Friday, March 12, 2010

The Sentinel & Enterprise is to be a point.

"The partisan, when he is engaged in a dispute, cares nothing about the rights of the question, but is anxious only to convince his hearers of his own assertions." - Socrates, Phaedo 85.

In an editorial entitled "Councilor Starr, Old Glory's a symbol of freedom of speech," (Friday, March 12th edition of the newspaper, the Sentinel & Enterprise rightly chides Fitchburg City Councilor Kevin Starr for inappropriately lashing out at pro-life advocates saying, "We couldn't disagree more with Starr's comments. First of all, one of the most important things the American flag stands for is freedom of speech. That means when people, including his constituents, take the time to show up at City Hall to speak out about an issue, they have the absolute right, and we believe responsibility, to tell city councilors how they feel. We think it's exactly the kind of discussion that should be taking place at City Hall and frankly are puzzled with Starr's comments about the a city councilor, we believe Starr has a responsibility to listen to his constituents' concerns, as long as they are presented in a civil way, even when he disagrees with them."

But then the newspaper drops the ball toward the end of this editorial when it says, "We don't believe that Starr owes anyone an apology, because we believe firmly that Starr, like the pro-life advocates he criticized and like Hughes [Rev. Thomas Hughes, Pastor of New Creation Community Church in Fitchburg], has the solemn right to say what's on his mind."

This misses the point entirely. Mr. Starr doesn't owe anyone an apology for exercising his free speech rights. He owes an apology to the community because, as an elected governmental official, he expressed a desire to restrict expression because of its message or content.

There is a paramount principle in American jurisprudence that "above all else, the First Amendment means that government has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content." Police Dep't of Chicago v. Mosley, 408 U.S. 92,95, 33 L. Ed. 2d 212, 92 S. Ct. 2286 (1972); see also Consolidated Edison Co. v.Public Serv. Comm'n, 447 U.S. 530, 537, 65 L. Ed. 2d 319, 100 S. Ct. 2326(1980). And that: "For the State to enforce a content-based exclusion it must show that its regulation is necessary to serve a compelling state interest and that it is narrowly drawn to achieve that end." Perry Educational Ass'n v. Perry Local Educators'Ass'n, 460 U.S. 37, 45, 74 L. Ed. 2d 794, 103 S. Ct. 948 (1983). Cannon v. Cityand County of Denver, 998 F.2d at 871-72

Just as Mr. Starr's constituents have a responsibility to present their views to him [and other government officials] "in a civil way," so too Mr. Starr owes his constituents the courtesy of remaining civil while not attempting to restrict expression because he doesn't happen to like the message.


Betty said...

Suppose Mr. Starr hadn't been speaking about pro-lifers - most of whom are Christian - but instead about Jews or African-Americans. Do you think the Sentinel & Enterprise would be demanding an apology in that case? Of course they would. But because the offensive remarks were made about pro-life advocates in Fitchburg - most of whom are Christian; Catholic and Protestant - the paper says an apology isn't necessary. I say hogwash.

Eric Levan said...

That's it in a nutshell Betty. If Starr had been referring to the Jewish population, the ADL would be involved and the Sentinel would be denouncing Starr's intolerance.

Ellen Wironken said...

Let's hope that the Christian community will call for Councilor Starr's resignation. I honestly do not see how someone with such an overt bias toward Christian pro-lifers can represent Fitchburg residents, many of whom are Christian and pro-life.

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