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Speaking of free speech...

Date: 11/16/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

Editor's note: This piece was written prior to the State of Maine limiting parolee Raymond Luc Levasseur's ability to travel to give the UMass speech. His wife, Pat Levasseur, a former Freedom Front member herself, was scheduled to speak in his stead.

Free speech is a tough standard.

The Constitution doesn't just ensure your right to speak your mind, it also means that you must, on a certain level, support and endure opinions which are opposite to yours.

Having a society with free speech requires its residents to actually pay attention, to be able to discern what is the motive behind the speech.

Motives are the problem here.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts has criticized Gov. Deval Patrick for trying to derail an appearance at UMass of convicted domestic terrorist Raymond Luc Levasseur.

In the press release I received from the ACLU, Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said, "Going ahead with the speech is the right thing to do. Whatever you think of this particular speaker, his invitation to speak shouldn't be revoked because someone objects. This situation is an important reminder that we must remain true to the principles of free speech and the marketplace of ideas even unpopular ideas upon which our state universities, and nation, were built."

She's right. She is speaking with the purest theoretical intentions and I agree with her.

This is a Jeffersonian point of view. Thomas Jefferson believed that free speech must prevail and that people would be able to sift through the noise to arrive at the truth.

I hate it when someone visits a campus to speak and gets shouted down regardless of their political leanings.

What Rose is not considering, though, is whatever agenda the professor who invited Levasseur had, and what the context of the discussion might have been. I suppose that she can't think of these things, but for me, I sometimes wonder if free speech should come with a disclaimer or a warning label.

Is it necessary for someone who actively participated in bombings and the death of a police officer to speak on social change? Aren't there other people who might speak about this subject? Why do I smell something a tad fishy here?

Reportedly, Levasseur hasn't expressed any remorse for his actions. So what kind of lesson is this for students?


In speaking on the mass murder at Fort Hood, radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh said last week, "I'm sure they're not going to call this a hate crime. I'm sure this man's inner feelings are going to be probed regarding the Bush/Cheney war. You wait. But let's not forget this man had no problem with killing people, zilch, 'cause he wasn't. This guy's not a pacifist. This guy is not a conscientious objector. He didn't like Americans in Afghanistan or Iraq.

"And by the way, I mean, playing the game the way the media and the Democrats do, we could almost say that this is Obama's fault, because this guy said that he believed Obama was going to get us out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama hasn't done it and that's one of the reasons why the guy cracked."

At the time Limbaugh uttered these words investigators were beginning to piece together as I write this column the investigation is ongoing exactly what happened.

While I will defend Limbaugh's right to broadcast such blather, it is also my right to say how reprehensible his statements are. Many of his listeners think he is some sort of journalist and that his remarks are the results of reporting and investigation. They are not, as this example, shows.

Limbaugh is a pundit. He is an entertainer. He is a multi-millionaire who is completely out of touch with the lives of the majority of his listeners, who for reasons beyond my understanding, think of him as their standard-bearer. He does what is remarkably easy in American politics: he talks. If he was serious about his point of view, why doesn't he run for Congress?

I think Jefferson would also defend Limbaugh, but I think he would also recognize him for what he is.

As I said at the beginning, free speech isn't easy.

This column represents the opinions of its author. Send your comments online to or to 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, Mass. 01028.