Freedom of speech is a right celebrated in our country as basic to our way of life and our form of government. It has, however, some odd outcroppings that strain its all-encompassing standard of verbal and written expression. For instance statements of dubious veracity flood the airwaves and print media alongside more reasoned, fact-based observations. In the oft-cited example, of how differing opinions of unequal merit may co-exist – – “It is generally believed the earth is round, however opinions differ.” In such cases flat-earth proponents are free to express views way outside mainstream scientific opinion in much the same way creationists promote their cause in schools and elsewhere in the face of almost unanimous scientific disagreement.
Only in the world of the un-enlightened could the Creation Museum in Kentucky concoct displays depicting Adam and Eve in a Garden of Eden where T. Rex lingers in the background foliage. Presumably the museum hopes to fend off critics who describe a pre-historic era that collides with the vision of those who believe in a world of shorter duration. But substituting fantasy for reality does a disservice to everyone, but most especially America’s youth. Sunday school teachings may conflict with Monday’s lessons at school, but religious beliefs and scientific exploration need not provoke angry dispute but should promote instead a broader, more inclusive and mutually rewarding grasp of man’s place in the universe.
When religion serves to divide groups into warring factions it fails its followers. And when it is used for political purposes by self-serving pundits it becomes a truly destructive device. Ann Coulter in her book, Godless, suggests Democrats betray the Judeo-Christian ethic upon which our country was founded. If her words didn’t find their way into the media and onto bookshelves she could be dismissed as a simple-minded crank. But there she is given serious time to expound views that are, well, just silly about issues where religion should be left aside and the actions of politicians judged in the context of how they hurt or benefit ordinary Americans.
And when, after 9/11, Ms. Coulter wrote in a column that we should ‘go over there, kill all their leaders and convert them to Christianity’ one can’t help but observe how that plan for spreading the word diverged from that envisioned by the prince of peace. In any case such is the twisted logic of those who would manipulate religion to support political views.
Unfortunately, it isn’t only in the realm of media pundits that we find ourselves awash in speech used to obscure rather than inform. We have seen an administration whose reasons for invading Iraq have morphed seamlessly from a quest for WMD, to the defeat of a ruthless dictator, to the cause of spreading democracy in the region and fighting world-wide terrorism. And, although only the removal of our former pal Saddam Hussein has been achieved we are continually asked to believe, in speech after speech, that our cause is just and serves interests it plainly does not. Despite poor planning, an under-manned military and absolutely no strategy for after-invasion Iraq, the American people have been consistently misinformed by their leadership about the real conditions on the ground there.
In his book Fiasco Thomas Ricks writes that Paul Bremer and other officials didn’t understand the “nature of the conflict they faced…The U.S. occupation stood at the edge of a precipice its leaders didn’t see.” Ricks continues that when Bremer flew back to Washington iin July 2003 he suggested the American people were not getting an accurate picture of the progress being made in Iraq. “In fact”, Ricks writes, ” the U.S. occupation was about to be confronted by a full-blown counterinsurgency. But as the United States entered its first sustained ground combat in three decades, this was his [Bremer’s] story, and he and the entire Bush administration stuck to it”.
And, it should be added, it is still the story we are encouraged to accept, if anyone still has the stomach to sit through the recent speeches of the president, vice president and Secretary Rumsfeld. But, while it is one thing to endure the mindless rants of an Ann Coulter, it is quite another to realize the words of our country’s leaders are carefully calibrated to deceive and confuse. In the interest of free speech let me say that elements of free speech as it is currently expressed by this administration might just as well begin … “t’was brillig and the slithy tove”… In other words in the pursuit of propagandistic political ends, gibberish is often undeservedly elevated to what some would have us believe is intelligent discourse informed by fact.

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