole Nazi debacle is that Chicago was such a callow coward about the whole thing. Chicago, as a major city, is far more equipped to handle a Nazi rally than a smaller suburb like Skokie. In fact, it would benefit both parties to have the rally in Chicago where there are more media outlets (who won’t have to travel as far) to point their cameras and pens at you, and Chicago will naturally have a larger police force that can put down whatever riots an event like this could incite. Instead, Chicago was a complete wimp and almost ended up letting their little suburb of Skokie take the hit. For the love of Hitler, Skokie calls itself a “village” – they can’t handle a Nazi march. They could barely handle John Bender.
In Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech, they speak with a lawyer with the ACLU that came to the defense of the NSPA, Martin Garbus. Garbus also happens to be Jewish. While I’m sure he was emotionally convoluted about taking this case, I think he absolutely did the right thing. If I were in the same position as Garbus, I would have taken the case. Like I’ve said in other posts concerning the 1st amendment, free speech is for everyone, whether or not we like their message. If we start making exceptions to to the 1st amendment, where does it end? And how long will it be before you become an exception yourself?
If the NSPA has the right to march on Skokie, that means that others also have the right to march against them. And if everyone who was against this march in the first place came out to protest, they would completely overwhelm the neo-Nazis. The Nazis should be allowed to march, and the rest of us that are against it should just do as the Greeks do: protest.
These type stories are nothing new – just last September, the Westboro Baptist Church was protesting in Brooklyn in various locations that included local schools and synagogues. At almost every single one of these protests, Westboro was overwhelmed by counter-protesters. Organizations and individuals will always push the envelope of free speech and that’s a good thing.
And if you don’t think it’s a good thing, you’re in luck. The 1st amendment gives you the right to tell the Nazis to “EAT. MY. SHORTS.”
On April 21, 2004, an annual Day of Silence at Poway High School in southern California, student Chase Harper wore a t-shirt with tape across the front that said “Homosexuality is Shameful” and referenced Romans 1:27. Harper was not confronted or punished for this shirt. The following day he wore a similar shirt that added “Be Ashamed” and “Our School Embraced What God Has Condemned.” On that day, his teacher David LeMaster told him he was in violation of school dress code and he was eventually suspended after he refused to change his shirt.
I suppose from an adult perspective I understand why schools have dress codes – teenagers are easily distracted and those are difficult years to get through anyway, especially if you’re wearing the wrong t-shirt. When I was in high school I thought dress codes were just irritating. Growing up in a southern beach community where we lived in bathing suits and flip-flops 365 days a year, my high school had a pretty strict dress code to reign us in. But our society constantly underestimates teenagers – they’re so much more responsible and mature then we give them credit for and young adults are more than capable of choosing their own clothing – offensive or not.
I do think that a high school should be a market place for verbal ideas. Surely there was a verbal outlet for his ideas and opposing views. And should kids be allowed to wear anything they want to school? Yeah, probably. Are they? No. So ideas should be shared freely, and unless you’re in the drama club’s costume department, leave out the clothing discussion, suck it up for four years and save your offensive clothing for college where everyone will be too drunk to notice your t-shirt’s anti-gay slurs.
I don’t think the kid should have been expelled or suspended. No sense in punishing the brat just because he cherry picks verses from the Christian bible to take too literally. I think he has the right to free speech, but his school has clearly curbed the free clothing. I also think it takes a lot more nerve to speak your mind than to wear a shirt. Putting on clothes is easy. Telling people what they might disagree with is hard. What I don’t understand is that he wore two separate t-shirts – the first time they left him alone and he got to wear his opinion on the matter. What was the need for the second shirt? Why did he feel the need to wear another one?
As a student I would have told him how hateful and judgemental his shirt was. Well, “college me” would do that. “High school me” would probably have shoved his locker full of gay magazines. I’m kidding. I’d still do that. If I were his teacher and the shirt was causing so much controversy I couldn’t get the class to concentrate, I probably would have done the same thing as LeMaster. But if I were really in charge of his punishment, I would have sentenced Harper to a makeover from whatever gay advocacy club the high school has (or the drama department’s wardrobe crew because you know it’s the same) for a little high school Queer Eye for the Straight Guy action and a one year membership to PFLAG.
I believe that newspapers are, and can be partisan. Newspapers have been partisan and biased since American society started producing them. In Almontaser’s case, the New York Post is not guilty of partisanship so much as they are guilty of bad, lazy journalism. This newspaper is infamous for swaying the public opinion of public figures. Within the media, the Post is noted for tight, neat copy and sloppy ethics. The central redeeming quality is its ability to sell papers and ads based on snappy, funny headlines. Of course, a newspaper that is known for these qualities should not have an incredible amount of influence on persons or organizations. But does it? Yes. And that, excuse my colloquialism, sucks.
I would like to say that it is possible to give a nuanced explanation of 9/11. As someone who is looking to be a part of the media in the future, I would love to say that it is possible. However, I think that as long as Almontaser or Ward Churchill are saying, doing, or being accused of anything that could be construed as negative about 9/11, they will end up paying dearly for it. In fact, the mainstream media practically chums the water for this sort of thing. In the time period Almontaser and Churchill had these experiences, it wasn’t possible to speak about 9/11 without first wrapping yourself in the American flag and crying tears of love for your country – no matter how much America did, or did not screw the pooch on that one.
Although Almontaser was only a few degrees away from Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media who produced a shirt that was probably largely misunderstood by the American public, I don’t think that should reflect as bad as it did on her. She made it clear that her connection was minimal, though I suppose the damage had been done by that time. For bad example, let’s talk degrees. I could be six (Kevin Bacon style) degrees away from Paris Hilton, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I am also a blood sucking blight on humanity who deserves to be blamed for everything that is wrong in the world, now does it? That organization had little to do with how effective Almontaser was at her job – so why punish her and the kids that will miss out on an experienced principle they can not only look up to – but also relate to?
In the case of Almontaser versus the New York Post, I’m siding with Almontaser. Her track record makes it pretty clear that the New York Post article was a sloppy monument to bad journalism in the style of someone like Jayson Blair. The part that really bothers me is why the Department of Education made her do the interview. Any public relations agent worth his or her salt would know that the New York Post was going to throw her to the sharks. That’s what the Post does. I’m a journalism student and I could have spotted that situation all the way from my Reporting 101 class. So I’m siding with Almontaser – and I am blaming the spin doctor that didn’t have the good sense to take this story to a newspaper that would have given her a fighting chance.
Ward LeRoy Churchill is a writer, political activist and was a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder until 2007. Much of his work focuses on the treatment of Native Americans by the United States government. In September 2001, Churchill wrote an essay titled On the Justice of Roosting Chickens and argued that the 9/11 attacks were provoked by United States foreign policy and called financial workers in the towers members of the “ongoing genocidal American imperialism.” After speaking at Hamilton College on this essay in 2005, administrators at the University of Colorado at Boulder ordered an investigation into his supposed research misconduct.
I think that the University of Colorado was simply pacifying the public by launching an investigation on Churchill. If there had been a problem with what he was writing and publishing, the university should have launched an investigation long before 2005. While the university may have had legitimate reasons to raise questions about his research, they did so in a way that made them look like they were persecuting their own staff member to appease the public. In short, I do not think that the University of Colorado would have been out of line by launching an investigation – but they were not timely, and that makes all the difference in terms of intention.
I also believe that Churchill was completely within his rights to speak on a subject like 9/11. Professor, public intellectual, community leader or not, free speech is for everyone – not just those who we consider to be elite academics. Dissent, while at first glance is often considered negative, is an integral part of free speech and should be protected. People have the freedom, and sometimes the platform, to speak their minds. Those who choose to, or who are brave enough to exercise that right should not be retaliated against.
I would not have personally fired Ward Churchill. In the long run, much like Michael Moore, I believe that Churchill is doing more good than harm (as well as a little bit of preaching to the choir). He definitely has beliefs and a willing audience for those beliefs. Though we may take his literature with a grain of salt, he is doing something to change the status quo, and as a professor, that is not something to be overlooked.
While David Horowitz is a critic of Churchill’s teaching methods, I don’t think Churchill is in the wrong. A good professor teaches what he thinks is most “true” or “most accurate”. A great professor teaches what he thinks is most “true,” “most accurate,” and then some – including the opposing view points. That being said, I’ve had plenty of good professors, and a few great professors. Much like being smart consumers of the media, students should also be smart consumers of their own education. As we discussed in class, everyone has an agenda – and professors are certainly not excluded from this group. I believe it is the responsibility of the student to assume that they are being taught the professor’s interpretation of the subject matter. If the subject is important enough or interesting enough, the student will eventually continue their research and form their own educated opinions.