Saying Unpopular Things
I remember a sunny, summer day home from college. The promise of my last year in college filled me, and I was excited to spend a carefree summer catching up with friends from home. I was driving on River Road in North Windham, where I went to high school, when a younger friend called my cell phone. He, too, was home on a break of sorts. He had recently completed training as a US Marine and was home on leave.
He was a younger friend, and I had a visual of him stuck in my brain as a teenage boy. I left my route on River Road to meet him to say hi. I remember being surprised at how adult he looked, and an anxiety pitting itself in my stomach over his safety.
He completed two tours in Iraq. When he first went, I remember being afraid. I would have to turn off the news whenever the war was mentioned because it was upsetting. After his first tour, I remember feeling relieved. Then he was called back, and the fear returned. I remember watching others closer to him struggle with fear for his safety.
I just got back from having coffee with him. We’ve kept in touch all these years, and I’m grateful for his safety. He recently spoke to Senator Snowe’s office about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, encouraging the Senator to support repeal. In a few short months, he will finish college and begin to give back to his community through medicine.
When I hear about Westboro Baptist Church protests, which are hateful, bigoted and downright mean, my heart goes out to the families who have to endure WBC's hateful speech. The exercise of free speech is as important as the words in our Constitution that guarantee it, but some speech just hurts to hear.
This afternoon, as I started to convince myself that some speech shouldn’t be shared, I thought of my friend’s speech that hopefully influenced Senator Snowe’s decision to support repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I thought of the countless calls I have made this week to talk to community leaders about immigration or the First Amendment. Without free speech, some of this work may not have happened. Some speech is unpopular – even undignified – but working to limit any speech puts all speech at risk.
Even the conclusion of this blog – that protecting free speech is so important that even Westboro Baptist Church should be permitted to exercise it – is speech that some might call unpopular.
I’m glad I get to say these things, though, without fear of government interference.